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Posted at: Apr 7, 2019, 12:08 PM; last updated: Apr 7, 2019, 12:08 PM (IST)GRUB GAB

Au natural

Chandigarh’s organic produce markets have grown into effective forums for farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and further afield
Au natural

Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu

Wellness has a peculiar way of reaching out to you from the most unlikely of places. This time, it was peeking out from a confined space between upcycled cloth jewellery and studio pottery at a pop-up of women apparel and accessories. Laid out on a table was a sample array of millet, horse gram, raw turmeric and ragi. Manning it was Ashreen Minocha, a young farmer advocating the adoption of organic produce as a step towards a healthier lifestyle. Over bite-sized pieces of bajra and carrot cake that she offered me, I learnt about her work at Kudarti, an eight-year-old venture she took over from her father a year ago. Since November last, organic produce from her farm in Raipur Rani, availability of which is shared on a WhatsApp group, is delivered to a steadily swelling community of customers on a weekly basis. On offer are seasonal vegetables, greens, fruit, pulses and grains.

Ashreen is not alone in her endeavour. Even as debate rages on between proponents and critics of organic farming, farmers are increasingly taking on the challenge that the fluctuating demand for high-on-cost and low-on-yield commodities presents. A steadily growing market, supported by government initiatives, cooperatives, and NGOs, coupled with heightened awareness in consumers, is an encouraging sign, serving to spur on these passionate agriculturalists. Chandigarh, for one, has begun to witness weekly organic markets, facilitated by discerning individuals. An informal and motley group until 2015, these markets have since grown into effective marketing forums for organic farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and further afield. Both of them, one held in Sector 18 on Wednesdays, the other at the Riding School near Sukhna Lake on Saturdays, are an eagerly awaited weekly happening. 

Khaalis Organic Collective is another platform that brings together a host of farmers and non-profits actively producing and promoting naturally grown consumables. Owned and run by Raman and Iqroop Tiwana, who returned from New Zealand some seven years ago, this shop in Sector 8 stocks limited supplies of everything, from vegetables to pickles. Including preserves, salts and teas sourced from Himalayan Haat, an initiative that trains, employs and empowers village women in Uttarakhand. The Tiwanas have lately joined hands with similarly-inclined individuals to set up another weekly market. Providing support to local farmers, it is held every Sunday at Gurdwara Bagh Shaheedan in Sector 44.

The Kheti Virasat Mission was a key propeller of the organic movement in Punjab. Subject matter experts consistently shared know-how with farmers rooted in conventional agriculture, wooing them towards a more sustainable and ecologically sound method. Many of them switched to employing natural nutrients and manure to enrich and restructure a soil long battered by pesticides and insecticides.  One of them, Raman Mann, an early supporter of a chemical-free life, now grows wheat, potatoes, flaxseed, and a variety of citrus on her eight-acre farm. A key facilitator of the first Chandigarh Organic Farmers’ Market, she is happy they were able to set the ball rolling when they did.

Equally thrilled is a customer no longer bereft of healthy choices, the breathtakingly high costs attached to organic items no deterrent either. Shivani Dhillon, one of an intimate community of aware consumers, has been collectively purchasing produce from a single trusted farm for the past three years. Her belief that no price is too high for the health of her family is music to the producer’s ears. Especially those of Ashreen’s ilk, who are driven not so much by commerce, or extraction of maximum produce, but by a well-intentioned desire to give back to the earth. The future is clearly looking robust.

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