Patronage drops for the novel initiative that aided both farmers and a health conscious public

The increase in power cuts in the past few months has taken a heavy toll on ‘Uzhavan Unavagam’ (Farmer’s Eatery), the novel initiative undertaken by the former Madurai Collector U. Sagayam to help both the farmers and an increasingly health conscious urban populace.

Opened with much fanfare in September 2011 in an effort to revive traditional food culture, the eatery serves various recipes made exclusively out of minor millets and other agricultural products.

In order to cater to the tastes of an urban population, the health foods are packaged into contemporary dishes such as dosa, idly and soup.

Stalls were allotted to farmers who underwent training at Home Science College and Research Institute in Madurai.

However, stall keepers told The Hindu that the patronage, while very high initially, had dropped in the past few months as the eatery was, literally, languishing in darkness because of the power cuts. The stalls were open only in the evening hours between 4.30 p.m. and 9.30 p.m. Of these five hours, power supply is disrupted for at least three hours. With the farmers running the stalls, being financially weak, they are unable to afford inverters or generators. Cooking with the aid of candles and emergency lamps was also proving very difficult.

In the initial stages, the eatery serviced more than 500 consumers on week days and 700 on week ends generating an average daily income of nearly Rs. 8,000 for the farmers. In the first four months of its operation, the eatery served a total of 65,000 consumers generating nearly Rs. 10 lakh, according to official sources. At present, the arrivals have dropped to around 300 on week days and 500 on week ends.

“Only the regular customers are ready to eat in the dark as they find the food here to be very nutritious. Even they complain that their family members are reluctant to eat in the dark,” a stall keeper said.

A doctor from Dindigul, who was a regular patron, said that Uzhavan Unavagam was a rare opportunity for an urban populace that was increasingly facing a lot of lifestyle-related health issues. Such initiatives have to be promoted as the food offered here was very healthy and difficult to obtain otherwise.

Stall keepers said that they were taking part in events organised by various hospitals in the city as many doctors were advising their dishes for sugar and diabetic patients. More than 40 varieties of millet based recipes were served at these stalls. The dishes served include, among others, sola dosai, ragi idly, varagu pongal, mudakkathan dosai, ragi murukku and sola biscuits.

Further, many foreign tourists and Indian living aboard who had tasted their food while in Madurai were asking for more after returning to their countries.

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