Lockdown has made foragers of us all. For the first one month, long lines outside supermarkets and empty shelves made grocery runs as exhausting as they were unnerving. Fortunately, over the past few weeks farmers have started finding ways to deliver their produce directly to customers.
Nalla Keerai, co-founded by R Jagannathan, had stopped their deliveries and subscriptions model for a while. However, in response to requests from former customers they decided to relaunch. Explaining how they have revived subscription, Jagannathan says they supply pulses and dairy products in addition to fruits and vegetables to about 200 customers in Chennai. About six varieties of greens are sourced from Nalla Keerai farms located in Pakkam and Alamathi in Thiruvallur district. Jagan and his team also source country vegetables from small and medium farmers in Thiruvallur district, Hosur and in Udhagamandalam region.
B Shivakumar, an entrepreneur who runs a pharma company began farming in 2015. His organic plots — 106-acre Madras Iyer Thottam, 70 acres in Sathyamangalam and 36 acres in Germalam — produce 35 different vegetables, seven types of bananas and 10 varieties of fruit. He supplies Chennai, Bengaluru, Coimbatore and surrounding regions.
“No vegetables stay in our farm overnight after we harvest them as we transport it to customers immediately,” he says. In an attempt to discourage hoarding, Shivakumar says he personally assesses orders received and makes sure that families do not buy more than what is required. “In fact I talk to my customers and provide them tips for buying. Educating my customers on the principles of organic farming is high on my agenda,” he says, adding that he has about 560 customers in Chennai city alone.
Marudhu Pandi, co-founder of Farmvalli Organics, a three-month-old start up, which delivers to Bengaluru and Chennai, says he spends a lot of time educating customers on the value of organic produce, even if it is marginally more expensive sometimes. He says customers also need to relearn how to eat food that is in season when buying local, organic fruits and vegetables. “We observe that customers are not always willing to wait for the harvest, but are in a hurry to get what they want at a lesser cost in a wholesale market. We explain the crop cycle and why we cannot produce more. It is because of the demand for more that farmers too are focusing on using chemicals for higher yields,” he says.
Farmvalli Organics, a three-month-old start up, which delivers to Bengaluru and Chennai offers a unique subscription model: Rent-a-farm. “The idea is to involve families, so they understand where their food is coming from,” explains Marudhu Pandi, co-founder of Farmvalli Organics.
He adds, “Customers rent land on our farm. They can choose to grow their favourite vegetables (upto 15 varieties) and enjoy the harvest with a monthly subscription.” Customers can track the progress on the Farmvalli app, and get any four types of vegetables, sufficient for a family of four, home delivered every week. The subscription costs ₹ 2,300 per month and the start-up currently works with six farmers in Chennai and Hosur. Apart from vegetables, they also have a poultry farm in Guduvancherry, near Chennai, from where they deliver country chicken, Kadaknath chicken and eggs to customers in Chennai.
The lockdown has also inspired entrepreneurs like Raj Ramachandran, promoter of Kriyates, a restaurant, sports and recreation centre, to get involved with farming. He will be setting up an organic vegetable bazaar for a few hours within the campus of large apartment complexes or schools in and around OMR and ECR.
Discussing the fact that organic produce is not always more expensive, Alladi Mahadevan, who runs a 96-acre organic farm in Kalpakkam says, “When onions were sold for ₹160 a kg, organic onions were more affordable. Now with Koyambedu market closed, there is a shortage of supply and all prices have sky rocketed, but our vegetables have not,” he says.
Alladi has started home delivery of vegetables in Chennai, and also acts as an aggregator helping 20 other organic farmers in Dindigul, Namakkal, Villupuram, Coimbatore, Cuddalore, Chidambaram, Puducherry, Erode and Pollachi, to market their produce during the lockdown. These farmers send their vegetables to Kalpakkam, from where it is packed and sent to customers. “This way, the farmer who toils in the soil gets a fair share and customers also get a wider variety of vegetables from across the state,” says Alladi, who focuses on bulk orders from apartment complexes.
Farm to home Individual orders: Nalla Keerai: Individual orders for fruits, vegetables, oils, pulses and rice. 9042011768 www.farmvalli.com: Fruits, vegetables, A2 milk, poultry and eggs. 18004195575 MIT Organic Farms: Hill and country vegetables, fruits. 9849001586. Bulk orders:www.theorganicfarm.in: Hill and country vegetables, fruits, heritage rice and pulses. 9840277566 Kriyates: Organic Bazaar will be set up based on requests from apartment complexes. Fruits, vegetables, grocery and food items based on pre-order. 9840700547
“When it comes to organic, we have to focus on nutritional value and not look for variety. Country vegetables such as brinjal, cluster beans, coccinia, okra and broad beans are the staple. We also get hill vegetables such as cauliflower, potato, carrots and beetroot,” chuckles Mahadevan, adding, “Now, we farmers decide your menu.”