“What would happen,for example,if we were to start thinking about food as less of a thing and more of a relationship?” Michael Pollan
The truth that food is a web of relationships was clearly evident to our ancestors and hence they treated food with utmost reverence. They experienced this relationship and therefore had a deep connect with their food, the land and people who grew their food. They enjoyed safe and fresh food and the vigour and vitality such food provided. However industrialization, mechanised farming and multiple changes in the way we produce and distribute food, resulted in a breakdown in our relationship with food and we soon started to view food as a mere commodity! Today many of us are distanced and disconnected from the food that we consume on a daily basis.
Organic farmers’ markets all over the world are community initiatives that have been taken to regain control over this very important aspect of our lives which can be viewed as economic, social and personal simultaneously. By supporting local people and not massive agribusinesses, farmers’ markets help rebuild local economies. They also stir hope with the promise of safe food and a healthy future. Farmers markets are cost-effective for farmers as they provide brief periods of intense sales at low fixed costs. This allows farmers to be full-time farmers and part time retailers. The main objective is to also promote direct selling of agricultural produce that is locally grown.
Starting an organic farmers’ market at Bhoomi was a long cherished idea. It became a reality only a year ago, starting out with only a handful of farmers and a few buyers coming together once a month. We are a year old now and our community has grown! We now have bi-monthly farmer’s market and have gradually co-created a space as an event to look forward to. This is so because the Santhe offers opportunities to the food growers and the buyers to connect with each other. There are workshops for children and adults, talks, discussions, film reviews and performances, and wholesome healthy food to taste and savour. It has evolved into a space, to relook at the dominant development/mechanistic paradigm and work with alternatives.
Talking to the farmers at the Santhe about their experience of this engagement was a heartwarming one for me. They stated that they found the buyers here were discerning and well informed. They felt that they have formed connects with the buyers and that some of them had visited their farms and interacted with them outside of the Santhe. Those who have been coming for the Santhe for the whole year shared this information with me with a certain sense of joy.
Some shared their journey of going organic because of health reasons, for some others the switch to organic also meant moving back to their villages, some others were urban farmers. The space and pace at the Santhe lends itself for easy unhurried conversations.
The joining in by farmers has also been gradual and organic. Some farmers at the Santhe have been friends of Bhoomi for a while, some others came in by word of mouth or approached us directly. The underlying thread that is connecting everyone is one of mutual trust and respect. The momentum is gathering strength and the feel of the community coming together is palpable. When a farmer doesn’t come to the market his absence is felt and missed.
For the Bhoomi College fellows, the Santhe is a great learning opportunity, from volunteering to managing the event, from experiencing an alternative being lived out to making connections. And the fellows have joined in varied ways. For the Bhoomi College alumni it has become meeting point to reconnect with each other and continues to be a project they are invested in and contribute to.
For me as a buyer there are many things to look forward to; picking up fresh locally grown produce, organically grown grains, pulses; chemical free homecare and personal care products. There are other spin offs as well; conversations with farmers, workshops to attend; networking with people doing varied things to make sustainable living a reality. Some delightful surprises too, like at a grocery stall being asked to bring back the cloth bags in which the pulses and grains were packed, the next time around. Small but significant way to be mindful!
While we celebrate this significant milestone for ourselves there is also a dark cloud looming on the horizon, the FSSAI notification which states that organic farmers will not be able to sell their produce unless it is certified as organic. While the intent behind this may well be to weed out ‘fake organic’ it is seen by many as being detrimental to the spread of organic farming. For small farmers to switch to organic farming itself is an uphill task. To add to that if the availability of marketing opportunities are adversely affected by this notification it will be like a double blow. The available systems of organic certification processes is beyond the reach of the common farmer and the certified bodies are also very few in number (only 29 accredited bodies exist for organic certification). The certification processes are also not foolproof.
As a consumer, one wonders about what really is the intent behind this move. If safe foods is the concern, shouldn’t our attention be focused on GM or chemical laden foods? Shouldn’t decentralized farmer’s markets be encouraged and promoted as enthusiastically as possible which are based on connections between the growers and the consumers?
From our experience of the Bhoomi Santhe we feel that initiatives like these enable people to take charge, support and co-create alternatives and not wait for some centralized, top down change to materialize.
As the poet William Stafford wrote, ’It is time for all the heroes to go home’
And I would like to add that it is time for all of us to join in, contribute and be part of the change that we wish to see. And the Santhe has all these flavours.
Come be part of this journey!