Microgreens and urban farming in Kolkata

A large part of the health and environmentally conscious population is moving towards plant based diets. People who are extremely passionate are investing time in growing their own food or at least a part of it. Although, others find it difficult to spend a lot of time in growing, preparing meals and ensuring that it is nutritious. An easy and quick way to add oodles of nutrition to our diets is by including microgreens.

Microgreen growing kit

What are microgreens?

They are vegetable seeds grown to a cotyledon stage, about 1 – 1.5 inches in height. They are best harvested immediately and have maximum nutrition when consumed raw. Microgreens can be grown from a large array of seeds including radish, mustard, pak choi, amaranth, basil, beetroot, carrot, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach and more.

Microgreens are tiny live greens and are best eaten raw, they are easy and versatile to use. They have a high nutrition density and are upto 40 times more nutritious than a full grown vegetable. A small amount of microgreens helps one cover a large part of their daily nutrient needs. Microgreens have a strong flavour and can be used in salads, wraps, tacos, sandwiches, smoothies or even as garnish on soup or dal. In fact, IKEA’s research and design lab on sustainability, Space10, is creating dishes of the future; they too are topped with microgreens.

Microgreens have initially been introduced in USA in 1990s in Southern California and have spread to San Francisco and other areas. They were first used in fine dining restaurants as garnish or to improve aesthetic appeal. In India, microgreens have gained ground only recently in Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata.

Jaivikaran is a start-up founded in 2016 by Nina Poddar, an urban farmer in Kolkata. It is a family run initiative and the team is very small. They have trained with farmers in Pune and Singapore and have attended one of the largest organic fairs in Germany. The founders got their inspiration from a vacation in Sikkim, the only organic state in India. They were very impressed by the quality of the freshly harvested produce that was cooked by their host. Initially, they started growing for themselves and setup terrace gardens and kitchen gardens for friends and relatives. However, they realized that most people were unable to take out time to maintain them.

Currently, Jaivikaran specializes in microgreens, wheat grass and edible flowers. They are also piloting salad leaves such as kale, pak choi, lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, amaranth and more. Jaivikaran does not receive any external funding. The organization has broken even and is just about meeting its costs. Their bestseller is microgreens that are delivered a few hours after harvest to fine dining restaurants and 5 star hotels. Since February, they have started the Jaivikaran Microgreen Club. This service allows customers to access assorted microgreens at their doorstep. A box contains a mix of microgreens ranging from broccoli, kale, basil, radish, beetroot, mustard, cauliflower, cabbage and more. The subscription includes free delivery of one or two boxes per week. The microgreens are fresh, harvested and delivered directly from the farm. Jaivikaran collaborates with restaurants, cafes and nutritionists for workshops on benefits of microgreens, growing, how to use microgreens and more.

Amaranth growing in East Kolkata Wetlands

The future plan is to make Jaivikaran a financially sustainable and commercial venture. Jaivikaran is looking for volunteers who would like to work in farm and help with social media marketing. One of the plans is to tie-up with an NGO and work with the farmers in wetlands. The wetlands are adjacent to the city and food is already been grown, however the quality of the food is questionable and high levels of contamination are prevalent. Jaivikaran wants to train farmers and integrate them into a clean and organic way of growing. This is a unique opportunity in Kolkata as very few cities have a wetland ecosystem in its periphery.

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