A Pioneer for Organic Food in New Delhi

Posted by Heiko Pfeiffer • Tuesday, December 6, 2011 • Category: People and Places
On a recent day when going to work to our office in South Delhi’s Shahpur Jat neighbourhood, I noticed, amidst sweets and street food vendors and recent fashion shops that have been mushrooming in the area, this cute little shop called “Dubdengreen”. Inside, unsurprisingly for this densely populated neighbourhood, the space is small enough, the decorations are minimal and the absence of shining and blinking advertisement on the shelves catches the eye. This looks more like a farm house shop, so you wouldn’t be surprised to find mooing cows and chattering chicken in the backyard. A quick look around is enough to confirm the impression: grains and millets are there, fresh vegetables next to fresh fruit and dairy products. This is indeed another shop for farm goods – so how is it different? Well, this one is all about organic.

(c) by Heiko Pfeiffer

I am lucky that day – Jayashree Eashwar, the owner and co-founder of the place, is around. She gives me a warm welcome and doesn’t need me to beg her to share her knowledge with me. As my eyes anxiously glance at the different oils at the shelves on the top, she comments: “This safflower oil is really excellent. The taste and smell are quite neutral like that of sunflower oil, so you can cook and bake with it. It is also good to lower cholesterol in the body – not that you need it yet. But in 20 years from now…” We both laugh.

My eyes move to the breakfast goodies, cereals of different kinds. To my delight, there is not only the usual cornflake variety. There are also millet or ragi as well as amaranth puffs, all gluten free. “These must be expensive,” I hear myself utter. “Not at all,” Jayashree says. “Millets, of which ragi is only one variety, are the staple grain in rural India. It’s recently been coming back to urban India, and has been around long before rice and wheat were introduced.” They come at the same price as the corn puffs, and the amaranth comes at less than half the price of the other two. Seems like breakfast is going to be more exciting from now on…

(c) by Heiko Pfeiffer

As it is Tuesday afternoon, some vegetable and fruit are assorted on the ground in baskets. (Fresh produce comes on Tuesdays and Fridays.) Like most people, I enjoy the convenience of doing vegetable/fruit shopping with the sabzi-wallah on the street corner. Jayashree offers me to try one of her organic apples. I accept and give it a bite. I look at her and start beaming. This apple reminds me too much of the home-grown variety, with that distinct sweet taste and the wonderful tight feeling of a fresh apple. The apple looks as good outside as it does inside, unlike the ones from my local vendor, and it tastes delicious. And the pricing? At Rs. 120/kg, slightly higher than currently at my doorstep, but compared to the low season or the prices in the shops at Khan Market or Priya, totally alright. Given the taste experience, much more than alright, actually…

I asked her whether I can trust the organic labels in India. “A lot of the organic market for Indian goods is in Europe or the US. So most of the verification agencies are from there,” she explains. “Even the Indian brands have to meet that standard. Also, many of them export to those countries.” The whole process of verification costs the farmers money. Then, for the seller, the transport costs more for smaller quantities of organic goods ordered and brought in. This explains the slightly higher prices for the consumer.

Why did she get into organic farming? “To provide REAL food!” she exclaims. And, “to provide an alternative, both to the consumers as well as to the farmers”, she adds. I’m startled. Somehow, I had the notion that farming in India must still be a lot more pure and innocent than in, say, Europe or the US. “It is true, when you buy from your local vendor, you sometimes get goods in your basket that are practically organic but without the label ‘organic’, because some farmers still grow the old fashioned way without the chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They simply can’t afford them. Then, since they don’t know about the market for organic, they sell it to the main mandi or market.”

Organic food at my door step at conventional prices; sounds intriguing – even though it’s taking a chance!

(c) by Heiko Pfeiffer

“But India saw its own Green Revolution many decades back and that changed farming in India forever. Pesticides, ultra-high usage of water, and all the talk of GMO (genetically modified organism) more recently – you name it, India has it, but without some of the stricter policies to protect the end product that some especially European countries have.” So the picture is not so bright in the open market after all. Next to the quasi ‘organic’ tomato, I might end up with GMO rice. And there won’t even be a warning printed on the package.

“So organic farming has its relevance in India. My husband Ganesh and I started our own organic farm 20 years back near Bangalore and we know the joys of it. Now we have personal connections to all our suppliers. That just gives us the security that these guys are really into it and only supply high-quality organic produce.” She grins widely. “You have to love this in order to deliver the best quality. Those people who are just into it for the money grow sour quickly because the market is not offering riches yet.”

She is a pioneer, a pioneer for organic food in India, and she loves what she is doing. I leave her shop that day highly inspired.

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If you want to visit Dubdengreen, the shop is in 253, Shahpur Jat Market, New Delhi – 110049. Phone: +91-(0)11-32905310. You can also visit their online shop: www.organicbounty.com. But know: You might miss out on an experience if you don’t walk into the shop in Shahpur Jat yourself.

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