‘Nother fabulous season – thank you all! 7 weeks and nearly 6000 kgs of mango fed to the city! Close to another 1000 kg shared locally in our village, including the birds, critters, and bacteria claiming their share. Highlights of our season…
– The land fed us more mango and variety than ever before (oh the secrets the trees hold).
– We met some amazing people. You shared our mangoes with your friends (and gave us so much Insta love), that brought more mango to more people.
– We reached nearly every corner of the city (and several others), with the mango, despite our uber small team.
– Kitchens, Cafes, Restaurants served up some super fun mango dishes (often leaving us jonsing for a taste).
– A farm visit saw folks gather and feast on the mango at source.
– Hands continue to come out of nowhere to help us.
– Spreading the sweetness at the betterfoods farmers’ market.
– At distribution, one of the most fulfilling parts of the season, while his friends were asking for raincoats, one bright lad with a mango grin said, “Didi tution dilva do” (so a side shout out – anyone educating street kids in south Bombay?)
– And finally, while buying mango, you’ll even contributed to our fund raiser to kick start an organic farm for an Adivasi farmer in our village.
Thanks for making this so much more than just a mango season.
While that’s a wrap for our fresh mango, we’ve got mango thins, aamrass, herbal teas, preserves, and other awesome produce we grow year-round.
…growing heirloom tomatoes
…learning about roots
…making ghee (clarified butter)
…grazing and milking our growing family of cows
…making our own packaging from supari (betel) tree leaves
…fermenting edibles from the zen garden!
…expanding our heirloom tomato collection
…sourcing produce from other farmers to encourage their good practices and get them better value for their work
What’s on the horizon? … Bees! We hope to home the hardworking-pollinating-honey-making-compound-eyed ones soon.
The torrential rains of the monsoon allow us a bit of a breather on the land. Mother nature waters, we sit back, eat cukes, harvest, and work minimally not letting the jungle overtake. Post monsoon, we get busy. A quick rendition…
Members – two new members have joined us on the land. In India, the cow is synonymous with the mother and considered a Goddess (Devi). Sure, the cow gives milk, but for a grower, she shits and pees all over the land. We’ve willed their presence for some years now and are stoked to be joined by these two gorgeous ladies, with their massive strength and gentle presence.
Sows – while the monsoons have stretched over by a month, we can’t pass up a sow period. We kickstarted the year with heirloom tomatoes (adding 3 new varieties to the collection from last), cucumbers (1 heirloom variety and another indigenous one), gourds (several local varieties). In store next are chillis, brinjal, radish, microgreens, and a host of weirdly coloured heirloom veggie seeds we got our hands on!
Ingredients – always foraging for food off the land. Sure, we grow, but what does the forest have for us?! This year, we were introduced to a whole list of indigenous monsoon vegs, also bamboo shoots, and we received some delightful mushroom harvests!
Ferments – our ferment continues to brew, feed for the soil, bubbling with life as we continually add new ingredients off the land
Harvests – harvests have included gourds, herbs, pumpkins, and flowers
Making Friends and Foes – as we ogle at the beauty and variety of nature’s creation, and delve into what role they play on the land… well, we make some friends and some foes. For the burrower, our til is kept to a mimimum. And the hornworm in all it’s beauty, does feed off our saplings and is now fed to the fish.
Spreading the knowledge – our goal is to see all growers evolve to clean practices. This year, we have begun work on PurnaMadhuVan, a plot of land around the bend from us, committed to growing clean and nutritious food. Here, starting from the blank slate, we sowed fruit trees for future generations, herbs for a couple years down, shared with them several of our saplings, and shared with you their bitter gourd and pumpkin.
And now, it’s back to the land.
This Spring left many growers wondering about their mango crop. Rains from the year prior hadn’t given the trees their fill. As we commenced harvests though, nature showed, yet again, she had plenty to offer.
For us, the season carries a short, intense, and sweet high. This year we brought nearly 3000 kilos of the sweet one to the city. Over the span of 3 weeks, you shared it with friends, family, loved ones. The stories, as always, kept us going… The lady who checked-in on mangoes in March, refusing to buy any for her mum until ours were ready 2 months later. The friend whose baby weaned with mango, gleaming eyes and mango-stained grinning face. Sundays that the boys joined us to unload crates, ending up more busy feeding crows baby mango. The even younger, whom, overwhelmed, gathered more mangoes than their arms could hold, dropping one each time they added another to their bounty, to leave only after putting the mangoes to sleep in their bed of hay. The principal who continues to share the fruit with all that cross her path, her job she says, is to spread the sweetness – we think she adds in her own. The flower seller on the street who shared the year before story, “didi, gaye saal mein itna aam tha, humne gaon leke sabh baccho ko khilaya” (sister, last year there was so much mango, we took it to our village and fed all the kids). The lady who, out of the ICU, is healing herself with mango. The gentleman, who starts his family’s morning with a mango smoothie preparation… he peels each mango with his hands. You all echoed the simple bottom line.. We’ve had much mango this season, but these… They’re something else.
This thing with cost of food… It seems counter-intuitive that something grown naturally should cost more than the reverse. That unnatural inputs (chem fertilizer, pesticides) should add to the cost of food production is intuitive. But, the story isn’t just unnatural inputs. The price for organic really comes for the time and level of effort in growing something slowly.
Some variables to consider:
1. Growth hormones. To meet demand, growers pump produce with growth hormones (typically oxytocin) to look bigger and reach maturity faster. An example, the much loved bottle gourd (a.k.a. lauki/doodhi) typically takes up to 180 days (that’s 6 months) from seed to fruit. Similarly, cauliflower’s natural cycle is 3 months. However, a simple injection of oxytocin can achieve a fully matured fruit within half the period of time. (The human related side effects of consuming such food is an entire paper in itself, but I’ll leave you with the idea of forcing the human body to achieve full size within half the period of time it would naturally take.) In terms of output though, a food producer using oxytocin can output double the amount of produce in the same amount of time.
2. Management. Organic produce needs more hands-on care. A simple example, a chemical pesticide will kill everything in the area, instantly. One spray and your produce is saved from the pesky ones. To avoid pests naturally, growers introduce several steps into their production. For example, companion planting to “safeguard” some crops and “forgo” others that function purely as pest bait. Another example is making fermented pesticides, which requires more labour and effort in preparing the brew, time to allow fermentation, and application is typically double, if not three times that of a chemical spray. In addition, chemical sprays are subsidized by governing bodies.
3. Seeds. Sadly, these days, sourcing heirloom seeds (i.e., seeds naturally pollinated (by wind and insect) passed on through farmer generation), is harder than finding the laboratory prepared ones. GMO seed (i.e., seed where the plant’s DNA is altered in a way that cannot occur naturally, sometimes including the insertion of genes from other species) has flooded our market, even the deep interiors where agriculture is abundant. Not too many traditional producers save their seed. Hybrid and GM varieties have shown immediate results, and most farmers need immediate income. To source heirloom seed requires legwork, connectivity in farmers, and a financial ability to wait out the slowness of natural.
4. First market appearance/challenging seasonality. As consumers, we’ve become ready to pay high value for produce that reaches us early. A simple example here is fruit like mango. Mango sold in February will receive three times the price versus the mango sold during it’s natural cycle of ripeness, just before the rains. But for mango to reach the market in Feb, it’s been harvested early and ripened by ethylene gas or calcium carbide, making it market ready at optimal price. This also means that by the time the natural producer enters the market, despite his produce being more holistic in flavour and nutrition, the markets already been flooded with produce.
5. Perfectly appearing food. As consumers, we’ve become used to that perfect looking food. Spinach leaves without holes in them, mangoes without blemished skin, bananas all the same size, and typically, bigger is better. At the production level, this gave rise to all kinds of food manipulation. One example is of bananas, where producers replaced their traditional saplings with tissue-culture banana (i.e., Dolly the sheep and her offspring). At the production level, this means every banana in the overall banana head will be the exact same size. It also means greater outputs. From the traditional banana, the bananas furthest on the banana stem will be smaller in size, as naturally, more nutrition is received by the bananas closer to the stem. But who wants to pay the same price for the smaller fruit, when you can get more at that value?
For us at the farm, we supplement our produce with other sources of income, thus allowing us to keep the price of spinach close to that what’s sold in the market. But when I saw the massive amounts of spinach being grown along Bandra terminus, and compare that with the spinach we’ve grown and brought to the city, it really drives home the point of cost variance.
The bottom line, growing naturally is slow, takes time and effort. When it boils down to costs, you’re paying for this time and thus quality of your food. To all natural food producers that manage to keep their selling price low, kudos. And to those that can support such food producers, go for it, as it allows others not at the liberty of buying good food, to purchase the same.
Yes, land tires too! Here’s a peak at how we lay the soil to rest. This field provided us with a luscious crop of cherry tomatoes last season. (While we ate these tomatoes only in Feb, the soil has been working December-when the saplings made it in, through end-March-when we ate the last of the tomatoes.) Through the scorching months, we leave the soil covered with leaves of gliricidia sepium (a.k.a. khad jhad). This not only protects the soil from nutrients being burned up via exposure, but the leaves will also break down and by the time the rains hit, we’ll have a layer of “khad” (in this case, natural feed) in the soil. Beans will cover this field next season, allowing it to replenish its nitrogen, before we go into another crop cycle in the fall. After 2-3 such years, the field will be laid to rest for an entire season.