There are no twin packs of red and yellow bell peppers, perfectly waxed red apples, parsley and thyme, or the ubiquitous mushrooms on this grocer’s shelves. It’s like ducking into one narrow refrigerator aisle at your local supermarket; the store reminds you of a sanitized “santhi” or farmers’ market of the kind that seats itself at Bandra or Hiranandani Estate in Thane on a weekly or monthly basis—sans the physical presence of the farmers. Organic Garden is down the street from that other pricey store for everyday vegetables—Nature’s Basket at Breach Candy, where the focus is more on providing variety (it doesn’t claim to be organic, though many vegetables are locally sourced).
Organic Garden, which opened last week, serves up rows of crisp, green vegetables: broccoli (hari phool gobi), fresh basil (tulsi); each shelf labelled neatly with the local and English names. A menu lists tomatoes at Rs 25 for 500g and Chinese cabbage at Rs 54 a head. The prices here are not negotiable and do not fluctuate like those at your vegetable vendor. This is because the vegetables are sourced directly from 15 farmers in Maharashtra who receive a fixed compensation for their efforts. Organic certification by the French company Ecocert means even the plastic packaging is biodegradable.
That’s the thing about organic farming, says owner Manisha Temkar. A local resident of Breach Candy, she was inspired to source organically grown produce when she realized that few vendors actually knew the provenance of their vegetables. “We eat a lot of these vegetables raw, and for that, you must know how it’s grown, otherwise you are just putting toxins into your system.” Growing up on her father’s farm near Ratnagiri helped her gain some of her knowledge about farming.
Green revolution: Removing the use of pesticides means trusting the farmer’s indigenous methods (Photo : Hemant Mishra/Mint)
When Temkar began Organic Garden, she first spent time looking for farmers from whom she could buy. Being organic, she says, means seeing that the farmer is involved with his land every single day. It required getting into the nitty-gritty of how farmers live. “For instance, we realized our farmers in rural areas get electricity at 2am. So the husband and wife have to take turns waking up to operate any machinery required. So we decided to fund generators. So also with the water tanks.” Removing the use of pesticide meant replacing it with a trust in the farmer’s indigenous methods of farming. “There is great knowledge within the farming community. Farmers use the natural order to grow crops that mutually benefit each other; carrots and onions, for instance. They create handmade traps for rodents. They collect 27 different herbs to make a spray for pests.” To trust a farmer to his home-grown methods means a slower rate of growth and more potential wastage. While pesticide-treated crop may allow a farmer to be less hands-on and provide, say, a 80% yield, organic crop will lose some produce to pests eventually. That, says Temkar, is part of the deal and a risk they are willing to take.
The produce at the store—try the blackened curry leaves or the guavas, and custard apples or basil—may look “smaller and less pretty” but they have a deep, earthy smell. But that also means they rot faster. Lionel Dharmai, the store manager, says they have to destroy or give away almost 50% of their produce every day. Quite the cost for health. Expats form the base customer group here, he says, and the few Indians with knowledge of crop appreciate the taste of the vegetables. “But many come and say why should I pay more for the same carrots? We tell them, take them home, boil them and see if it leaks orange chemical water and come back.”
Organic Garden, ground floor, Sagar Villa, opposite Navroze Apartment, Breach Candy, Mumbai. Open 9am-9pm. For home delivery, call 67495555, 9664025555 or 180002665555.