Here's a company that takes pride in its quality organic produce. And for Gomathi Viswanathan, who heads Enfield Agrobase, it's the fulfilment of her husband's dream
A great cup of filter coffee leads me to Enfield Agrobase Limited. I learn their organic coffee powder, sourced from a relatively small estate in Yercaud, is a staple for Chennaiites-in-the-know. Powerfully aromatic, the coffee is produced in small quantities, and thus never advertised. Since Enfield Agro does not export its produce, the best quality is sold in the local market. A market increasingly appreciative of honestly grown organic food.
Their modest Adyar office is also the site of their only store, a surprisingly cramped space stacked with bags of brown rice, tins of cold-pressed oils and plastic bottles filled with honey. Over a glass of sweet coconut water Gomathi Viswanathan, who heads the company, explains how she got started. “It was a dream of my husband, Sundaram Viswanathan,” she says, adding that he was inspired by researchers he met in London, while travelling on work as Chairman of Enfield India.
This was 1994. More than a decade ahead of its time. “We never had any land. So we bought 200 acres in Cheranmahadevi, Tirunelveli District,” says Gomathi, adding with a laugh, “By birth I'm a village girl from Tirunelveli. My husband was from nearby. His vision was to create a big organic centre — research, dairy, college —1000 acres in all. He wanted to develop his home village into a farming centre.”
However, Viswanathan passed away the same year. “I had to take over. My brother N. Balasubramaniam helped me. With the help of Dutch researchers, we first planted coconut, mango and cashew trees.” Next they got the organic certification from the international agency Institut Fur Marktokologie (IMO) Switzerland for the farm lands and products, which they've continued since 1994.
“We started with 15 cows to provide manure for the land. Now we have 150, with 50 calves. When a cow stops giving milk, it continues to live with us. The bulls we train for ploughing on our farm in Singampatti village, where we grow rice, sugarcane, banana and turmeric.”
Give and take
This style of farming is kinder not just to the animals but also the soil. “It's a cycle. What we take from the land, we give back. It's very important,” says Gomathi, chuckling “I joke that ghee and butter are our by-products.” She states farming without chemicals is not more difficult, just more labour-intensive. “When cashew's covered with tea mosquito everyone else sprays endosulphin. We try neem oil one year, pungam oil the next… It's trial and error. At the very worst, we manually remove insects from cashew.”
Customers are beginning to appreciate the fruit of all this labour. “Even till 2009, the response was not so good. Suddenly, it's changed.” She says it's a combination of people travelling and the media exposure. “The poison in our land has exceeded the limit. If people keep putting chemicals in the earth, it loses its viscosity. Pests get resistant, and then you need to use more pesticide.”
At Enfield Agro's farms, which include the Yercaud coffee plantations and satellite farms in Thiruporur and Palavakkam for vegetables, crops are nurtured the old-fashioned way aided by the latest in technology, thanks to an association with the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM, Germany). “Farmland is drip irrigated, rain water harvested through check dams. Fruits are dehydrated with solar power, oil is cold-pressed.”
Their products, all available at the store, include cashews, semi-polished rice, butter and groundnuts, besides a daily shipment of fruits and vegetables from their satellite farms. They're particularly famous for their chikkis, turmeric powder and ghee, all processed at the farm to ensure purity.
Gomathi says they don't really feel the need for more than one outlet, though they do have stockists in Bangalore, Puducherry and Auroville. “We don't want to get bigger. Agriculture is tightrope walking. Like bringing up a child. Farms need constant attention,” she says.
As for the land, she says it is thriving. “Our soil needs no fertilizer because it gets more fertile every season. We have bees for cross pollination. Not only does the honey from each farm taste different but every season it has a unique flavour. In June-July it will have a mango flavour because of the mango flowers.”
She looks delighted at the thought of her upcoming mango honey. These are the joys of farming. “You have to be very, very patient. Wait and wait. Enjoy, appreciate, dedicate yourself. It's worth it.”
The Enfield Agrobase outlet is at No.3, First Cross Street, Kasturba Nagar, Adyar. Call 24420605 or 24425664 for details.