On 21st January 2019, i went to Pune for an exposure visit along with a few people from the villages of Khopoli and Paned (in Raigad, Maharashtra). The visit was to a company that sells vegetables and fruits in collaboration with the farmers giving them a price higher than the market rate. I was very excited to visit and possibly look for a tie up to help our farmers as well. We started the journey in the morning from Raigad and reached their farm which was located in the outskirts of Pune.
Their three storied house cum office was surrounded by massive fields on all sides with bajra, corn, onions and several other vegetables and fruits being cultivated. We were welcomed by the supervisor, Mr. Santosh Wable, and he briefly introduced us to Indrayani Krishi, the name of the company after which we set out to visit their farm. We drove through narrow lanes with vegetation on both sides and then climbed the hill to get to the field right below another hill.
As soon as we reached, Mr. Santosh Wable and his team took us for a tour of the entire farm where he also lived. We first visited the place where mushrooms were being grown and stored. I had always thought they grow on their own under the trees. This was the first time that i saw how mushrooms could also be grown inside. As we entered the small room i saw several racks with mushrooms growing. It was a beautiful sight to see. My words probably won’t do justice to what i saw, you can see the picture below.
We then moved on to the field where different vegetables were grown. At first i couldn’t recognise the vegetables but thought that could be my lack of understanding agriculture. Later when Mr. Wable started naming and explaining the types of vegetables I realised that all of them were exotic vegetables like Garden Asparagus, Avacado, Iceberg Lettuce, Basil etc. He explained that this range of crop was a fairly recent phenomenon and that none are traditionally Indian.
All these are grown in huge quantities not only in their field but also in the nearby areas. They also collect these vegetables from Nasik, Ahmadnagar etc as those regions are suited for their growth. I glanced everywhere but couldn’t see the vegetables that i had probably expected to see there. During our discussion with Mr. Wable he told us the price at which they are sold in the market and its growing demand especially amongst the working population. I wondered then what good do these vegetables offer. I even googled their nutritional value and compared it to the vegetables that our widely grown and eaten in India like Bhindi (lady finger or okra), Karela (bitter gourd), Cauliflower etc. To my surprise some of the vegetables did not even match the nutritional value of what we are eating for generations. Then why this sudden craze?
While speaking with Mr. Wable he informed us that the highest share of vegetables from their farm goes to restaurants and hotel chains in Pune. Over the past decade, restaurants serving foreign cuisine have bloomed, exposing more people to global ingredients which they also try and replicate at home. I was even surprised to hear that a popular food joint in Pune serves Zucchini ‘chaat’ as one of the items in the menu.
The next batch of vegetables and fruits are delivered to the cafeterias of big IT companies in Pune like Infosys. Such companies have a huge percentage of young Indians with disposable income who are now wanting to be fit and eat healthy. They not only eat them in office but most of them are regular buyers and use them at home as well. What better than eating vegetables that not only sound good but are also Instagram worthy.
On my way back in the car, my colleagues and i were thinking about all other possibilities. The perception of these vegetables or fruits being healthier plays a significant role. With several ‘detox diets’ the internet provides with a plethora of options that require the use of these exotic vegetables. There are more articles and recipes in magazines, online portals regarding their benefits than the vegetables of Indian origin, keeping the readers and the consumers more updated and eager to make them a part of their diet. One of the leading chains of superstores in Mumbai has an entire section dedicated to this. Picture of Purple Cauliflower below for reference.
According to Mr. Wable, these vegetables are here to stay as they are not only desired by the consumers but are also giving a good price to the farmers. It will probably be interesting to witness that while the rest of the world is waking up to turmeric latte and clarified butter, there seems to be a shift as the urban population in India is starting their day with Avacado on toast. I sometimes wonder whether the generations to come would even recognize the vegetables that we eat today or there might come a time where bhindi and karela would make a comeback as the new super food.