What do we think when we think of the word “farm”? Acres of lush green land under the sun which are usually away from the bustling noises of the city, cattle, fresh produce and the traditional image of Indian farmers pop up in our heads. While there are very many varieties of farming across the country and all over the world, the need for soil and sunlight are almost imperative to our understanding of farming.
Innovation in farming
However, one couple in Mumbai has begun a revolution of sorts when it comes to soil-less farming called hydroponic farming. Joshua Lewis and Sakina Rajkotwala had well-paying lucrative jobs before they dove into the world of farming, a profession not a lot of 24-year-olds would choose to take up. In 2017, during their visit to the quaint township of Auroville in Puducherry, the couple was inspired by the bonafide champion of natural farming, Krishna Mckenzie. Today, they run Herbivore Farms in Mumbai’s Andheri East in a room less than 1,000 sq ft which grows over 2,500 plants including several different types of green.
Speaking to The Logical Indian, Joshua said, “His concept of understanding where our produce comes from is what got me interested in the first place.” They spent three months working at a natural farm and began to realise the importance of fresh produce and the difference that it makes when one consumes it.
Sakina rightly said that most, if not all of us who dwell in the city, receive their produce from far off places and it leaves no scope for us to trace them back to their roots. “Nutrients, texture and freshness are lost during the whole process of packaging, transportation and then the food sit in the shelves, where much of the beneficial factors of greens are lost,” she added. Talking along similar lines, Joshua said that when he consumes packaged and store-bought produce, the leaves are more often than not wilted, which is only a sign of the absence of nutrients.
“There is no point in healthy eating if what is eat lack the basic nutrients that we desire in our bodies,” he said. Plagued by all such problems and with the desire to make a change in Mumbai, the couple jumped into their idea of starting a hyperlocal farm in the middle of the bustling city in Andheri. However, their idea was met with opposition, remarks and strict criticism from people around them who thought that the project was more of a “phase.”
What is Hydroponic farming?
Determined to bring healthy eating to Mumbaikars at their doorstep, the couple started researching the concept of hydroponic farming, a concept less heard-of in India, let alone in Mumbai. “We could not find any real time solution to all the questions that we had on hydroponic farming and hence, a lot of the things we know now comes from trial and error methods,” said Sakina. The couple ran a pilot test atop Sakina’s rooftop, which taught them the dos and don’ts of this kind of farming.
With months of trial and error came about Herbivore Farms, which was based on a method called ‘Kind Cultivation.’ The couple turned a warehouse in an old industrial estate into a temperature-controlled indoor farm where seven varieties of lettuce, three varieties of Swiss chard, two types of rocket and four varieties of kale are grown using zero pesticides. The couple, with their monthly subscription boxes which costs Rs 1,500, delivers fresh leafy greens right to the customer’s doorstep within mere hours of harvesting.
Hydroponic techniques involve soil-less farming which requires 80% less water than conventional farming. Additionally, the plants are grown in a sterile environment and the macro and micronutrients are dissolved within a water solution directly to facilitate plant growth. Additionally, growing plants in a vertical model allow the couple to grow five times more amount. To check people’s reaction to their products, the couple gave away free leafy greens to customers, they said.
While the initial production cost has been more than they had anticipated, people have been increasingly inclined towards eating healthy and eating fresh, said the couple. “Even while the cost of the boxes is more, the fresh produce has been a winner among our customers,” they said. While the couple has been getting requests to teach others on how to grow plants like them, the couple wishes to take up educating people about hydroponic farming in the future. Both Joshua and Sakina dared to dream and make a difference in a world where naysayers tried to question their intentions. The Logical Indian applauds them both for trying to bring about an innovative way of farming.