New-age farmers: Growing a sustainable future
As the world observed Earth Day recently (April 22), we bring you inspiring stories of young professionals who quit their jobs to follow their passion for ethical farming.
Achintya Anand , 29
Produce niche: Exotic vegetables
A former chef who mastered his culinary skills in cities such as Adelaide and New York, Anand’s tryst with vegetables and farms began in 2014 when he started supplying edible flowers and micro-greens to prominent Delhi restaurants. Taking forward his passion to work with fresh and unique produce, he started Krishi Cress, his farming initiative in the Capital’s Chhatarpur area. Anand who loves being in the field and getting his hands dirty says “I spend days at length at the farm, practising farming as well as overlooking the management side, making sure the farm produces enough to meet the client needs.” Anand supplies veggies to hotels, restaurants and directly to consumers in various Indian cities. He can be seen working with pink heart raddish, Japanese black raddish, kale, kailan broccoli, tatsoi or spoon cabbage, lettuce, mushrooms, beets, squash, and more. Bringing his management skills to the table, he tries to ensure that his farmers get a 25% incremental return every year working with him. “Within four years of working with us we are able to double the farmers income,” he says. Talking sustainability, Anand says, “We have tied up with local cow sheds to ensure that any green waste at our farm is available for the cows to eat.”
Manas Dubashi, 31
Produce niche: Mushrooms
After getting his degree from the U.K. and working as a sales and marketing professional for about five years in Gurugram, Dubashi took forward his vision of starting a mushroom farm. In 2018, after taking a training on mushroom cultivation, he started Kalpavriksha, to bring an international variety of mushrooms to India. “We grow eight types of mushrooms in our temperature-controlled units. The produce is free of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, soil fumigants or chemical fertilisers,” says Dubashi who works with button mushrooms, portobello, king oyster mushrooms, shitake, milky mushrooms and more, and is going to launch enoki and shimeji variety soon. Dubashi works with conventional farmers who have been growing just the regular button mushrooms and is training them to grow more exotic varieties such as portobello and milky mushrooms. This way, he is not only upskilling them but also helping them create new channels of livelihood. Dubashi also makes sure his farming practices remain sustainable and for that he grows his mushrooms on sterilised wheat straw that is discarded from wheat farms, After harvesting the produce, he then uses the leftover straw as manure, minimising waste.
Aprajita Bansal , 29
Produce niche: Apples
Daughter of a farmer but far from her roots, Aprajita was working as an engineer in Noida when the pandemic hit. When she got a few plants to decorate her house and started sharing plant decor related videos on Instagram she ultimately realised of her underlying love for plants and farming and returned to her farms in Himachal Pradesh after 14 years. She has since been farming, growing apples and a host of other fresh produce and bringing in her tech skills to better sell the organic produce from her land. “After knowing that my dad was selling his apples for way less than what we as a consumer get in cities, I thought to sell some apples directly to my Instagram audience to avoid the middleman commission. It was a great success and after that I decided to shift back to my orchard (thanks to my wfh policy) to help my parents with farming,” she says. Her main motive is to bring back the natural and regenerative ways of farming so that she can improve the soil health and in turn the quality of food. “We are doing a lot of things like crop rotation keeping seasonality in mind, planting cover crop to prevent soil erosion and reducing tillage by digging less to not disturb the microbial activity in the soil. We also make our own compost,” she shares. Other than apples, Bansal also grows pear, pomegranate, prunes, radish, zucchini, lettuce, arbi, China cabbage, and beans.
Satyajit Shivajirao Hange (41) and Ajinkya Shivajirao Hange (36)
Produce niche: Legumes, nuts
Farmer’s sons who were sent to a boarding school so that they could build a life away from the farms and grow out of the family’s profession, brothers Satyajit Shivajirao Hange and Ajinkya quit their banking jobs and returned to their roots, only to thrive more in the farming world. In 2019, they co-founded Two Brothers Organic Farms in Pune. Bringing their MBA skills to the table, the brothers manage the farms with strategic planning, farmer activations, branding, and marketing. “I started this journey back to live my dream of working with nature. I thought as a farmer’s son it was my duty to continue the tradition of farming and since then it’s been an unfolding of sorts,” says Satyajit who is able to sell his produce in more than 50 countries. On their farm the brothers produce wheat, groundnut, peanut, amla, different varieties of jaggery, variety of indigenous kinds of rice, millets, whole grains, pulses, legumes, and beans. The company aims to tackle the long-standing problem of excessive chemical and pesticide use in farming and offers a variety of products made from natural ingredients. Employing close to 200 farmers, the brothers have also set up farmer institutions to teach local farmers about the benefits of organic farming. Their company also promotes soil biodiversity by resting the soil with cover crops and natural mulching (covering the topsoil with leaves, grass, crop residues etc. to enhance the activity of soil organisms such as earthworms).
Abhinandan Karki, 32
Production niche: Green leafy vegetables
An engineer by education Karki quit is full-time job in 2016 after working for more than a decade in IT sector to get back to his roots as he came from a farming background. Together with his partner Ajay Naik he founded Letcetra Agritech, an indoor vertical hydroponics farm in Goa, where they grow a host of leafy greens such as lettuce, palak, methi, bhindi, capsicum, and more. Hydroponic is a technique of growing plants using water-based nutrient solution rather than soil. Bringing his IT skills to the table, Karki says he manages and monitors crops to maximise output and minimise wastage. “We are building new age urban farming services with modern technology. Our farm automation methods reduce the wastage of crops as well as water by monitoring the setup 24/7 and alerting farmers whenever there is a change in the preset parameters,” he explains. Karki already sells his produce all over India and is working to expand farming operations by developing technology that will further aid his eco-ideas.