Home >Mint-lounge >Business-of-life >Farming workshops can be detoxifying

It takes courage to quit a secure job and pursue something different, something only you may believe in. It takes even more courage when the employer is your father. But 35-year-old Smita Shirodkar was determined to chase a new-found love for farming and set up Earthoholics—a Mumbai-based company which organizes workshops on small-scale organic farming and provides kitchen gardening solutions for urban spaces.

From the family business to farming start-up: Shirodkar’s family owns a consumer electronics business in Mumbai. While pursuing her executive MBA from the ITM Executive Education Centre, she started working in process optimization in her father’s company, looking at the quality control of audio systems.

It was around this time, in early 2011, that Shirodkar thought of farming the vacant land next to their Goa factory for personal use. Her father, however, dissuaded her. “Too much time wasted...not our cup of tea" were some the things she heard from her family. “But I visited the area and noticed that our labourers were using smaller patches of land outside their own homes to farm vegetables. That was the first time I saw lemon and bottle gourd actually growing. I realized how disconnected I had become from nature," says Shirodkar.

The homework: Knowing that it was possible to farm on the smallest of plots, Shirodkar started reading up on organic farming. The more she read, the more determined she became, setting off on her own path. She attended workshops on organic kitchen gardening in Bengaluru, did an internship in Auroville, and was mentored by naturalist and Goa-based organic farmer Miguel Braganza. There was no looking back.

“I told Braganza that I am a very city person and I don’t want to leave my city life. He introduced me to urban farming, and, eventually, in November 2011, I set up Earthoholics in Mumbai," says Shirodkar.

Modelling a business: Earthoholics offers kitchen gardening services and organizes workshops for a fee. It also conducts sensitization workshops in schools, and for companies such as Standard Chartered Bank, Zee TV, SBI Capital and Reliance Nippon. It holds around 12 workshops in a month; each is attended by 200-250 people. Earthoholics also has a monthly kitchen garden maintenance contract with 15 clients. For such gardens, Shirodkar recommends edible plants and fruit trees like guava, lemon, star fruit and chikoo.

A lifestyle change: Shirodkar knows that had she lived her father’s dream of running the family business, it would have been a more luxurious life. But now she feels “more productive, peaceful and useful, away from the binds of corporate life". In an office, people were always there to help—there was too much comfort, she feels. But in her own endeavour, she has more time and scope to think out of the box and experiment.

She wakes up at 5.30am every day and works on her plants. “My routine is just like anyone else’s on a 9-to-5 job, just that I totally love what I do and I am more relaxed due to work from home. I am more eco-conscious or aware and buy local and seasonal produce," adds Shirodkar.

The good, the bad, the ugly: Earthoholics initially faced a challenge trying to convince, and reach out to, people. The team—Shirodkar and two of her friends—found it difficult to understand what would get people interested. As they spoke to more people and conducted more workshops, interest levels rose. Shirodkar says the workshops act almost like a detox for many of the participants.

Earthoholics also manages a few community farms in some private societies in Mumbai. “It is very motivating to see that every evening there are children and senior citizens, coming together to pluck vegetables from these community farms and taking ownership of it. I was always worried that people would fight over the produce. But my worries were baseless," says Shirodkar.

The insight: The challenge was also to find a working business model, because the team had to be paid. Shirodkar says growing awareness among people worked in her favour. “People getting more health and fitness conscious has helped. We are in a place now where even when I travel to Germany for half the year, the work for Earthoholics can continue without any disturbance. I think if I could do it, then anyone should be able to do it in the comfort of their own houses," she adds.

Green Thumb is a series that aims to understand why people with corporate lives give up their jobs to become urban farmers.

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