A new outlet called Shen’s Farm hopes to attract people from all walks of life into an organic lifestyle

If you are looking for organic food in Madurai, there is a new address now.

On the back streets of Chokkikulam, a small store called “Shen’s Farm: The Organic Shop” opened on Tamil New Year day. Visitors to the shop that day included many who are environmentally conscious.

About 1,000 invites were sent through e-mails, sms-es and word-of-mouth advertising. And the rush inside the store and outside in the parking lot indicated changing times.

Inaugurating the store, Prof.Solomon Pappiah of Pattimandram fame, spoke of the benefits of organically grown products and worth paying a little extra now to stay healthy longer.

In Madurai, people are still sceptical about organic brands because they are perceived to be expensive.

But the man behind the concept store, J.Shenbagaraj says the idea is not to make organic products elitist but make it affordable and within reach for every one. So he is keeping the price competitive. Fruits and vegetables grown organically in his farms in Palamedu and Virudhunagar are sold at market price or even lower. Products which he procures directly from the government certified organic farmers are sold at the cost price. These are essentially tea and coffee that is dried and powdered manually under the sun and different types of oils (gingelly, groundnut, sunflower, coconut) which are extracted using the cold-pressed method and then packaged.

An electrical engineer by profession, Shenbagaraj who also runs an IT company, nurtured an interest in agriculture and horticulture. He bought 27 acres in his hometown Virudhunagar four years ago. “I started by planting 160 lemon and 120 amla trees but soon realised there was much more to farming than just passion,” he laughs, explaining how his ideas failed.

Friends in the agriculture department came to his rescue and gave him practical tips. As his land was located in the dry belt farming threw up further challenges. “Every weekend I would be there trying out something new and different.” Finally a year later when earthworms started making their presence felt, indicating a fertile soil, he knew he had arrived. Soon garlic, brinjal, chillies, tomato, potato, ginger, coriander, papaya, guava, banana, drumsticks, pumpkin started growing.

Initially, Shenbagaraj brought the produce home for his family’s consumption. Then his wife started distributing the vegetables to extended family members, friends and neighbours. “After one or two rounds of distribution, people did not want to take it free, so we put up a Sunday stall in our garage to sell the produce,” he says. And from the garage sale, came the idea of starting an outlet.

Shen’s Organic Shop Farm also stocks branded grains, cereals, pulses, pickle, jam and honey, snacks and juice from 24 Mantra, Organic Tatva and Down To Earth. It also offers soap, shampoo, hair colour and face wash from Khadi.

“People are slowly changing and willing to pay more for healthy products now but the supply chain is still small in the city,” says Shenbagaraj. (Madurai has two more small organic grocery stores in Gomathipuram and Tallakulam.)

Shenbagaraj, has already drawn up expansion plans which includes a live salad and small-bites counter that will offer sprouted dal, dalia, rava, dry fruits and coffee. “We are still exploring,” smiles Shenbagaraj, “and we will learn and grow as we go along.”

Shen’s Farm has some attractive introductory offers right now.

If you are a health and cost-conscious shopper, it could well turn out to be your Mecca!