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Are men better at networking than women? My twitter research reveals some truth!

Few months back I accidentally became a part of the Startup network. Soon I was hanging out with entrepreneurs (primarily tech) and was talking to them on every social (media) platform. Surprisingly in this network I could not find many women. Few were active on social networking sites and many seldom responded. I have never been great at networking. Is it me or are women generally averse to making a lot of contacts? Are men better at this skill? I wanted to find out answers to my questions, so I planned a fun project. I created a survey of 10 questions and collected responses from a small sample group. The results might be a little skewed because of the methodology, but nonetheless I am sure you will enjoy the read as much as I enjoyed doing this exercise!

A quick brief of my survey:

  • I got 25 responses out of the 40 requests that I sent
  • Around 60% respondents were my Twitter contacts and 40% offline friends
  • The respondents  are a mix of Entrepreneurs, Photographers, Psychologists and other Professionals
  • The survey primarily revolved around understanding the style of networking and experiences of people while networking with the opposite gender

Here is a summary of the questions which received the best responses:

1. How are women as compared to their male counterparts in building professional networks?

networking skills       networking skills

 

2. On meeting strangers and importance of networking events v/s family gathering:

  • Both genders shared similar views on being nervous when they enter a room full of strangers. Their worst fears were – fear of rejection and inability to find appropriate topics to open a conversation
  • Both genders give importance to family gatherings over a networking event

3. How difficult it is for women to break into “The Boy’s” informal groups?

Men felt that it is not difficult for women to break into the boy’s informal groups whereas women felt otherwise. Both genders agreed that they need to have common interests or topics to talk about. Either of them didn’t want to get carried into other’s world. E.g. Men would like to talk about beer, food & sports whereas women like discussing family, friends and shopping!

4. On Beer or meal meetings with opposite gender:

networking skillsBoth men and women disagreed that drink or meal meetings happen only with people from the same gender. However women said that they like to keep their meetings safe. They preferred a “coffee meeting” over a “beer chat”.

5. On objectives of networking:

networking skills

  • The group was equally divided over their goal of networking. Half of the population said that business is their primary reason to network but they wouldn’t mind making friends from these contacts. Whereas the second half stated otherwise.
  • One important point that came up in the survey was that both genders agreed that men are more interested in networking for business or career benefits than building personal relationships. A 2011 report by the Toulouse School of Economics in France concluded that a major reason behind female directors earning 17% less than their male counterparts was the fact they were less good at building a network. The study found that in general the male directors had much larger networks of past acquaintances, while female directors instead focused on a few strong relationships.

My quick take from the survey – both genders can learn from each other’s style of networking. Women can learn to form passing acquaintances and links to increase their circle of support and men can add a little personal touch to their conversations when they meet someone next.

Extra Innings:

Sneak peek into some fun responses:

A participant said “Men hesitate to start conversation with a woman so as not to impose themselves. If a woman starts the dialogue it becomes lot easier to converse”

A woman said “Men at times pass comments on a woman’s appearance and ask their relationship status, which makes the conversation awkward”

And this one is the best. I laughed when I read a man share “Women are very wary when they talk to men, as if everyone wants to flirt with them!” I hope you enjoyed the read. Do share your take on the subject in the comment box below.

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In search of identity (How is it to be born to parents of two different religions)

“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…”

 

These words from the beautiful John Lennon poetry reminisce my story while growing up. I am born to parents who follow separate religions, my father is a Hindu and my mother is a Christian. This fact when stated makes few mumble in amusement and makes few smirk, pitying my loss of identity or my lost sense of belongingness to a particular community or clan.

Since a very early age, I was exposed to two completely different cultures and ways of living. One where eating pork was no big deal and the other where there were selective non-vegetarians and few (from the older generation) whose eyes popped out on hearing “eggs” and grew as large as the size of an omelet (in utter shock)! But this mush up liberated my mind.

It made me open to different people, different backgrounds and different tastes. It made me look at a person with unbiased eyes, and it is learning still in progress.

Amidst the chaos you slowly start to choose your own ways and form you own different associations. To me these were some simple connotations:

Church ——————————–> Candies
 
Diwali ——————————–> Crackers, gift & sweets
 
Christmas ———————-> Cake, gifts & Santa (who never put anything in my lone sock that spent the entire night out) 
 
Ganpati —————————–> Dance, Modaks (a sweet rice dumpling made with steamed rice flour and coconut filling)
 

I chose my gods, for a purpose. Jesus was to be prayed during the exams and Ganpati for the results. And they were carefully allocated based on trial and error and the results were nothing but that of sheer probability.  As I grew older the distinction blurred because I realised that be it Hinduism or Christianity at the end of the day they all teach you to become –  Good people.

To be good to yourself and to others.

I have friends who are Muslims, Sikh, Parsi and I enjoy the diversity each one of them offers, and the philosophy that our surnames or religions make us different in no way. If there is something that does, it’s our characteristics as different beings.

I would not say that it was all a happy song; I had my share of frustrations when as a child I did not know how to perform the rituals of any one religious circle. I was never allowed to take Holy Communion. It was my Holy Grail; something I always saw but never felt or touched. Often people used to pull me to their sides, “Oh, so you are a Hindu, one of us!” These were also the people who for their own satisfaction assumed that I go to the church to make my mother happy (and not to destroy the sanctity of my inherited religion). But they did not know that though I did go to the Church to please my mother, I also enjoyed listening to the Bible and cherished the serenity the premises offered which was similar to the peace I discovered in temples.

I have grown up in a small town where there are as many swaying tongues as trees, but thanks to my parents they never let me bear the heat. They always told my brother and me, “When you grow up, you are free to choose whichever religion you want” (I am glad I did not choose any). But all this while my mixed identity never really bothered me.

It does not matter, if you do not let it matter.

 

Does religion really matter?

 

Are ways of worship more important than relationships?

 

Does a Christmas cake taste better than a rice dumpling (modak)?

 

Doesn’t all festivals mean celebrating together, with people you love?

 

Do you find your identity based on the above or you choose the best and leave the rest, for the world to pick their brains on?

 

As for me, I have found my identity, by losing one. 

Paint my roof black

Camera Lore

I have a thing for Roof tiles. Primarily because my childhood has been spent in a house with roof tiles. I love them. Though during summers they become hot during the day, they can beat any air conditioner during nights. But roof tiles can be nasty during rains.

The picture is one of the roof tile house in Mumbai. The man on the roof is preparing it for the monsoons. This was new to me. People get their roofs coated with tar so that they can make it waterproof! Brilliant!

Apart from the roof tiles what i love in this picture is the stark difference between the way people live in Mumbai. Right behind the man you can see a tall building, where people wouldn’t care much about leakage through their roof (in most cases :D) and on the other side the people in such houses plan way ahead to get their houses protected from rain leaks. This does not mean they are poor, they just enjoy hugging their heritage everyday 🙂

 

Through the Vintage lanes of Mumbai II

photo

“LOVE – LIFE – CRICKET”

Indians have three passions – Food, Bollywood and Cricket. Cricket is not just a game for us but a heart hailed cause that brings the entire nation together. We scream, we cry and even the non-believers pray to the almighty with a pacing heart.

This picture is from the lanes of Thakur Wadi. Thakur Wadi is a Chawl in South Mumbai. A Chawl is a structure of accommodation which is usually ground plus few floors with small houses right next to each other. In a Chawl unlike today’s housing apartments, everyone knows each other. A Chawl is a big happy Indian family who is a partner in every tiny celebration and events of grief. They grow together, live together and stay intertwined for life. The picture as it is framed, shows you a glimpse of life here. The sun was about to set and the kids, who have just returned from the school, were busy playing their favorite game. While they ran and shouted in excitement and happiness their parents and neighbors watched them over through windows and patio. It was just another relaxed evening for the residents, a simple life in a complex city.

Standing tall

standing tall

“Beauty is not a child of splendor, you find it in parch too.

I live on my own terms, compare me not, I am playing my part in the universe”

This picture is of a Spotted deer often known as Chital at Sasan Gir, Gujarat, India. While everyone on the wildlife safari was dying to see one glimpse of a lion, there were plenty spotted deers around. This one was away from the herd and was keenly observing the tourists on the safari jeep. At that moment i thought that what a beautiful animal is this, be its antlers, or the beautiful white spots on brown skin, it was standing tall beholding its beauty!

When we are too focused finding something else, we often miss several striking things that lay around us.

Mumbai

Mumbai

“My mornings are unlike the night, calm yet ready for the bustle. I wake up to sun, land and water. I am torn the entire day, but i never sleep….i am the city of dreams”

This picture is clicked early one morning while driving towards Malabar Hills in South of Mumbai. I have never seen such serene morning before, in the city. The water is calm, the sight vast and the sun inspiring energy.

Survival

Survival

“I walk a mile everyday; sunshine, rain, cold bother me not.

I need no luxury; water, food, shelter is enough for my survival”

This picture shows a Kandhar girl with a child. This tribe reside in the forest of Sasan Gir, Gujarat. They have made shelters in the forest and are protected by the government. Though tourists in the famous wild life sanctuary for Asiatic lions were busy searching the king of the jungle, the girl seemed to only care about fetching water and complete one of her daily chores.

5 point someone – a farmer’s take on life, work and economics

“Kaka, ek pose dijiye na photo ke liye” (Uncle, please give me a good pose for the photograph)

“Suicide wala pose du kya?” (Should I give the suicide pose)

The humour is dark in Vidarbha. As the temperature soars to 48 degree Celsius, farmers joke about death, depression and the shadow of unpaid debts, which comes lurking with extreme weather changes leading to a possible crop loss.

Everytime, I visit our farmer groups in Vidarbha, I come back with unheard stories and turbulence in my mind. I spent last three days in Akola and it’s nearby villages, where Happy Roots along with farmers and Chetana Organics, has been working on a crop demonstration project. The heat was unbearable. The dark tanned faces of farmers with patches of red, told a story of their everyday battle with the sun and their undeterred spirit to fight for survival. This visit has raised my respect for Vidarbha farmers to a whole new level. Their view points on life, work and economics of their ecosystem made me write this blog post. Why? Because I feel that their voices need to be heard. I don’t know if my writings will bring any change in terms of how people think about food, farmers and bringing a social change but I feel that I should write, so that the voices do not get lost. I get the opportunity of traveling to rural hinterlands and get close to situations in our villages but many others don’t. What we hear or read in the media is noise about larger issues, the real simple truth comes out in meaningful heart-to-heart conversations.

Here are a few  points that I brought back from the farms. These are questions, situations and points-to-ponder, all rolled into one.

 

  1. Power, water and sun This year Akola district is observing temp. at 45C in March. I don’t know what May (supposed to be the hottest month of the year) beholds. There is always a water shortage in this area (we have a historic trend and fear of drought in Vidarbha and Marathwada). When I requested a glass of water at each farmer house we visited, I knew I was requesting a luxury never denied to a guest. On top of all this I came to know that there is a power shortage across villages. The families told us that the power is out most of the hours during the day and the night.

  Imagine unbearable heat, water shortage and a home where there’s no electricity to  get respite from the scorching heat outside. The families say that they have got used  to this.  They don’t fight with the situation anymore.

DSC_0419

2. Disparity of incomes – When I need a break from work, I hang out with my friends at a     good restaurant in town. Between four or five of us we share a food bill of 5,000 Rs and we do not fret about it, thinking that’s a price we pay for having a good time.

I met a well paid farmer family in a small village called Jamthi. They get a monthly pay of  5,000 Rs that helps them support a family of four. The average income per household across villages is 2,000-3,000 Rs. Their kids skip school for a few months when paying the fee becomes difficult. To earn this salary they spend min. 6-7 hours on  the field, working through the peak sunny hours.

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3. Surge pricing – I do fret about Uber’s surge pricing and the ridiculous fares airlines charge when the demand is high. But a lot of times I give in to the situation thinking that they are just making use of the “right” business opportunity to make money.

Vidarbha is a pulse (tur dal, chana dal) growing region and recently due to drop in prices   of pulses in the market, they had to sell their produce for lower rates. The farmers protest   that if the big companies and industries have a right to demand higher prices in case of higher demand, why does the same rule doesn’t apply to them? Every time the demand for a particular crop rises, either the industries lobby against them or the Government starts flooding markets with cheaper imports.

The market dynamics always work against the farmer.

4. Oblivious consumer – Our cotton farmers from Vidarbha recently tried their hand at making some good quality Khadi shirts from their Organic cotton. They took the lot to an exhibition in Mumbai. They were not able to pay for the expensive stall inside the exhibition hall so they spread a sheet outside the gate and started selling the shirts. Every consumer tried to negotiate the hell out of them for the same quality selling at double the price at the exhibition by some known brands. One consumer even argued that they are supposed to sell it at lower costs because they are selling on the streets.

The farmers finally put a sign behind –

“Those who earn a fixed monthly salary please do not negotiate with those who earn it once a year”

FJIMG_20170328_130013

5. Moral obligation – When Chetana Organics (our NGO partner in Vidarbha) asked for some financial support (for our Barley crop demo project) from a local government organisation,  they refused it. Reason, the crop is going to be used for making beer. The official said “Ab kya shetkari daaru banayega” (would the farmers now make alcohol!).

Barley is a hardy crop that uses lesser water for irrigation, survives drought and has a potential to fetch 50% higher income for farmers than wheat. In farmers own words “we are not supposed to earn profits, we are supposed to burn in heat and work hard, we are supposed to be morally right when we are not even the ones who will drink the beer”. The farmers didn’t get any funding for the project but thankfully we had an industry partner who believed in what we were doing.

FJIMG_20170328_134945

Despite of all this the farmers in Vidarbha are hopeful, making the best of their situation and ready to take risks to experiment with new crops and projects that can possibly help them earn better sustainable incomes.

Our Barley project in Vidarbha has completed its first phase of production and harvest. Our industry partner Doolally will now test all the varieties that we produced for quality. If we do have a good grain in hand for malting, Vidarbha will see a new dawn of prosperity.

DSC_0387

 

Changing the face of agriculture in Vidarbha

Vidarbha as a name whenever heard, evokes many thoughts and sentiments, most of which are gloomy. Drought, farmer suicides, water distress and many such stories haunt the region and the minds of those, who care about the state of agriculture in India. The story of small and tribal farmers in Maharashtra is no different than that of farmers in other states of the country. At Happy Roots for the last 18 months we have been trying to build a sustainable food value chain that connects farmers directly with processors (F&B Industry) and end consumers. This would help our farmers own a bigger share in the food value chain and make farming an occupation of choice and not one of sustenance.

Today, as I write this, we have taken a significant step to change the face of agriculture in Vidarbha. We are transferring the power of earning profitable incomes in the hands of our farmers and giving them the right to choose what to grow and sell it directly to the industry, at the rate they deserve.

In the water distressed region of Vidarbha, we are experimenting with a crop that has not been grown here before. We call this the Barley project.

The Barley project

The Barley project is an ambitious crop demonstration project that covers the entire value chain from pre-harvest (sowing & growth) to post-harvest (processing & marketing). It is a tri-party project between farmers in Akola district (led by Chetana foundation), Happy Roots and Brewcrafts Microbrewing (popularly known as Doolally). Barley, has never been commercially grown in Maharashtra and this is the first time our farmers are trying a hand at it. Barley, as the beer connoisseurs would know, is one of the main ingredients in your favorite bottle or mug of beer. Most of the craft breweries in India import malted Barley or get it from the northern belt in the country. This seemed like a great market to tap and at the same time presented a perfect model crop for demonstration. The idea is to grow barley, process it and sell it to microbreweries as a value added product. The value addition might happen at a later stage but discussions with the State government and industry is already in progress.

After a lot of research done together with Chetana, KVK and ATMA we finally got hold of the three best Barley varieties in India and the sowing happened over the past weekend.

 

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What are the outcomes of this project:

For farmers

  • Ownership of the value chain right from sowing to value addition & marketing
  • A crop that makes them higher money than other similar commodities
  • Local employment, skills development and freedom from middlemen

For industry (microbreweries)

  • Consistency and Transparency in supply chain
  • Control over quality and Grain traceability
  • Savings both financial and in terms of time, which helps them focus on what they do the best – Make awesome beer (:

Though we will bear the fruits of this project 110 days from now, I immensely thank Suketu Talekar (Founder, Doolally) for sponsoring and supporting this project. It is not easy for anyone to come onboard a project like this (considering all the risks attached to farming a new crop), but Suketu being the dynamic entrepreneur he is, without blinking an eye gave us his whole-hearted support. I can’t thank enough, Rahul Bole, State co-ordinator, Chetana foundation; who is always enthusiastic about seeking a brighter future for farmers in Vidarbha and is ready to take on any risks for the greater good.

Happy Roots now has been five months into commercial sales and we manufacture and market healthy snack food products. Our production volumes are still not very high as we are growing; however we are focusing a lot on our backend to create larger impact for farmers. The Barley project is one such initiative and we are doing much more by using technology; to bring farmers and F&B industry closer to each other. Updates to follow soon.

 

 

 

How I learned from continuous consumer feedback and shaped my startup

 

In this post I have written a phase wise progress of Happy Roots. How I approached one problem at a time, what went wrong and how did I start afresh. Maybe I have made mistakes on the way but I learnt some biggest lessons in business. The best being “Be close to your consumer and she will guide you through”.

Phase-1: Market linkage for small poultry farmers in Vidarbha

Last year same time (April 2015) Happy Roots started as a project to build market linkages for small farmers in Vidarbha. Chetana foundation (our non-profit partner), the farmers and I worked really hard for 06 months to make this happen. It was a small project but had a good scope and we attracted attention from state government too.  In September, 2015 we tested our organic, cage-free eggs with few restaurants in Pune. The product was a hit (we had some great nutritional analysis results for the eggs). Below are some snapshots of the nutritional profile of the eggs we sourced and marketed:

energy profile 1energy profile 2

 

But soon we started facing some operational challenges. Shelf-life and quality issues, to be precise. The eggs weren’t rotten but they had a dark spot in the egg yolk. After a month’s of brainstorming with Chetana and Krishi Vigyaan Kendra (an R&D institute by the govt. meant to provide research support to farmers) we realized that the dark spot in yolk was inherent to a breed of birds we raised! Not in the most ambiguous of my dreams would have I imagined a problem situation like this. The eggs were good to eat as per KVK but our chefs had objection. I spent days meeting all the chefs who tested our product and understood why they wouldn’t use our product. I reached a dead end and put the project on hold.

Phase-2: More farmers got involved and testing a market for non-commercial grains & farmer products

While I was struggling with my next steps I constantly met chefs in Pune, kept talking to people around me (who I thought would be interested in buying a product sourced and made by farmers). I looked at Blue apron, Hello fresh, Farm box LA and many such other western startups connecting farms and consumers. In January, 2016 I tested a subscription box model (at a small level) with around 40 families in Pune. We conducted personal interviews with each of these families (roughly 60 individuals) and received some great insights, many of which were contrary to my beliefs.

  • 80% of the people we interviewed said that would prefer products which are ready to eat. Cereals and snacks to be precise
  • Almost everyone liked the non-commercial products (black husk rice, whole wheat flour from indigenous wheat, organic wild forest honey) in the box but the % was heavily skewed towards our Amaranth breakfast cereal & Ragi cookies. Reason – “CONVININECE” or ease of consumption

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We digged more and finally zeroed on a food category that fit what consumers wanted and what we could address as a small business. And all this while we never diverted from our mission to build a business that generates sustainable incomes for farmers and involves them in sourcing, processing and packing.

 

Phase 3: Addressing the market of artisanal, wholesome health snacks

 100 consumers

 30 restaurants

 12 months struggle

 55 product iterations 

 

later, we are now ready to launch our first health snack box which has already gone through smaller rounds of consumer tasting. Here is what we are offering:

2.1 (1 of 1)3.1 (1 of 1)

A pack of wheat thins made from whole grains and natural whey liquid (extracted from cultured dairy) served with a sweet and savory dip. We will be introducing seasonal dips so that we use the freshest, seasonal, local ingredients. For summers we have Greek Tzatziki (fresh yogurt dip with dill & cucumber) and Malaysian sweet mango dip (delicious dip made from golden mangoes, fresh ginger & cinnamon).

The journey is now more uphill but we have a plan!

When I look back at what all we did to keep our business going, here are some key learning:

  1. Every time we approached an idea, right from the start till the end we closely worked with our target customers. We spent hours meeting them, listening to them, iterating and then coming back for more feedback. This process guided us through whenever we hit a blind alley
  1. All the product trials we did were paid. We are a bootstrapped startup and money has always been an issue. We put in a lot of hard work and research in our products (and always paid higher than market rates to our farmers) and hence we charged our users for our products. We were upfront about it and guess what, are lovely customers were more than happy to pay the price!!
  1. We kept the momentum. Of course there were days when I was hibernating and would roll back into my shell for weeks but in my head I was constantly looking for a solution and searching for next steps. It did look tough at that time but thankfully the momentum made us resilient and helped us sail through failure

The journey was tough, full of rejections, failures, heartaches but there have been so many people who came my way, helped me through each of the phases of my startup. Some of them stayed back and now are a part of our small team.

Happy Roots finally have a face online. Here is our website –Happy Roots.

You will get a macro view of what we are doing through our website. If you are a café, restaurant or bistro who focuses on health, organic and natural food products please write to us at reema@happyroots.in and I would be delighted to explore a sales partnership with you.

Thank you for reading my blog posts and being a part of my journey. I feel lucky and happy to read all the messages you share on Facebook, twitter and via emails. Please keep them coming (:

The dilemma of understanding feminism and rural development

This post is not an answer to any question. In fact it is a series of questions that I have been trying to answer myself.

In my subconscious I guess I knew that the question about understanding feminism and rural empowerment existed somewhere deep down, inside me but I came face to face with it a few days back when I met the principal of a catering college in Pune. The principal has been working with rural women groups for their training and development for quite a long time. It looks like that she has done some real good work around it. When I shared with her my vision to change the status quo of rural communities I work with, she threw my dilemma right on my face “Do you know what the farmers or the women want? You can’t be on a mission to change something that doesn’t exist”. Of course I was upset for a few seconds but brushed my thoughts aside.

Today I visited an annual function of a non-profit that has been working for the development of rural women in few villages of Pune district. The head of the organization is a beautiful, soft spoken woman who has spent 25 years of her life changing the attitudes, thoughts of rural women and showing them direction of knowledge and development. During the welcome speech one of the trustees of the organization said “we want to train these women in social and ancillary skills so that they can become successful housewives. Because that’s what they want to do”. I left the function with this statement stuck deep into my brains. Have I been thinking about women development in the wrong way? Am I really away from the deep down truths of the social problems that I have been trying to address myself?

This incidence also reminds me of my visit to few villages in Kumaon where I met a few small famers and tried to understand their challenges and livelihood problems. One of the young men I met from a village family told me that they don’t want to migrate to cities. But their circumstances force them to do so. He said that if there could be a solution that earns him money while he can still be connected to his motherland he would die for it. The kind of work that he would do matters less than the opportunity to stay back on his homeland.

Maybe instead of uprooting the people and dragging them far away from the basics of their life is the worst approach to the problem. Maybe we need a different way to help people while keeping their wishes, needs and wants on pedestal. Whenever we wish to address a social problem or atleast try to share our opinion on it, we only view the problem from our side of the lens. This lens only shows us what we see in media, read on the internet or think is an easier or socially justified approach.

Maybe we need to understand that there is no extremist approach to feminism, rural development and many other social issues that we feel have been oppressing our society. There is a lot of grey, a whole lot of it.

 

Are we losing our culture and history through our food? This new year know what you eat & what comes to your plate

Photo: IMG Tarde India catalog

Photo: IMG Tarde India catalog

Food bears a different meaning for each one of us. Celebration, community, comfort, happiness, sharing, culture is some of the broader symbolization or spirit of our food. In the past several years or even since the time we grew up as adults (especially if you are a 70’s or 80’s kid) there has been a transformation in what we eat, how we eat and where we eat. While we see some noticeable and some barely noticeable changes in our food patterns, somewhere back in the areas where our food grows, probably an entire generation of food is becoming history.

Did you know that as per environmentalists there were more than 100,000 varieties of rice that existed in India once, now there are only 50. This might help you visualize it better; few years back Basmati rice was a luxury in my house back in Gujarat. During festivals or celebrations, my mother would get this special bag of Basmati rice from the nearby grocery. As a middle-class household we used to find it quite expensive and hence I call it a luxury. Being a rice loving family we would wait in anticipation to sniff the aroma the rice would fill our home with, a grain which was beautifully long and soft. These days when I cook Basmati, picked up from the grocery or local supermarket, it doesn’t even bring back a piece of those fragrant memories. The grains are still white and long but I don’t find the same texture or aroma in them anymore. Why? Well, because they are just a part of the larger scheme of standardizing whatever food we eat commercially. The story doesn’t stop there, it continues to all other crops, birds, animals; everything that’s a part of our food plate.

Cut 2 and I enter Nagar (Ahmednagar) district around 110 kms away from Pune early this month. A paddy field we saw on route was black & golden, the aroma was so irresistible that I had to get off my car and find out what was growing in there. What I found is an ancient Indian variety of rice called “Kalbhat” or the Black husk rice.

Kalbhat or Balck husk rice

Kalbhat or Balck husk rice

I had never seen a crop so beautiful and the aroma, yes it did remind me of the childhood Basmati fiesta back home. Up in the rain shadow regions of Nagar district, farmers have been meticulously protecting this paddy variety, which might get extinct soon. To me the story of these crops is the greatest destruction of genetic diversity that our agriculture rich country is undergoing. However, there is a positive side to this. The local non-profits and farmers under a project with the Centre for Science and Environment, have created a seed bank and are making efforts to preserve and grow around 120 Indian crop or plant varieties (no hybrids or commercial seeds).

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Some of the farmers who are a part of the seed conservation project

Those who read my posts on Facebook know my obsession with finding Buckwheat and guess what I located this beautiful black, geometric grain right at this village seed bank!

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Buckwheat or Battu as called by the locals

My knowledge about existence of buckwheat only in the north or north-eastern region proved wrong when I found this grain in a humble village in Maharashtra. However, this seed might not stay here for long. Because the onus of preserving our food, the varieties of our soil not just depends on the farmer but on us “The Consumers” as well. The motivation to protect these crop varieties will only last among our farmers till they find a market to sell it.

Why should one care about our food diversity? Well, I know many of us won’t. Even I didn’t a couple of years back. I was happy with the food options my restaurant, my grocery store and my supermarket in Mumbai offered to me. But little did I know, that my quest to lead a healthy lifestyle didn’t lie in the Kellogg’s K cereal or the face glow juices or the diet snacks. It lied in my ROOTS. It lied in all the food that I ate growing up as a kid. It lied in all the food my mother and grandmother grew up eating. The more research I do on food products, the more I realize that my protein shake doesn’t give me as much protein as my bowl full of Rajgira & milk or a simple bowl of moong dal (mung beans) does! Does that ring a bell? It’s the simple yet forgotten truth. The food that has been a part of our culture for many, many years is meant to keep us healthy, in good shape and happy (I guess that’s why a simple plate of steaming hot dal-chawal at home is called “comfort food”).

This entire situation of losing crop diversity explained in a more dramatic way would mean that if as a consumer of food we would not care about what our farmers grow and what comes to our plate, piece by piece we will lose what has been a part of our cherished culture for generations. We will lose story and history to the commercial world of standardization.

I know that the liberty I have as part of my work to act as a hunter of these food crops is not what everyone has. That’s why I started this little experiment in Pune to see how people would react if we try to bring back this food to your plate, would you accept it? Love it? Here is a sneak-peek into what we are testing.

Happy Roots flyer for our concept test

Happy Roots flyer for our concept test

If you find this interesting enough and would love to help us with your opinion on the concepts we are developing, please drop me a hello at reema@happyroots.in and I will write back to you.

This new year stay healthy and know what you eat!

Past project update – the last post that I wrote about the birth of my startup Happy Roots was three months back in September. We were testing our market linkage of poultry products from Vidarbha to Pune then. The product was received well by chefs and our test consumers during the pilot but we realized that there was a lot of work to be done at the back-end with our farmers. The project is still running back in Vidarbha on a low scale until we get right resources and funding. Till that time, we have made the beautiful food crops of the region a part of our larger product basket.

You might want to read this article I refered to: The death of rice in India