If the past two Covid-struck years have taught us anything, it is the importance of eating right. More and more people have become mindful of where their food is coming from. With an increased focus on immunity, there has been a sharp rise in demand for cleaner and more nutritious produce. Not surprisingly, the past few years have also seen a spike in the number of urban farmers growing clean, nutrition-dense food, mindfully.
Growing demand for clean produce
“Pandemic has made people introspect and made them aware of the benefits of consuming clean sustainable produce,” says Anant Mandelia of Delia Farms in Faridabad. “The high price is still a barrier as people are adjusting their household budgets to accommodate clean produce,” he adds. Incidentally, it was this need for clean and healthy produce that had led Anant to set up his 10-acre farm a few years ago. “When I started studying the agriculture sector closely, I was shocked to learn about the deteriorating standards of land and water used in agriculture,” adds Anant, who studied the sector for four years before finally moving to organic and hydroponic farming in the outskirts of the capital.
In far off Mumbai, the experience was similar. “Do you know that even if I do not use chemical fertilisers and pesticides, what my neighbouring farm uses can contaminate my produce?” asks Vikram Verma of Raw And Ruckus, Mumbai. Vikram had set up Raw And Ruckus a couple of years ago. “My quest for clean vegetables in Mumbai turned into a mission and led to the creation of Raw & Ruckus.” A hydroponic farm in the heart of Mumbai, Raw And Ruckus now grow lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers and other vegetables in a controlled habitat that helps the produce flourish all 365 days. “While a normal bunch of lettuce may take up to 4 days after harvest to reach you, our produce takes a few hours,” adds Verma. Grown without a trace of soil, these vegetables are free of pesticides and soil contamination. They have not just solved Verma’s problem of procuring clean vegetables, but are also helping thousands of Mumbaikars eat better and pesticide-free food every day.
Sustainable farming techniques see an uptick
Most urban farms are located at a comfortable distance from major cities or metropolitan areas and have access to modern facilities. Farmers, meanwhile, are making the best use of technology and age-old wisdom to create a balance that works in the favour of produce. Drip irrigation, hydroponic set-ups, organic manure and pesticides, composting and mulching are some common methods used in these farms resulting in optimal utilisation of resources and best nutrition in the produce. “Our farm is an amalgamation of new environmentally-friendly techniques and ancient wisdom,” informs Sneh Yadav of Tijara farms in Rajasthan, one of the first movers in the sector. “While on one hand, we use alternate sources of energy, drip irrigation, and water harvesting techniques, on the other, we follow the lunar calendar for our agricultural activities, save old seeds, use bullocks for ploughing, and process grains, pulses and spices using ancient methods,” she adds. The result is a crop that is diverse, healthy, seasonal, and adds to the biodiversity of the farm.
“In our farm, we majorly follow permaculture principles and implement a multilayer multi-cropping method for optimising the space,” says Manasvini Tyagi of Earthen Routes, Mumbai, who depends on traditional methods of farming for growing a variety of vegetables and fruits. “Focusing on soil health,” she adds, “encourages the soil to be regenerative and results in less work for the farmer.” Manaisvini also utilises weeds, cuttings and trimmings to generate compost, which in turn reduces waste and makes the place self-sustainable. It was these permaculture and forest farming principles that had been employed to compost over 250 tonnes of waste to turn this barren land into a lush productive farm with over 60 varieties of plants including seasonal vegetables, fruits, herbs and medicinal plants that it is today. “Every season,” says Tyagi, “we sow seeds of health and biodiversity to keep this garden thriving.”
Farm to table, plate, and fork
While the demand for clean produce is at an all-time high, there is also a shift towards organic and natural products which is where farm products come in. Whether it is honey or ghee, spices or jaggery, the post-pandemic consumer is keen on associating with clean, green brands. The urban farmers, with access to not only such crops but also cattle, traditional processing practises, and manpower are happy to cater to this need. “Consumers today are keen to associate with brands that stand up for social causes, environment and their community, says Satyajit Shivajirao Hange of Two Brothers Organic Farm, Pune, “This awareness is not just good for them, personally, but also for the planet and for larger social good.” Rapid advancements in technology, adds Satyajit, augmented e-commerce and online social media platforms have made it possible for small businesses to access new markets and reach out to a global audience.
The thought is validated by other agropreneurs too. “People now value eating local, mineral-rich nutritious food and building a stronger immune system,” says Robin Nagar, founder of Dehradun based Valley Culture. The thought behind founding Valley Culture, he says, was to bridge the gap in the market and support small, local farmers who are too far away from their customer base. Robin and his team have been working with farmers in Uttarakhand to help farmers reach end-consumers, and offer cultured ghee, jaggery, grains, flour and spices.