Tradition reborn at Mumbai's first organic Farmers' Market

Tradition reborn at Mumbai's first organic Farmers' Market

The first organic farmers' market in Mumbai, giving consumers the chance to buy direct from the farmer, opened in Bandra last Sunday and was sold out before noon
Organic Farmer's Market Mumbai
"Our goal", says founder Kavita Mukhi, "is to support the farmers, to help them get the right price for their produce so they are able to make a healthy living, and so the next generation will want to become farmers."

Traditional Indian cultural thought used to dictate that the most intelligent son of a family become a farmer. The second-most intelligent son, a businessman, and the least intelligent son, a job in any service industry.

Somewhere along the way this ancient order became inverted, landing us in today's modern, urban society chaotically disconnected from nature. However last Sunday, March 21 (the Spring Equinox), Mumbai’s first ever organic Farmer’s Market took place in Bandra and for a moment, the old, earthy, natural order was once again embraced.

Organic Farmer's Market MumbaiKavita Mukhi at the market.This was the first time Maharashtra’s organic farmers sold their produce directly to the consumer without any middlemen involved. The farmers’ enthusiasm, like that of the customers, was urgent and irrepressible. Despite having little guarantee of its success and no benchmark against which they could forecast consumer interest, the organizers and farmers committed to the effort without hesitation.

The market will continue on a weekly basis (every Sunday, 10am-5pm), says Kavita Mukhi, the founder of Conscious Food, and the petite powerhouse who made The Farmer’s Market happen. Her personal hope is that "people support the market, understand and value the farmers’ work and what it means to the larger community, society itself." Mukhi was the first to shop last Sunday. She bought 20 kilos of organic grapes and sent them straight away to a friend in Alibaug who has promised to make a cask of organic wine. 

This direct selling to the consumer should get a better price for the farmer. Incidents of farmer suicides have risen as they find it harder and harder to make a living. Mukhi says "Government policies and existing middlemen systems have put the farmers in this precarious situation. Pesticides, chemicals and GM seeds enslave them further. Enslaving farmers means enslaving the nation which has an agriculture base. Maybe we cannot just blame government. Since time immemorial, food has always cost very little compared to other necessities. The farmer does not take the cost of land, labor, raw material etc (as any other business would) into account."

The produce which finally reaches the city markets can be priced at up to ten times what the middleman paid. The farmer is often forced to sell at whatever price he is meted out because his produce is highly perishable.

There is of course a risk that the city’s elite will not understand the point of removing the middlemen, and will try to bargain with the farmers. A wise signboard behind the produce stalls advises shoppers: "No Bargaining Please. Organic is Priceless."

Organic Farmer's Market MumbaiDelicious, ethical and organic. In addition to the variety of fruit and vegetables, and with much more to come, many staples and treats are on offer: Organic sugar candy floss; Auro natural wall paints; macrobiotic food; organic coffee and tea; furniture made with reconstituted paper (returned to its wood-like state with added gluten); water made in a machine that extracts humidity from the air; Ecorama natural mosquito repellant and natural dish-washing powder; play area with trampoline (a children’s splash pool is soon to come).

EcoCert, the international agency which certifies organic produce as authentic, is also involved. This is no small victory. "Organic" is no easy label to come by for Indian farmers, what with tedious and copious records to keep and present to the agency, storing and transporting produce at specifically designated standards. "In India many who claim to be organic may not be; and many who don't claim to be, and may not even know the word organic, may actually be organic", Mukhi explains the irony of our rural farming tradition. EcoCert certifies produce, and the farm from which it is sourced, as organic, using the same standards as all other international certifying agencies: if a farm has once used chemicals, it must be clear of any chemical form of pesticide use for a minimum of three years before certification to organic can be granted.

At 10am, in a garden just off Linking Road, the suburb’s busiest and most trafficked shopping street, the Organic Farmers Market kicked off its auspicious opening with an Agnihotra Homa, a Vedic ritual to heal the Earth’s biosphere and purify the surroundings of negative energy.

No one, except perhaps the eager customers themselves, need have worried about the success of the market as it was sold out by 1:30 p.m.

Bandra’s coolest hipsters claimed the market their own, creating an instant "Happy Hippie Fair" zone of it all. The most forward thinking and progressive of Page 3ers and the Bollywood Wives Club gave the market their blessings with brief, sun-glassed-glam appearances. Townies, who never venture further north in the city than Worli, came seeking organic produce as though it were gold. And the faithful Boon Dock North 'Burbies' came pouring in to buy up kilos of anything they could carry out in their cloth shopping bags.

Organic Farmer's Market MumbaiUmbrellas to help keep fresh veggies from wilting in the Spring sun.Even if this debut event was small, the end result has been gratifying, says Mukhi, mostly because the farmers left happy and satisfied with their earnings, sans the middlemen. Mukhi's inspiration for the market was her deep, honest and spiritual concern for farming as a way of life. The farmer has a knowledge of the leaves, flowers, fruits, plants, soil and circadian rhythms, and we are in danger of losing this knowledge as more farming families turn to the city to escape poverty, she says.

"Our goal", says Mukhi, "is to support the farmers, to help them get the right price for their produce so they are able to make a healthy living, and so the next generation will want to become farmers. We have to encourage other areas in the country to do the same. If we do not support and encourage the farmer, they will sell their land and move to the cities and there will be no food for your children to eat. This is not a joke. This is real. This is the inevitability we face."

With the advent of the Bandra Organic Farmers Market comes the small beginning of a movement into conscious living (and grocery shopping) in Mumbai. A movement that is, in fact, guaranteed to grow with this simple truth: You are what you eat. 

The Organic Farmer’s Market takes place every Sunday, beginning March 21st, 2010 from 10am-5pm. Nilgiri Garden, Bandra Hindu Association, Linking Road, Bandra (W). South-West of National College Opposite The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Call Megha +9198211 42700; Email farmersmarket@kavitamukhi.com or visit www.kavitamukhi.com

Deepti Datt is obsessed with art, culture, her 350cc Enfield Bullet and anything Japanese. She calls Goa and Los Angeles home, and finds great inspiration in all things marginal.
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