To market, to market…

Organic Farmers Market, a collective of youngsters with hole-in-the-wall organic stores, brings to Chennai the best of produce from across the country

November 18, 2014 06:43 pm | Updated November 19, 2014 12:37 pm IST

Members of Organic Farmers Market. Photo: M. Srinath

Members of Organic Farmers Market. Photo: M. Srinath

Every grain of rice, millet, and pulse in the garage has a story to it. They have journeyed from farms near and far to occupy the racks at the hub of the Organic Farmers Market (OFM) at Kasturba Nagar, Adyar. Farmers with a heart have cultivated them — Mukesh from Nagpur, Chandrasekaran from Thalavady, Vijay Jardhari from Uttarakhand. Prod a little and you can find out the names of the people who grew them, and where they are from.

It all began after the demise of organic farming pioneer G. Nammalvar. Organic activist Ananthoo of the Safe Food Alliance noticed that Nammalvar drew a lot of youngsters in the last two years of his life. ‘Why not involve them in a movement that will further the cause?’ he thought. “We identified 15 youngsters to run mono shops that will function like a cooperative,” explains Ananthoo. Also a founder-volunteer of non-profit organic store reStore, he started OFM in the same garage reStore was born in, six years ago.

“The idea is to take organic food to the middle-class,” explains Gopi, who manages OFM’s hub. Members, who range from IT professionals to homemakers, stock organic products in small outlets at home or in shops in their neighbourhood. Sourced from a wide network of organic farms across the country, the products are sold with a “small margin, without involving middlemen”.

Kamalakannan, a member, is in a village near Uthiramerur on his monthly farm visit, an OFM protocol, as he talks to us. A systems engineer in an IT firm in the city, he stocks organic products at home. “My wife and I take turns to look after the store,” he explains. Kamalakannan ensures he talks to as many people as possible on the goodness of organic food. “I set up stalls in places such as temple festival grounds to spread the word. Each of us should know where our food comes from.” Kamalakannan has brought his five-year-old son and a customer to Karuveppam Poondi village to find out just that. These farmer verification visits ensure that products are completely organic.

OFM follows a strict purchase policy. Members take a lot of effort to ensure “source consistency”, according to Gopi. “We perform random, surprise checks at farms, talk to the farmers’ neighbours, and see if they own cows and goats for farming, rather than machinery,” adds Ananthoo.

In essence, OFM wants to take consumers closer to Nature. Ananthoo is disturbed by the “sudden spurt of organic shops” in the city that sell branded organic products. “This is a danger,” he observes. “The food industry went wrong because of centralising and processing products to give them longer shelf lives. The consumer went far from the producer.”

His movement is steadily gaining strength — IT employee Dhamodharan Chandrasekaran and his wife have set up a 9 x 10 square feet shop with OFM products; Rajesh, who was an HR software consultant, sells organic food at his electrical service centre; Seethalakshmi displays products at her meditation class; Rekha, an IT-professional-turned-farmer, has started a store at home… these men and women meet at the head-garage every month to discuss and ideate.

With no distributors in the picture, they arrive at the garage when they run out of stock to purchase, pack and transport the items themselves. All of which, explains Gopi, cuts costs.

S. Radhakrishnan, a member who is studying the effects of climate change on soil, says that the coming year will be very supportive to organic farming. “A lot of people are coming forward to cultivate organic food. By 2015, consumption of organic food would have doubled, when compared to the previous two years,” he foretells.

Radhakrishnan provides technical and managerial support to “new-age farmers”, people in their twenties and thirties who have given up jobs in cities to turn farmers. This wave has also revived plenty of our traditional seed varieties. Radhakrishnan says he just received a box of bananas called ‘vellai singam’. “The farmer says they will be tastier than the yelakki banana,” he laughs. “Everything is coming back. Rice, pulses... The best about this is that I’m now able to give my products for a low price. I’m having a happy selling experience.”

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