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Connecting to cultural roots

‘Food’ as we all know it, is a common denominator amongst the people – whether produced by rural or urban communities. In India even more so, it is a great equaliser when it comes to the aspirational eating habits of rural and urban India. As a growing economy of the 21st century and impacted with dynamism in our economy, it is no surprise that aspirations of our people are fast blurring the rural-urban food divide, especially their eating habits, thus reviving the importance of these traditional linkages.

A weekly market by the Delhi Organic Farmers Network. Photo: A. Kapoor

A weekly market by the Delhi Organic Farmers Network. Photo: A. Kapoor

The live cooking sessions every Sunday at this Organic Market re-enforced our belief that it’s the pleasure of food which connects us all to our cultural roots.

India has always been an agrarian economy with deep rooted ritualistic eating habits. We Indians have always favoured our own versions of global foods, yet, still have ambitions to explore new global flavours. We have a strong palette which resists any change to traditional recipes yet there is a large urban community who would like to experiment with the global dishes and culinary concepts.

With these insights into the Indian food habits, we started an initiative in Delhi to bring the farmers, growers and the producers on a common platform. We felt that within a large population of highly urbanised city like Delhi, people do not have access to vegetables and fruits which are grown in the traditional organic and natural way. This prompted us to conceptualise our initiative as a platform to promote traditional ways of farming, growing, cultivating, processing and cooking – all with the local and seasonal produce.

The idea was simple – to provide access to the freshly grown seasonal vegetables, staples and the lost grains and millets and to show the urban people how to cook various traditional recipes. This simple food philosophy was conceptualised and brought to life by Consume Green or C-Green. C-Green works extensively towards the revival of the traditional Indian food wisdom, thereby re-enforcing the rural-urban linkages.

Consume Green which is a proponent of local and seasonal nutritious food, introduced the philosophy of Slow Food in Delhi. With its ‘good, clean and fair’ food concept, Slow Food is well aligned to working with seasonal and local farm produce. Bringing the global chefs and cooks to India creates global food alliances besides exposing the aware urban Indian to richness of own food heritage. In this light, C-Green’s philosophy of researching the ‘future foods from the past’ is an exceptional example of social entrepreneurship to create rural urban social groups such as organic farmers market network in Delhi to promote the ‘pleasure of good food’.

The Delhi Organic Farming Market

We started networking in 2013. We were clear about our norms. Farmers had to be practising organic farming to become a member of Delhi Organic Farmers Network. To keep the carbon footprint to minimum, we chose only the local and regional organic growers. Since organic farming areas around Delhi are located in small privately owned pockets, we trusted the family farms and individual farming initiatives over expansive big farms and industrial names. With traditional agroecological practices being increasingly followed, we were encouraged by a large number of farmers who have adopted the Indian vedic Bio-dynamic organic farming methods and who were keen to join our initiative. This helped us in developing our Organic Farmers Market Network in north India around the availability of seasonal and fresh farm produce, which is sold at a fair price decided by the farmers themselves.

Besides organic farmers, the network includes primary producers, chefs and buyers. The network is also supported by small environmental and social initiatives. Typically over the last two years, we have had 5-6 vegetable farmers and exotic veggie growers, 1-2 staples farmers, 1-2 chefs & home cooks, 2-3 producers, 1 fruit vendor ,1 dairy farmer and 1-2 urban environmental initiatives supporting us every week.

The Delhi Organic Farming Market (DOFM) is a weekly market organised every Sunday morning. A core group of 3- 4 members assist in coordinating the market in terms of theme, activity, market logistics, fee management, media posts etc. All participating members are responsible for transporting their own goods to the market every week. For farmers it means a trip before Sunday market to farms located around 100-150 kms away to arrange the fresh harvest. On Sundays, they are at the market by 7 AM. Based on quality of produce and customer demand, each producer comes up with a Fair Price which is consistent within a reasonable band. This is based on the season, market conditions, customers reasonability and area clientele criteria. Open feedback has indicated that majority customers consider 50% to 200% above the in-organic price point as fair-price which they are willing to pay on a regular basis for the quality of genuine organic produce at DOFM.

We have various levels of checks and verification to ensure a high level of integrity amongst our members to ensure a high level of the buyer seller trust. All DOFM Network members follow the market guidelines on transparency, openness to ensure buyer trust. To ensure credibility of Organic produce each member has a transparency sheet on display showing the details of each farm, geo-location, area, land ownership, farming history, present and future cropping pattern & awareness of biodynamic and organic farming practices etc. DOFM is a part of Slow Food Earth Markets Network & already looking at replicating it in some of the chosen target cities /urban pockets.

Visitors to the weekly market tasting the cuisine. Photo: A. Kapoor
Visitors to the weekly market tasting the cuisine. Photo: A. Kapoor

Presently, the DOFM is organised every Sunday morning at Chanakyapuri New Delhi. The live cooking sessions every Sunday at this Organic Market re-enforced our belief that it’s the pleasure of food which connects us all to our cultural roots. DOFM has seen the best footfalls of 1500 on a good Sunday with a similar number of likes and following on our FB page/digital medium. We are looking at expanding it to Malcha Marg in Central Delhi during mid-week. In due course we plan to organise it in near by areas of Delhi national capital region like Noida etc.

Though matching supply and demand is a constant challenge, farmers are overcoming it by creative means. Most farmers have created additional customers outside the market, and are able to sell their produce to them. At times if the seasonal produce is in excess, the in-house home cooks and chefs at DOFM create a special menu for the Sunday live cooking. In the event of a bumper harvest, farmers either land up mulching it back into their farm lands or use it internally within the DOFM community.

Healthy food, a means of bonding

We have maintained a very high level of credibility even in a vastly commercial and whole sale mass agri market like Delhi. Our due diligence and verification methods rely more on knowledge and wisdom of traditional methods than mere certifications. Our patience and painstaking efforts have resulted in this Organic Farmers Market Network becoming a hallmark in user- farmer relation, which is based on integrity and trust. Our initiative re-defines the growers relationship with their customers, where the farmer, like a family physician, knows most of his customers personally. With such level of openness and trust amongst our patrons, the individual health concerns and benefits of different foods finds an amazing open learning space.

People across ages have acknowledged the organic market to be a happy hangout place to interact and make friends, where the farming and health knowledge comes for free. It is a place where people across generations come together to share their childhood farming stories, food habits and love for health and pleasure of food. What a reassuring sight it is when a young parent, trusting the source of food at C.Green live kitchen, feeds her child of few months from her own plate and comes back to tell us how her child, who normally is a fussy eater, loved the millet cuisine served by us. Or watch a little girl feed her ‘dadaji’, who in turn suggests a visit to a nearby farm to share his childhood farming experience.

We feel that with this kind of successful user experience, our rural-urban initiative which is based on sound principles of agroecology and multi-functionality looks highly sustainable and is here to stay. This has amply demonstrated the feasibility of such projects to being sustainable within the context of total organic market potential in a region. A customised replication of DOFM model is likely to prove more sustainable, within the capabilities and limitations of a different urban target area. DOFM’s association with Slow Food is expected to give the organic initiatives a huge impetus across India in general and within target urban cities in particular, making such social initiatives even more sustainable globally and spread this philosophy across geographies in the future.

Akhil Kapoor

Wg Cdr Akhil Kapoor is the Co-Founder of C.Green and Coordinator of Slow Food Organic Farmers Market Network Delhi.
Email: akhilkapoor27@gmail.com