Passers-by strayed into Bangalore’s Vyasa International School on a recent Sunday morning, wondering why a school playground was playing host to something resembling a vegetable market.
Au naturel: A cart at the organic market at Bangalore’s Vyasa International School. Hemant Mishra / Mint
As it turned out, almost everybody who walked in bought something, observed members of the Navachetana Trust, a non-profit group that works in the areas of art, environment and wellness. Navachetana organized the 3-hour market that has been christened Namma Santhe, or “our market”—and hopes to make it a monthly affair.
Twenty stalls had on display fruits, vegetables, spices, dals, chutney powders, jams, juices and pickles. They were all locally produced, and much of it was organic. “The idea was to introduce the concept of a local market back to the big cities,” says Aliyeh Rizvi, programme manager, Navachetana Trust. So locally grown vegetables and fruits such as bananas, okra, tomatoes and coconuts were the mainstay. Rice and pulses were next on the most wanted list.
While the Bangalore-based organic retailers were at the market, Rizvi is happy that farmers from villages nearby came with fruits and vegetables too. These were almost sold out.
Rizvi says the farmers need a designated space. “There were five farmers who lost their way despite the specific directions we gave. They were overwhelmed by the city and went back. That is indicative of how much we need a space where they can come and understand their consumers directly as opposed to selling to middlemen,” she says.
In Mumbai, Kavita Mukhi is organizing the first farmers’ market on Sunday. Although she has been working to arrange this for the last six months, she says that in some ways the process began 20 years ago when she set up a small store selling dry organic food in Malabar Hill. “It was the GM crop issue that motivated me to finally take this step. It makes me so angry. Besides (it) being unhealthy, farmers will become dependent on big corporations for their seeds,” says Mukhi, who started Conscious Food, a brand of organic foodstuff. “India is full of farmers who produce organically. The farmers’ market will give people access to them,” she says. There will be food items, organic candy floss for children and stalls for eco-friendly household items, recycled paper, among others.
The farmers’ market in Bandra, Mumbai, is planned as a weekly affair, with all kinds of seasonal fruits, such as grapes, oranges, bananas and apples, and vegetables such as spinach, tomato, potato, onions and more.
Megha Rawal, who is working with Mukhi to organize the market, says, “The flavours (of organic food) are richer and more intense, not diluted because of all the chemicals.”
Organic supplies available in supermarkets tend to be costlier but here, the prices will be on a par with those in regular markets since no middlemen or dealers are involved.
With around 250 visitors, the turnout at the first market in Bangalore was not overwhelming, but it did have sellers hopeful of making converts out of supermarket shoppers.
Like Subu Palamadai, a graphic designer and illustrator with a design firm, who heard of the market through friends. “I have been trying to go organic for a while and think it’s a good step,” says Palamadai, adding that the lifestyle change—in terms of taste, looks and availability—is a tough one to make. “The taste is different, and the vegetables don’t look as good as the modified stuff at supermarkets.” As he picks up a bag of unpolished rice and some pickles, he says it just takes getting used to. “The taste of vegetables, for example, is unpredictable (the taste tends to vary) and a lot like eating from your vegetable garden” he adds.
But while Palamadai drove to the market from his home 5km away, around 60% of the crowd was from the area around the school. “We would like the community to be involved and spread the word around, just the way a locality market works. From the first market, we have a database of 250 people and I hope they will spread the word,” says Rizvi.
Navachetana doesn’t want to use its limited funds to advertise in newspapers, so the project is entirely dependent on word of mouth and the leaflets they distribute a week earlier.
In Mumbai, Mukhi is following the same principle. “We haven’t done any advertising, (are) just depending on word of mouth,” she says. Mukhi has also found a supporter in chef Vicky Ratnani who is designing a special organic menu for Aurus, a popular beachside restaurant in Juhu. “Since it is going to be a weekly market nearby, it makes it easy for us. I’ll design dishes depending on what’s available there,” he says.
With time, Rizvi hopes, the farmers and retailers who own stores in the city will take the onus of organizing the market while the trust can look after the logistics: “This way we can look at more than one market in the city, so Bangaloreans, who seem so cocooned in their comfort, don’t have to drive across town.”