Post-Covid, we all have seen celebrities growing veggies and greens on their terrace, and the technique seemed unique and new and intriguing to me. I always wondered how their hands are not dirty with soil, and still, they seem to harvest a good amount of yield. And also, they seem to grow veggies and greens through tiny holes. After some research, I found out that the method was something called “Hydroponics” or ‘Soil-less farming “and that it is one of the most recent innovations in farming. Yes, you read it right. Soil-less farming! Isn’t’ that interesting?
In my research about Hydroponics, I met two young Hydroponic Farming entrepreneurs Vishal Narayanaswamy and Arjun Balaji. These two IIM graduates have started “Gourmet Garden” in 2018, which grows and sells only hydroponic vegetables, greens, and fruits. Vishal and Arjun had started a personal well-being journey, which helped them understand the importance of quality food. They were surprised that this kind of innovative farming was ignored in India. Then, these two young minds with a similar interest came together to start Gourmet Garden.
Gourmet Garden (gourmetgarden. in) is India’s first patented Hydroponic Farming Company, a direct-to-consumer company providing safe, fresh, and pesticide-free food straight to the doorstep.
Since then, they have grown many-folds, from one farm and one model and one pilot city, to 7 farms, 5 partner farms covering almost 50 plus acres across 4 models in 2 cities, Bangalore and Chennai. I got a chance to exchange pleasantries and a small conversation with Arjun Balaji, Co-Founder, Gourmet Garden. Excerpts follow.
Hydroponics is growing plants without soil; help me understand the same.
Soil is often the most contaminated aspect of farming. With residues, fungi, insects, and disease – most crops fail/get contaminated by bad soil. Good soil is not easy to come by and needs clearing forests, a huge carbon footprint. Further, weather and other variables affect quality and yield. Naturoponics (hydro is one method) means growing veggies in controlled greenhouse environments without contamination, i.e., without soil and using clean water. Plants are grown on water and coco-fiber, which are natural and clean sources for root support.
What is the difference between Organic and Hydroponic grown vegetables and fruits?
Organic is growing without chemical contamination, primarily pesticides that plants retain even after harvest, often in open fields. Naturoponics is growing without chemical pesticides and soil, mostly in greenhouses. While both methods yield veggies that are fully safe for customers and therefore better than regular produce, Naturoponics yields significantly higher quality and yield vs. organic. Therefore, they are more nutrient-rich and crunchy than organic also more economically viable for a farmer in the medium term.
Do you deal with Aeroponics?
No, Aero is one of the Naturoponic methods, but we focus on Hydro and cocoponics. Aero has not proven to be consistent and scalable and no additional benefit over other naturoponic methods.
We have been growing crops in the soil for ages now, and we believe that soil gives all the nutrients and is sacred. Is that a myth now?
The soil was once uncontaminated. And the weather was once more temperate. And there were fewer diseases and monster pests. Those days are gone. 60% of all diseases contracted by plant comes from roots. Over 99% of farming is with pesticides (since the green revolution), which means 99% of the land is contaminated. Uncontaminated land is either arid (without groundwater) or far. What the world needs is a sustainable farming method. A method that yields safe products for consumers and makes economic sense for farmers (who are fast quitting the profession and taking up jobs in the city). Very soon, this will not be an option, but a necessity, both from a food security and farmer income perspective and from a climate change perspective (Naturoponics use least land/water/carbon miles and are most efficient).
Hydroponic farming is the new trend for home gardeners. Any views and tips?
It is a nice hobby to cultivate. The only downside is systems don’t often work as homes don’t maintain them, as they get bored beyond a point.
What about pests?
Massive challenge. A controlled environment and soilless farming are necessary to make it easier to eliminate pests in farming. While most pests attacked produce is safe to eat, it leads to a huge crop loss and not sustainable for farmers.
Aren’t these fruits and vegetables expensive? How do you manage to sell them?
Growing naturoponically is very expensive. Innovation is critical to bring down costs. Gourmet Garden is the only patented farming model in the country known for its relatively low-cost method. And we are end to end as a brand. This is why we can offer this finest produce in India at just 20-30% premiums.
What was the idea behind Gourmet Garden?
The gourmet Garden is a result of passions in agro innovation and personal pursuits of wellbeing coming together – to disrupt a space that has been static for decades – “quality and safety in our food essentials.” We are inspired by our efforts to help people adopt a more wholesome lifestyle and make smart choices for their well-being. And much of that resides in choices we all make in the food we consume day-to-day. Not that one-off indulgence, but the repeated abuse to our system from food ridden with pesticide residues and from old food that is half-dead in terms of nutrition. We wish to inspire eating real fresh, enjoy real tastes, and sustain holistic health.