urban harvest 2019 Food

From moringa to mushrooms, shop for locally-grown produce

Argentinian capers, Ishka farms, Tuticorin: Chef Divesh Aswani of The Table and Magazine Street Kitchen in Mumbai swears by the capers from this farm. He uses them dried in roast beef sandwiches and in sauces like tartar and gribiche. Today, the farm bottles caper berries, capers in brine, moringa powder and a caper salt (made from Tuticorin sea salt and caper flowers); all of which have found favour among chefs in popular restaurants across the country, including Forage Fit in Bengaluru, Slink and Bardot in Worli, and O Pedro in Bandra.
“We also supply centrally to Little Italy [with 35 outlets nationwide], and the Malabar House in Kochi uses our moringa and capers in bread, and caper salt on their brioche,” adds Fiona Arakal, who founded the farm with partner Srikant Suryanarayan in 2013. It all started when the Kochi-based couple — who were looking for a hardy yet niche crop to grow on their 400-acre land in Ettayapuram — met Argentinian farmer, Pablo Rico Sebastian, in Moscow in 2012. They found that capers required little water to cultivate, and its potential as a commercially-viable crop was yet to be tapped in India. “Since we were the first organised commercial farm to grow them here, it has been a lot of learning on the job,” says Arakal, explaining how they visited farms in South America and Australia.
The duo then took six months to experiment with a handful of capers each day to get the curing process right. While Arakal says the decision to include chefs in their effort to popularise the caper was a conscious one, they are now focussed on bulk selling and scaling up their production (based on permaculture) by 111 acres this year. ₹400 onwards at ishkafarms.com. Krithika Sukumar
Mexican gherkins, Offerings Farm, Pune: Over a decade ago, husband-and-wife duo Sanmitra Pandharpur and Amrita Chaudhury left their IT careers in the US to relocate to India and work in sustainable organic farming. “We started growing fresh greens for ourselves in 2006 in a small garden plot near our house,” shares Pandharpur. Commercial operations started in 2009, with lettuce and herbs. Today, the couple provides crops like naturally-grown sweet potatoes, butternut squash, black carrots and Chioggia beets, and is placing emphasis on preserving the seeds of heirloom crops such as varieties of chia seeds (grown over an area of two acres).
The farm’s Mexican gherkin, a crop common to South America, was a convenient one because it is a heat-loving vegetable that responds well to the Maharashtra climate. High-profile customers include Sequel Bistro in Mumbai (they have a standing order). Strictly focussed on delivering to customers living in the region (most of the clientèle is in Mumbai, Pune, Gurugram and Goa), Chaudhury and Pandharpur grow their crops in a farm located in Somurdi village, and have also leased out a few plots in the surrounding area, working with local farmers for over five years now.
“It’s rewarding to see them move from a chemical monoculture farm to a biodiverse and multi-cropped organic set-up,” says Pandharpur. Prices, he admits, are higher, largely because crops infested by pests are discarded. But to keep rates uniform across the year, some crops are sold at less than market rate during the summer. Details: offeringsfarm.com (By Sindhuri Nandhakumar)
Lakadong Turmeric, Trinity Saioo, Meghalaya: While the West chugs down turmeric lattes by the gallon, in Jaintia hills, Trinity Saioo, a primary school teacher, has been spearheading a quiet revolution with the highly sought-after Lakadong variety, indigenous to Meghalaya. At Kolkata’s The Spicery, founder Diptee Somani has stocked up on the exotic ingredient to craft a Spiced Turmeric Latte mix — with black and green peppers, cinnamon and dried ginger (₹200 for 100 gms). “It’s best boiled with milk or lukewarm water and honey-lime mix,” says Somani.
Saioo, 47, has been working with women farmers since 2003 to grow this prized variant with a high curcumin (an active ingredient that comes with antioxidants and high inflammatory properties) content. “The Lachen only contains 3.5% whereas the Lakadong variety has 7.4% to 8.4%. This makes it a perfect ingredient for beauty masks (antioxidant properties), turmeric milk (immunity booster) and is excellent for those with blood pressure or gastric problems,” says Saioo, who hails from a family of turmeric cultivators in Mulieh, a remote village in the Jaintia Hills. Lakadong is a brighter yellow, and comes with a slight pungency, like ginger, she says. And it has a shelf life of two years, once powdered.
Known for her work in mobilising women farmers in the region, she is also the brain behind two cooperatives: the Ieng Skhem Spice Producer Industrial Co-operative Society (with 800 farmers) and the women-led Life Spice Federation of Self Help Groups, to facilitate the production and marketing of turmeric. Efforts by the Federation is on a mission to ensure Lakadong goes beyond the Northeast, and markets are being explored in Kerala, Kolkata and Karnataka. Retails at Urban Platter (₹625 for 800 gms) and Zizira (₹500 for 250 gms). Amrita Bose
Shiitake Mushrooms, Green Apron, Bengaluru: At Grasshopper, the Bengaluru-based European restaurant’s Christmas menu last year, the beef steak (aged and prepared in-house) seasoned with shiitake salt was a hit. It was served on a bed of freshly-harvested king trumpets sautéed with herbs and glazed with a pan jus made using mushroom pâté butter, pan drippings and red wine. The fungi were sourced from Namrata Goenka’s Green Apron in Bengaluru that grows elm oysters, pink oysters and shiitakes.
A regular at farmers’ markets in the city, the year-old brand is often spotted at chef Karen Anand’s markets, Sunday Soul Sante, Christmas bazaars, among others. “We have also supplied our mushrooms to a few chefs and food bloggers such as Pallavi Mithika Menon, senior sous chef at Fava at UB City, and culinary curator Kanishka Sharma,” says Goenka, who also grows herbs, vegetables, salad leaves and microgreens at her farm, but for personal consumption.
From noodle bowls and stir fries to salads and fritters, the mushrooms are used as an accompaniment by her customers: primarily home cooks, bloggers, and home-based food businesses. “They are a great example of sustainable produce,” she says, adding, “They require less land, water and electricity and grow on agri-waste. Mushrooms have a low carbon footprint and can safely fall under most diets such as vegetarian, vegan, non-vegetarian, keto, low-carb, high-protein and paleo.” Details: greenapron.in, 09900485250 (By Nidhi Adlakha)
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