Meet The People Running A Farm In The Middle Of Andheri – Herbivore Farms
By Mallika Dabke January 15, 2019
There’s no doubt that the awareness of eating clean food is growing by the day, but for most of us, it’s an ongoing struggle to make that lifestyle shift. Most of us are grossly unaware about where our produce comes from, and the authenticity of organic products is often left as an unanswered question at the back of our minds. Bringing clarity to our kitchens, is Herbivore Farms, which is an actual farm in the middle of Andheri, set up by duo Sakina Rajkotwala and Joshua Lewis. The young guns from Mumbai set themselves up on a mission to directly provide the citizens with vegetables through their hyperlocal, hydroponic farm, a first for the city. I spoke to Sakina and Joshua to know more about them and their work, read on to see what we spoke about!
Give us a quick introduction to Herbivore Farms.
Herbivore Farms is Mumbai’s first hyper local farm located in Andheri East. We grow the super healthy varieties of leafy green veggies like Swiss Chard, Kale, Rocket and Lettuce using hydroponic methods of cultivation.
Our produce is delivered to customer’s homes a few hours post-harvest, so it’s always at its peak of freshness, nutrition and flavour. Our indoor farm enables to grow in a clean, sterile environment and we use absolutely 0 pesticides so it’s 100% safe. We also use up to 80% less water to grow our produce using a recirculating irrigation system.
Talk us through your story – what inspired you, how you started, and the journey so far.
The journey that led us to start this project began in 2017 when we both quit our jobs – Sakina worked at an NGO called Magic Bus and Joshua was working with an ad company called Directi. While our jobs seemed to be working out well for us, we were missing a sense of purpose and were on a mission to find it. So, we decided to pack our bags and go live in Auroville for three months and work on a farm. We wanted to get our hands dirty and also reconnect with ourselves and nature.
We worked as farm labor for three months at Solitude Farm. The farm also had a cafe where lunch was served and made from ingredients that were harvested fresh off the farm the same morning. We ate meals post work there every day and food had never tasted better. It was always basic and simple food but it changed everything for us in terms of our energy levels, our mood and in general, our overall health. We felt happy and well.
This was the starting point of our inspiration. We wanted to create a way for people to enjoy fresh, healthy local produce. We also wanted people to revive their relationship with their food – understand where it comes from, who grows it, how it’s grown, why it’s good for you. We wanted people to be able to feel as good as we did. And that’s how Herbivore Farms was born.
Through extensive research we discovered how we could build a farm within the city and grow indoors. Hydroponics appealed to us because it saves two of the most precious urban resources – space and water. After a year of trial and error and lots of research, we built our small indoor farm. The two of us handle everything right from the farm tasks (planting, monitoring, harvesting) to deliveries, sales and marketing.
We believe that the food we eat is one of the most important factors in determining our health and more and more people are starting to realise it too. What we put in our bodies three times a day can impact just about everything in our lives and we are on a mission to get everyone to start valuing good food and make good choices. We also wanted to build a chain of supply that is completely transparent so people can trust what’s on their plate as opposed to the way our markets currently work.
Give us an overview of the set up and functioning of Herbivore Farms.
We have converted an old industrial warehouse in Andheri East into a climate controlled greenhouse. We’ve built vertical hydroponics systems that enable us to grow 10 times more in the same square footage. Our recirculating irrigation system also enables us to use 75% less water as compared to traditional agriculture. We’ve put in place processes that allow us to harvest on a daily basis, and each morning’s harvest is delivered to the customer’s homes a few hours later.
Up until a month ago it was the two of us managing absolutely everything, we personally went to people’s doors to hand them their produce. It was exhausting but extremely rewarding, and the motive was to dive into the depth of every little detail to put into place effective farm processes which we have been able to do now, and we’re still learning every day. A few weeks ago, we hired our first employee. He is learning quickly and developing into the role of Primary Farm Manager.
How has the feedback been? What are some of the things that customers are saying about you?
The response from customers who tried our free samples was phenomenal. About 90% of the people who took a sample home wrote back to us saying they loved how fresh and flavourful the leaves were and how they wanted to know how soon they can start buying. Some even said that we had changed their perception on leafy greens – what they previously associated with tasting “bitter” or “bland” and didn’t enjoy eating but would force themselves to, to try and be healthy. A lot of people we met at events told us were happy to finally have some transparency as to where their veggies are grown and where they come from, as they were skeptical of eating raw greens because of the fear of pesticides, unhygienic growing conditions, and not knowing who has handled the produce.
How does one place an order at the farm and what all do you currently grow to offer?
A Herbivore Harvest Box (Monthly Subscription) is INR 1500 (extra delivery charges for South Mumbai) for one month. One subscription = total four deliveries (one per week) on a fixed day depending on where the subscriber lives. Each week the subscriber will receive one box at their chosen address which will contain two to three varieties of leafy greens harvested that morning.
Our range of leafy greens – seven types of lettuce (lollo rosso, oakleaf, French romaine, summercrisp, butterhead), three types of Swiss chard (red, yellow, mangold), two types of rocket (wild and cultivated) and we are working on four kale varieties that will be part of our box soon!
Lastly, what’s next for Herbivore Farms?
We can’t wait to upgrade to a much larger facility and cater to a larger population of our city. We want to be more than just a farm. We want to teach kids how to grow their own food “kindly”, for that is the most essential foundation of a community of the future. Herbivore Farms aims to create jobs with meaning, and bring people closer together.