The Hungry Happy Hippy: Traversing through the world of hydroponic farming

Flashback Flashback to Summer 2012, when I was at singer Lucky Ali’s home in Yelahanka, Bengaluru, for an interview and photoshoot with him and his family. I tried to engage him on his music, his childhood and the shiny Mini Cooper parked outside their chic home. But, apart from his kids, the only thing that brought a sparkle to his eyes and animated his conversation, was when he started to explain the concept of hydroponics to me! Always a man ahead of his time, the singer had already figured that this was the farming of the future and was directing all his energies into it.

Hydroponic farming has since caught the imagination of many city slickers looking to give up their corporate careers to do something more soul-satisfying and close to nature. They won’t exactly be digging in dirt, as hydroponics is a type of horticulture where crops are grown without soil, where the roots extend into a liquid nutrient solution or moist inert materials. But it isn’t just those that are wet behind the ears who are getting into this exciting enterprise. Even traditional farming conglomerates have recognised how lucrative hydroponics can be. Over the last decade, several indoor and outdoor farms have sprung up across the country. They do make sense, as much less land is needed, the water consumption is said to be reduced by as much as 80 per cent as they use recycled water, and the output is not subject to the vagaries of the weather.

The Hungry Happy Hippy: Traversing through the world of hydroponic farming

For example, a drive to the outskirts of Mumbai to Talegaon and Kamshet reveals acre after acre of modern-day hydroponic farms that supply restaurant kitchens with all the fancy produce they need to create their millennial-friendly meals — various types of lettuce, arugula, Swiss chard, kale, bok choy, microgreens, edible flowers and aromatics like basil, thyme, rosemary, peppermint and mint are just some of the more common crops.

As I step inside the double doors of a greenhouse at Mundra Farms, the atmosphere inside feels a few degrees cooler and moister. These plants thrive in air-conditioned comfort and very specific light settings, just like I do, I giggle inwardly! But jokes aside, it’s serious business. Especially for entrepreneurs like Saurabh Mundra, who quit his IT career to start hydroponic farming and the brand Saladable (@saladable 48), which not only supplies pesticide-free greens to Nature’s Basket outlets and the National Sports Club of India, but also offers home delivery.

The baby plants I see growing in the greenhouse are doubly miraculous — it’s life in its littlest form and they are growing in trays of what appear to be, to the lay person, sponge! Of course, the Guy of Green Things does explain all the technicalities of its composition to me, but I won’t bore you with all those details that can simply be Googled (also, to be honest, I’m a bit distracted by the adorable bunny under the table woffling its nose at me!). I not only feed it some fresh lettuce but purchase a whole lot of mixed greens to take back home to remind me of the magical time spent here.

The Hungry Happy Hippy: Traversing through the world of hydroponic farming

Even in statewide lockdown, there’s been such high demand for the produce that the growers have been putting in hard hours to meet delivery deadlines. And new farms are coming up every day. Like Simple Farmers (@simplefarmers), who have a ‘negative water footprint’, meaning that they actually produce more water than they consume! Or Satviki Farms (@satvikifarms), ‘a controlled environment agricultural enterprise’ owned by nutritionist Priyanka Ranka Jain and her brother Rushabh, which produces residue-free, pesticide-free and chemical-free greens, fruits and vegetables, surprisingly in the populous area of Lower Parel. I sample some of the hydroponic greens and herbs freshly harvested just a few hours before they are delivered home and discover just how much of a difference they make to my salad!

Fresh, local and sustainable are the food-world’s watchwords now. And while you’ll see them a lot on restaurant menus once the pandemic subsides, the ‘new normal’ has seen many people deciding to stop twiddling their thumbs and discovering their green thumbs instead. It’s been a collective thumbs up to highly Instagrammable kitchen gardens and window boxes full of herbs.

Cut to a freewheeling conversation over a hearty meal in an elegant Walkeshwar home whose windows overlook the sprawling, peacock-filled grounds of the Raj Bhawan or the sparkling Arabian Sea beyond. From exotic holidays to the best schools, from high finance to favourite wines, the words and thoughts are whirling around pleasantly. When, suddenly, most of us go silent. Suman Jhunjhunwalla, the sweet sari-clad Lady of the House, is in intense discussion with spunky young bartender Ami Shroff. What would the two women, as wonderful as they are, have in common to be so deep in dialogue, we wonder. Turns out, the topic du jour is – compost! Yes, the award-wining mixologist is explaining the nitty-gritty of ‘greens’ and ‘browns’ and the complexities of vermiculture. And not only the gracious hostess with a penchant for music, painting and potli-designing (@sewgoodbysuman), but everyone around the table too is engrossed rather than grossed out!

Going green has definitely become the new black.

(The columnist is an independent lifestyle journalist and bespoke Mumbai tour specialist. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @priyapathiyan and @thehungryhappyhippy on Facebook. She blogs on thehungryhappyhippy.com)

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