Dairy products, vegetables, fruits and even chocolates... Small-scale, run-from-home businesses turn the focus on organic and vegan food

Everyone is looking for store-bought but home-made food these days. We’re shopping at organic stores, buying sustainable produce and want things that go beyond a mere brand name. That’s how home-grown ethical businesses have come to flourish in the city. Whether it is organic dairy products, vegetables or vegan fare, these entrepreneurs work in their farms and home-kitchens to bring you fresh and nutritious food.

Take Trader Koshy, for instance, a home business run by Ashley and Sneha Koshy from their five-acre farm in Thiruporur. They sell organic milk, paneer, ghee, fruits and vegetables. “We were ancestrally farmers but my grandfather broke the mould. I was working as a consultant in the U.S. and wanted to come back here and work on an education model for the underpriviliged. When I was travelling around the country working on that, I realised the land here is so fertile and gives many good things. I then decided to bring out beautiful food to the city,” says Ashley.

While they began selling in retail stores only in July, the Koshys have had customers long before that.

“Everything in the farm is done traditionally. Our eight cows are hand-milked and the milk is boiled in wood fire, as it was done many years ago. So our dairy products have a certain smoky and sweet taste that the customers like. We add no water and deliver in stainless steel containers,” he says.

The Organic Farm, based out of East Coast Road, also deals in dairy and organic produce, and owner Alladi Mahadevan has been selling his greens in the city for over 12 years. “We grow 23 types of country vegetables — gourds, greens, tomatoes, brinjal, chillies, and also fruits such as lemon, papaya, guava and sapota,” says Alladi. “We sell ghee as well.” He also sells farm inputs such as panchagavya, vermin-compost, neem cake powder, neem oil and more. “People buy organic greens primarily for health, and then for taste too. They also cook faster since there are no pesticides,” he says.

The city is slowly turning not just organic but also vegan. And bringing in some innovation in this sector is Natraj from Auroville. A home-based business started five years ago by Nilesh Nisar and his wife Geeta in their home-kitchen, Natraj is a brand of nutritious snacks. “We started off as a small concern based out of Auroville. The two things we concentrated on were food quality and hygiene. We began with vegan cashew toffees and then experimented with dry fruit laddus,” says Nilesh.

When the products garnered good response in the Auroville vegan community, it expanded to Puducherry and more recently, Chennai. “Now we’ve got a room sectioned off in the house just to run this and have employed around 15 local women.” The range of products now include dark, fruit and nut and walnut chocolates (vegan) and a honey range that has fig and honey, amla and honey, and 12 Elements (a snack made from 12 ingredients).

And all of these entrepreneurs are particular about ethical practices. “Our cows are treated better than we are,” laughs Ashley. “They are hand-massaged, and during cold nights, we light a fire near their shed so they’re warm. The food they eat is grown in the farm and they are allowed to graze on two acres. Apart from this, we do composting and produce our own manure, and use neem oil and cow dung as pesticide.” Ashley soon hopes to create a network of farmers in order to increase the variety and number of produce.

Alladi’s farm started off as any other farm did, and in 1993, the family decided to turn organic. “The old method meant a lot of crop loss and when we realised the benefits of going organic we did. Our milk is not toned or skimmed,” he says.

Alladi also brings in children to teach them about organic faming and, “In fact, we even taught mathematics for a group of students using the farm,” he says. Natraj’s products have no oil, khova, preservatives or milk. “We didn’t want anything that would harm people’s health, so all our focus went on making quality vegan products,” says Nilesh. “And our way of giving back to society was employing those women.” The unit produces 3,000 toffees and 1,200 laddus every day.