At a time when all our food comes in plastic packages from supermarkets and home delivery services, it is refreshing to come across #urbanfarms in bustling cities that are sharing this experience of growing food with anyone who'd like to go back to their roots, literally. The Prodigal Cook - an urban farm in Noida founded by Neha Bhatia and Puneet Tyagi, grows organic produce, works with the local people to help them adopt organic agricultural practices & creates farm-to-table experiences for the city folk. Let's find out what their #green journey has been like.
C. Tell us more about yourself & where you’re based, your green business and how & when you started.
NB. The Prodigal Cook farm is a local experiential farm project based in Noida catering to those who care to eat clean and live a more natural lifestyle in an urban setup. Our aim is to bring people closer to the source of Real Food, by growing seasonal local produce using natural farming and permaculture practices, processing farm surplus and creating sustainable farm-to-table experiences.
We started farming towards the end of 2016 and it was primarily to grow for ourselves because we love cooking and hosting friends and family at our home. However, one thing led to another and we finally decided to open our farm gates to other families and farming enthusiasts in January 2017.
This is how The Prodigal Cook Farms was born. It has been a year since our enthusiasm to start a farm has turned into something greater. Our aim today is to cater to those who care to eat clean and live a more natural lifestyle in an urban setup.
It is also to bring people closer to the source of real food, by growing seasonal local produce, using natural farming, and engaging in permaculture practices.
C. Why do you do what you do?
NB. Puneet, my partner, and I are inherently foodies and ‘prodigal cooks’ by heart. This common connect we had for food and nature is what really inspired us to start an enterprise where urban consumers and growers could connect over real food.
Since an early age, both of us have sought comfort in nature. While growing up in a small town such as Agra, I learned at a younger age about the importance of naturally grown food. Let me cite a little anecdote.
Our aunt had a patch of land where growing vegetables was our primary responsibility. My cousins, friends and I would work on that patch of land to grow potatoes, winter flowers, dog flowers, among other things. Even my school had a huge role to play in imparting a practical approach to learning.
Puneet, on the other hand, grew up in the woods, thanks to his IFS father, who imbibed in him, a sense of care and responsibility towards biodiversity and natural resources.
C. What kind of products or services can one source from your brand – please tell us about your offerings?
NB. We believe we can't restrict ourselves to just be a product or a service.
We would like to call ourselves an urban experiential farm, which offers a wide range of activities. We are invested in bringing people closer to where their food comes from. In order to do that, our efforts are drawn into building a range of offerings to our patrons, such as:
1) Seasonal Organic Produce which is sourced locally from our farms located near Noida Expressway.
2) Artisanal farm products such as, sundried farm processed herbs and spices, gourmet dips and sauces, among other things.
3) Sustainable Farm-to-Table experiences – Curating farm experiences where we pluck, forage, cook and eat together. The idea is to support local food and local producers by partaking in this experience. One also gets to learn about traditional Indian cooking and food growing techniques while they soak in the quaint surroundings of the natural farm.
We also conduct storytelling and theatre workshops, foraging walks, grow your-own-food workshops, school workshops, among others.
4) Mobilizing local communities into adopting organic farming practices. In Gurgaon early this year, we worked with the local community to turn a barren land patch into a self-sustaining natural farm. Today the community independently manages the cultivation and harvesting of local produce at the farm.
C. What is the price range and are these available through exhibitions or even online?
NB. Our products are available at affordable prices - both via online and offline channels. For instance, our farm-to-table experiences are priced between INR 850 and INR 2000.
Our artisanal products and organic farm produce are available directly through:
1) Delhi-based organic farm markets
2) Directly from the farm
3) Home deliveries done across Noida and Delhi
C. What is your philosophy and thought process behind this venture (i.e.is this a self-help venture or a social enterprise etc)?
NB. As mentioned earlier, our philosophy is simple - bring people closer to where the food comes from and also very significantly to the GROWER!
If you ask children today, "Where does your food comes from?" Their response is, "supermarkets". And that's why we believe that it is our duty to get children to appreciate the farm and the farmer.
C. Which products are your favorites and why?
NB. Our Farm-to-Table experiences - mainly because it is important for us as urban consumers to question our food sources and make more conscious decisions. Our experiences convey the story when they see our farm.
C. How do you think using green products impacts a person’s lifestyle and the planet’s wellbeing? NB. I believe - buying food off supermarket shelves and the experience of plucking your own vegetable and cooking it - are two very different things. Through our Farm-to-Table experiences, we can convert health enthusiasts as well as those who don't know much about this natural lifestyle into choosing an organic way of cooking and living.
C. What have been your challenges in growing a green/social biz?
NB. Many. I can tell you the obvious ones that include dealing with perishables, a low yield, finding people who are passionate about food and farming and creating the market for organic food products.
However, at TPC, we believe that our greatest challenge is to convince the grower and the consumer into choosing an organic way of life.
We don't want the consumers to look at us like we are a chain like Big Basket, among others. We are here to sell but we also want to create the awareness on the importance of choosing your food and fruits wisely.
C. What tips would you offer someone who wants to start a green business?
NB. In a nutshell, work backwards! Focus a lot on creating a strong consumer base through awareness-based experiences instead of just building a business thorough strong marketing and sales. As a green business, your marketing should be community driven. Your green consumer is different from an average vegetable buyer.
Also, word of mouth helps a lot!
To sum it all up –“build a great product and have a great story to tell”.
C. Would you like to add anything else?
NB. A huge personal project is to enable the advancement of women in agriculture throughout the value chain . I think women play a huge role in influencing lifestyle choices as a grower, food processor, clean eating advocates and as the final consumer. We at TPC farms want to include as many women from farm-to-table. We are always working on projects and initiatives that bring women agripreneurs and women farmers in the forefront.
Please share any links through which people can find out about your products.