At a recent culinary demonstration with Le Cordon Bleu’s chef Matthew Hodgett held at WeWork, Gurugram, a panel of speakers had a freewheeling chat on the growth of food businesses in India. Hodgett, along with Indian Accent and Comorin’s chef, Manish Mehrotra; Food Talk India’s Shuchir Suri, and Dr. YG Tharakan, Dean of the Le Cordon Bleu School of Hospitality at GD Goenka Universtity, touched upon the basic logistical back-end processes that have needed to keep pace with demand. Of these, Suri’s mention of hydroponics stood out.
Why it took off
The folks from Nature’s Miracle, the NOIDA-based fully automated hydroponics glass greenhouse, the farming practice took off because a lot more of us became concerned about toxicity in produce that comes from excessive pesticide use in farming. Since hydroponics uses no soil, and 90% less water than usual farming practices, it alleviates these fears. Also, it’s a vertical-growing practice, so it needs less acreage to grow more produce, than traditional farming does.
Where we’re at now
During the talk, Suri pointed out the need in restaurants, for year-round, quality produce. This is important because despite a lot of talk about sustainable practices, growing local, and eating seasonal, India’s ever-expanding middle-class and its aspirational lifestyle is ever- always ready to experiment with new cuisines at all times of the year. Hydroponics is very effective in such circumstances. To a large extent, it was hobbyists and small-scale entrepreneurs world-over who fuelled the trend, but it was also fine-dining restaurants that practised this in their own backyards. Or they tied up with such entrepreneurs, to keep their in-house kitchens supplied. In March, Nature’s Miracle had Mehrotra at their greenhouse, doing a farm-to-table five-course experience, to explore how valuable hydroponically grown vegetables can be for a quality culinary experience.
Where we could go with it
Somveer Anand, founder of the Chandigarh-based Pindfresh that works exclusively with the practice, says that he sees hydroponics as “a permanent but niche trend in India. We are way too poor to be able to afford ₹175 lettuce when it can be bought for ₹4 or ₹5. But a major seismic shift can happen when the country can grow plants hydroponically for the medical industry,” he adds.
He talks about how growing medical marijuana through the practice gave it a big boost in the US. Since “hydroponics isn’t farming, it is a scientific factory,” as Anand says, it can help alleviate concerns of hygiene and other purity issues that any plant-based medical industry might face.
Can you practice hydroponics?
Yes. Pindfresh for instance, says if you’re interested in being a hobbyist, it’s best to be a home-grower of hydroponic produce, especially if you don’t have access to high-end supply chains that can make it a viable business for you. You can try even if you’re in a small, cramped apartment because of the process’ “vertical farming” set up. Anand’s company sells equipment and kits on e-commerce portals like Amazon and through their website. “Our idea is that anyone can do this. It’s like cycling or swimming; you just need to do it to understand it,” he says. “It’s simple, if it’s automated. You can train a person within two hours to run it by themselves.”
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