As a guy living in an apartment, I had always aspired to have my own veggie garden. I dreamt I’d toil in the hot sun for an hour a week and then bear the fruits of my labour. Transforming that dream into reality took a bit of time and lots of experimentation.
As someone who didn’t know anything about gardening, knowing where to start was the most difficult part. I was clueless about the kind of plants I could grow, the kind of soil I had to use, etc., but it all worked out in the end. While it may seem a little intimidating at first, building your own organic vegetable garden isn’t that difficult.
It’s quite simple, as I went through the process. All you need is a handful of pots, some good soil, some seeds/seedlings, and you’re good to go. The moment you see the first leaf of your first plant, you will be hooked from then on.
You can’t go wrong with most veggies in containers: green chillies, tomatoes, brinjal, beans, ladies finger, capsicum (just make sure in summer, there is a shade net as pots can get really dried out in peak sun in summer. If you can’t put in a shade net, just move them where they can get a few hours of shade in the mid morning sun)
Vasant Panchami, or Basant Panchami is being celebrated on 10 February 2019. It marks the arrival of spring in the Indian subcontinent.
One of my earliest childhood memories relates to Vasant Panchami – my mother singing the beautiful Saraswati Vandana – Goddess Saraswati is also worshipped on this day. Here is another rendition of the same.
Another legend pre-dating Saraswati is that of the Lord of Love: Kamadeva. Basant Panchami celebrates love. Folklore has it that it was at this time that Parvati implored Kamadeva to shoot arrows of love at Lord Shiva, to wake him from his penance, to pay attention to his yearning wife.What’s in a Name?
The name, ‘Vasant Panchami’ is quite indicative – ‘Vasant’ means Spring, while ‘Panchami’ signifies the fifth day of the Hindu month of Maagha. When translated to the Gregorian calendar, this falls somewhere during January-February.
India celebrates Vasant Panchami with much enthusiasm – with families going to temples and welcoming Spring – after all, the day marks the end of the cold and dry months of winter, and the beginning of new growth.
Yellow is the color of the day – as one notices a lot of people donning yellow clothing, serving yellow colored food, etc. This is probably because mustard fields in northern India are in full bloom at the time.
Bihar, celebrates Basant Panchami as the Sun God’s birthday. If one visits the Deo Sun Shrine in Aurangabad District of Bihar, one can see devotees thronging the place with yellow coloured clothing.
Punjab celebrates Basant Panchami a tad different. Though they worship the goddess Saraswati too, Vasant Panchami to Punjabis is all about the colour yellow.
Families across Punjab (both India and Pakistan) visit temples and gurudwaras, wearing yellow clothes, with yellow flowers. People also fly kites on this day (You will notice the kite flying mania continues from Sankranti ). We’re not done with the color yet – Punjabis also eat yellow rice on Basant Panchami!
Bengal, the land of literature, treats Basant Panchami with much respect. Since Hindus worship the goddess of knowledge, Saraswati, Bengalis take this opportunity to introduce toddlers to writing and reading. This custom is prevalent in Bangladesh as well.
A toddler’s first letters are considered a big deal – more so in Bengal. Excited parents and families call on their family priests or other respected elders to supervise the toddler’s first ever written words.
Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, etc. have their own way of celebrating the spring festival. After having bathed early in the morning, devotees visit Shiva temples to worship Shiva & Parvati. They also give yellow coloured flowers and wheat ears as an offering to the deities.
Basant Panchami is also celebrated in one of India’s most revered Dargahs – Hazrat Nizamuddin. The thirteenth century sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya was devastated at the untimely death of his nephew. His disciple Amir Khusro, saw some village women carrying flowers of the mustard plant, “sarson” to a nearby temple, dancing and celebrating spring. He composed this qawwali “Phool rahi sarson sakal ban” to make his guru smile. Nizamuddin Auliya overcame his grief and smiled, and ever since, Basant Panchami is celebrated at his hermitage every year with lots and lots of sarson ke phool (mustard flowers). Here’s a YouTube video of the song, Phool Rahi Sarson Sakal Ban.
Score high on eco-friendly, and achieve better health.
Our article earlier in January focused on how we can reduce our plastic consumption. This article takes that intent further, and focuses on our food related shopping, and how we can make it more planet friendly. Why food?
Consider this: We all eat 3 times a day. With a global population of 7 billion (700 Crores), food is the single largest purchase we human beings make.
If we can make even the slightest shift to a more sustainable option in our food, the payoffs are huge.
The American writer Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”. This idea is most appropriate in the context of each one of us choosing what we buy for our families.
We have a few suggestions that you can try out for your groceries/food shopping. As you read through them, you will find that not only are they more eco-friendly, they are undoubtedly healthier. Which goes to prove that what is good for the planet, is good for us (and vice versa).
Switch to Organic Food Today
Organic food is grown without the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Fertilisers and pesticides are petrochemicals that need tremendous amounts of energy and investment to manufacture, and apply on farms. (Such as the extraction of petroleum, refining, manufacturing, and then in storage and transportation)
The agrichemicals industry has a huge environmental footprint, and we don’t need it at all.
Organic farming also nourishes and preserves soil fertility, which is why organic farms produce regular yields year after year, whereas conventional farms need increasing inputs each year as their fertility reduces.
The added benefit is that organic food is loaded with nutrients and bereft of harmful chemicals. This means our own long-term health improves with consuming organic food.
Read the 2013 UN report that categorically explains how small-scale organic farming is the only sustainable way to feed the world.
Cut Down on Meat Consumption
Consuming dairy, eggs and meat is inherent in many cultures. However, consumption of animal based foods is inherently inefficient from the point of resources. This issue is multiplied many folds in today’s food system, also called factory farming.
Huge amounts of food are grown to feed cattle, hens, pigs and lamb. This food if grown for direct human consumption would require much less quantity.
Creating 1000 calories of food for humans from animals is much more draining on resources such as water and land, as compared to producing the exact same amount from plants.
All this food (except for organic meat) is again grown with the use of fertilisers and pesticides. In the USA (and then exported to other countries), animal food is predominantly genetically modified corn and soy.
To increase the efficiency of the factory, animals are kept in tightly packed lots, thus resulting in unsanitary conditions, and animals falling really sick. The industry addresses this by pumping them indiscriminately with antibiotics. (In the US alone 80% of antibiotics manufactured is used for livestock. India has no regulation on how much antibiotics can be given to animals). And we end up consuming food that was sick and full of antibiotics.
To increase the quality of the meat (i.e. to quickly grow muscle, to increase milk output etc.), the animals are fed growth hormones on a consistent basis, which ends up in our bodies when we consume them.
Look for meat and dairy that isn’t from a factory (your local butcher, a small vendor of eggs from free grazing chickens). If you cannot eliminate meat, or find good quality non mass produced meat, remember: even trimming it down to a couple of meals per week will go a long way. Not just on the impact on the environment, but also on your health. And don’t worry about the protein and calcium. Eating a good mixture of fruits, nuts, vegetables and whole grains (like brown rice, whole wheat aata and unpolished millets) delivers all the nutrition that our bodies need.
Choose Local Produce When Possible
The more distance food has to travel to your house, the more “food miles” it has. Choose foods that have fewer miles than more. When you buy food that was grown/manufactured far away, it requires energy to store, and transport to get to your home. If it is refrigerated/frozen food, even more.
Buy perishables such as fruits and vegetables in your local mandi. Why not the supermarket? A supermarket may look hygienic and clean, but vegetables there are invariably bought ahead of time and stored in refrigerated units. This means your local mandi not only avoids the refrigeration footprint, but also assures you fresh products.
Local produce also helps build more resilient and decentralized supply systems, from the farmer to the market. You also indirectly cut down on the packaging footprint also because these products now do not have to be packaged to travel and survive long distances.
Another advantage to buying local food is that you are supporting local biodiversity. You will end up buying produce that is grown because it is well suited to the local climate.
E.g.: Buying Sesame, Safflower or Groundnut Oil in south India is a breeze because they are very hardy and suited to the climate. The Safflower plant requires virtually no water, and grows all over the arid Deccan plateau.
Buy What’s in Season.
To explain why its better to buy in season, lets first look at what is sub-optimal about buying out of season.
Say you want to eat an Apple in Mumbai in June. The apple harvest in Kashmir happens September/October. To satisfy a year-long supply, apples are kept in cold storage. The apple you are eating in June, has been sitting inside a refrigerated unit for 8 months !!! Would you be able to enjoy its taste? What about its nutrition? And imagine having to waste all that electricity to run the refrigeration unit for 8 months.
Eating seasonal food gives us the benefit of maximum freshness and nutrition, and minimizes having to store it year-long. However, for grains like wheat, rice and millets, these are harvested only once a year, and need some storage that will keep them safe from pests. If we reduce our consumption of grains and increase our intake of seasonal fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts, we will improve our health, as well as reduce our own carbon footprint.
Avoid Processed Foods
Nature stores whole food in safe containers: the husk of the grain, the skin/peel of the fruit or vegetable, the kernel of the nut. Eating food that comes directly out of these natural containers has the most nutritional value.
Processed foods are stored in man-made containers: polythene, tin can, glass bottle, tetra pack… the list goes on.
It takes an immense manufacturing industry (read resources of energy, water, land, and leftover polluted air/land/water) to package the food in these containers and ship them to you.
The biggest consideration for any manufacturer while packaging a product, is its shelf life. The longer the shelf life, the greater the chance that the product will be purchased before its expiry date.
Other than grains, lentils, millets, oilseeds, spices and oils, no other food has a long shelf life in a natural form. Hence, to achieve longer shelf life, manufacturers will often strip the product of its nutrition, so that the product does not get damaged by insects/fungus as such. (e.g.: wheat based products widely use maida and not whole wheat, as maida doesn’t get affected by pests as much. On the other hand, maida is an incredibly unhealthy food item.)
To summarise, an eco-friendly shopping list, is foremost a healthy shopping list. And the 5 suggestions above roll into one simple maxim: Choose local, seasonal, whole, plant-based food.
Water is one of the very basic components that sustain human life on earth. It is used to grow the food we eat, wash, cook, produce electricity, etc. Whatever happens, the levels of usable water are ever decreasing.
Step into poor urban neighbourhoods, or drive twenty miles out, into rural neighbourhoods, a common sight is seeing women walking for miles on end to collect drinking water for their families.
Here is a good article that highlights the need for water conservation, and provides some tips on how to intervene:
A lot of these are not difficult at all to start. As with any new habit, it takes awareness and perseverance. Soon enough it will become a part of your routine, and you will then wonder how life could have been before it 🙂
When you are heads down doing the work you love, time flies in a jiffy. It felt like it was last week that I wrote the July newsletter !!
We did a fair bit of process revamping at the Daana office in July. For a good 2 weeks we looked at every product, every process and worked hard at getting better with our cleaning, packing, stock taking, and delivery. We re-did the way we laid things out, shuffled responsibilities around, and consolidated a bunch of tasks. The team is under double load when I’m around, as they have to get their regular work done, and work on fixing issues and address improvements as well 🙂
The month of July was also spent visiting farmers and partners. A fair bit of travel ensued. The first one was to Mysore, to meet Anand and Priya. They have been supplying us with cold-pressed organic oils. I spent the whole day with them, and their little girl Chavi accompanied me everywhere. We spent a fair bit of time discussing our mutual challenges around logistics, the truck strike, and how we can streamline things better. Anand also took me to meet Vasanthkumar, and Ravi, two of the farmers who supply coconuts from their farm, from which our cold pressed coconut oil is extracted. I got to see Anand’s rotary press unit, that crushes the coconuts to extract oil.
A separate trip report on Mysore will follow subsequently.
I then went and visited the folks at Keystone foundation, Aadhimalai Procured co-op, and our coffee farmers in the Nilgiris. You can find out all about how the region, and the coffee here: Nilgiri Trip Report
At the end of each newsletter, we try to bring attention to some interesting event happening in the country. Do tune in, to Madras Day celebrations. Aug 22, 1639 is celebrated as Madras day. It was that day that the land for Fort St. George was acquired by the British from the Nayak of the Vijayanagara empire, Damerla Venkatadri. The month long events are an entirely volunteer driven effort showcasing the city’s rich history and culture.
Have a great month, hope you enjoyed the articles.
We apologise for not having been able to bring you a newsletter in June (you will soon know why). We hope with the searing summer behind us, and with kids beginning school, a new academic year and routine has begun. My older son and a niece have both begun internships, another niece graduated from college this summer and is entering the workforce. It is indeed bittersweet to see our children get to the next set of milestones in life.
At Daana, it was a very busy May and June (the team can vouch for that more than me 🙂 ). All of that has culminated in us adding more amazing products to our catalogue. Not 1, not 2, but 4 new products. Two healthy oils, and two staple beverages. All Organic and Single Origin.
I present to you two very crowded, intense and energetic celebrations this month. Watch them on TV, if you cannot visit.
Jagannath Rath Yatra: Head to Puri to witness the Rath Yatra (Chariot Procession) that carries idols of Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra. This year it is on the 14th of July.
Champakulam Moolam Boat Race: Kerala’s oldest boat race is on the 28th of July. Read more about the history of this race and how it commemorates the installation of the idol of lord Krishna at the temple of Ambalappuzha.
Do try out our products, visit our weekly posts on the website, or keep in touch with us via facebook/whatsapp. We look forward to hearing from you.
The people of Telangana and Andhra are similar and different in many ways. Like the British and Americans, they are two people divided by a common language 🙂
One of the things they both excel at is the amazing array of “pappu” they whip up. Pappu means dal in Telugu. I present a recipe for the “Beerakaya pappu”, ridge-gourd with lentils. It is an absolute massage to the soul. Typically spooned on top of rice, can be had with roti, or if you’re like me, I simply pour it into a bowl and eat it (call it a soup if you are really compelled to call it something).
Here is a OPOS (One Pot One Shot) method I used to make it yesterday (I have added Instant Pot directions alongside as well):
Half cup finely chopped onions
One cup coarsely chopped tomatoes
A few cloves of garlic (no need to chop them)
One cup of chopped ridge gourd (scrape the outer skin. if you like the rough texture of it, keep it, the skin is perfectly edible and yummy. Slit open the ridge gourd, remove the goop and seeds)
1 cup dal (I mixed Toor Dal, Moong Dal and Urad Dal)
2-3 green chillies slit length wise (you can vary this based on the type of chilli and based on your spice tolerance)
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp safflower oil or groundnut oil (remember to only use cold pressed oil)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste
Slice of lemon, some chopped curry leaves and coriander leaves (cilantro) for garnish
In a small pressure cooker (you can use the Instant Pot too) pour the oil, when it warms up, add the cumin seeds and the onions and sauté just until the onions turn translucent. (this is because they will cook further with the rest of the ingredients)
Add the rest of the ingredients (dal, tomato, ridge gourd, salt, turmeric, chillies and garlic)
Add one cup of water (this may seem on the lower side, but the tomatoes and ridge gourd will let out water while cooking)
Close the pressure cooker and let it cook for 3 whistles (in the Instant Pot, pressure cook on medium for 6-7 min). Turn it off and let it sit until the pressure fully subsides. This extra soaking in the steam lets the ingredients cook in their own juices.
Open up, give everything a little bit of a stir, scoop into a bowl, garnish with a slice of lemon and chopped curry leaves and coriander leaves, and serve.
I have been experimenting with various oils of late. If you want a Telangana twist to it, use Safflower Oil (also called Kusuma Noone). For the Andhra tinge, use Groundnut Oil (also called Palli Noone). These oils really bring out the regional flavours.
This dish is as soulful as it is versatile. You can substitute the ridge gourd with any soft squash of your choice (you will need to vary the size of the pieces based on their softness), you can also substitute with any green of your choice. My mom makes a heavenly version of this with spinach. My other favourite version is with Gangavaila koora (purslane leaves) which grows like a weed in Hyderabad.
It is school reopening time and most mothers are busy wondering which new nutritious snack would be a good choice to add to their lunch box menu. To get children to eat all veggies and healthy food is a huge challenge. One way is to get all the nutrition into a roll with some yummy sauce/chutney. Let us try this one which has 3 types of dals and loads of veggies.
1/2 cup Toor Dal
1/2 cup Moong Dal
2 tsps Chana Dal
1/2 cup Cauliflower florets
1/2 cup capsicum finely chopped
1/2 cup carrots finely chopped
1/4 cup tomatoes finely chopped
1/2 cup onions finely chopped
few pitted olives
1 tbsp Sunflower oil
Italian Seasoning (Basil,Oregano,Chilli flakes)
Salt to taste
Wheat Flour for the rotis
Boil the dals together with enough water to cook them. Once cooked, drain the extra water and keep it aside. Make a dough out of the wheat flour, knead it well and let it sit for 15 mins. Meanwhile we can prepare the filling. Boil carrots and cauliflower separately. Saute all the other vegetables in sunflower oil. Once they are cooked, add the cooked dal, carrots and cauliflower and mix. Add the seasoning along with required salt and let the vegetables cook till the filling is thick. Now our filling is ready.
Roll the dough into lemon sized balls and make rotis out of them. Take each roti, place the filling along the centre, add grated cheese on top and roll the sides onto each other to close the roll. You can use a little water to close the roll so that it does not open. You can cut the roll into three pieces, so it is easier to eat.
You can pack this as lunch for your kids along with their favourite sauce!
May is here…. here are some ideas to embrace the searing temperatures, and stuff to look forward to.
First off, we have edited and compiled our interview with Dr. Sultan Ismail from March. He explains in a simple conversational manner the entire agrarian crisis: what it means to us a consumer, and how it affects our rural economy. Its worth every second of the 25 min video.
Enjoy the ever favourite Aam Panna as it hails summer. Follow Bhuvana’s recipe and let us know what you think. Additionally, post your own version of this national drink !!
While we wait for the mangoes to land, here is an article that talks about the history of mangoes in India. A very worthwhile obsession that dates back 4000 years.
While carbide mangoes have been on the decline, the market has responded to our mango craze with newer ripening techniques, not all of them good. The only way to get great mangoes is to wait for the right time. As they say… Intezaar ka phal meetha hota hai 🙂 Watch as Arifa explains how to spot the artificially ripened fruit versus the natural ones.
With rising temperatures comes rising use of fans, refrigerators and a/c. Of these the A/Cs are the biggest electricity guzzlers. Here are some simple tips to use your A/Cs efficiently, and save money on those power bills.
If you live in a region that has dry hot air in summer, the use of an evaporative cooler is a much more efficient option. Make sure to install it against an external window, and to have a sunshade above the cooler so the sun’s rays do not fall on it directly and heat it up.
If you live in a region that has hot moist air (such as the coastal area with high humidity). turn the a/c on, to no cooler than 27C and turn on a ceiling fan. Movement of cool air against our skin is much more important for comfort, than standing air which could be at a lower temperature.
Watch this video by the green architect Ashok Lall on how to minimise dependency on A/Cs, and how to reduce the use of A/Cs, without giving up on comfort and cooling.
Summer vacations: Here are interesting summer destinations to visit. Remember, any cool weather place in India is bound to be crowded, so don’t be surprised. Try to find real “off the beaten path” locations, they will offer a much better experience.
There are other things you can do, right in your own city, to enjoy the summer holidays. Arrange early morning walking, bicycling tours, late evening concerts, lots of board games with the kids in the neighbourhood, and the best of all, a nice afternoon siesta !!
Here is a morning bicycling city tour of Delhi, offered every weekend in Delhi, starting 6 am 🙂
Keep watching our blog section for articles every week. We cover a wide array of topics on sustainability, including organic farming, women’s empowerment, market news, government policy, and more. We also have simple and fun recipes for food every week. Do check them out in our recipes section. Make sure your grocery list for this month is healthy and wholesome. Place your orders here.
“Rural Sustainability is a Prerequisite for Urban Sustainability,” Dr Rajendra Singh
Dr. Rajendra Singh -the Water Man of India needs no introduction. Honoured with the Stockholm Prize in 2015, for reviving the ancient dam technology in the Alwar district of Rajasthan in the 1980s to bring water to 1200 parched villages, Dr. Rajendra Singh has dedicated his entire life to water conservation. Relying on traditional knowledge, local material and the science of common sense, he leveraged community help to rejuvenate nine rivers and restore groundwater levels in Rajasthan.
The Ramon Magsaysay award winner in Hyderabad for a conference, spoke to Sujata C for Daana on the topic of urban-rural linkages, rural reform, permaculture and threats to agriculture. The conversation got off with a few comments on negotiating the long, winding concrete vines of flyovers, metro lines and the chaotic Hyderabad traffic leading to the obvious question of urban sustainability. Here is the edited interview:
On urban sustainability:
“When the villagers are forced to migrate to cities due to helplessness and hopelessness then cities cannot be healthy. Cities depend on agriculture for their food. Their food comes from the villages. If our rural areas are not healthy, the city can’t be healthy. If the rural areas are not sustainable the Indian city can’t be sustainable. If we want our villages to be self reliant, we have to make them sustainable, the water in the village, the soil, the seeds, the hard work of the farmers, everything is included in this. Without the sustainability of our villages, urban sustainability is not possible.
The way our cities are growing with metros, high-rise buildings and heavy traffic, it is not at all sustainable. The basic necessities of a city come from villages and the cost of transporting to the cities these add to the burden of public health. And the pollution that we create in the process, these put a question mark on the way our cities are growing. The public health of the cities is linked to rural health. To correct all these we have to take the route of sustainable development.
On the link between rural reform and permaculture
The meaning of permaculture is to give respect and love for everything that exists in nature. Our love and respect for agriculture will come when we stop using chemical fertilisers, herbicides to cultivate our food. The name permaculture itself means giving respect to nature as it is while growing our food. The viability of permaculture depends on the fact that there is no contract farming done in our country. It should be a contract farming free country. The biggest threat to permaculture comes from contract farming. The trend of corporate farming will not allow permaculture to grow. They will use any term for their farming – chemical free farming, natural farming, zero budget farming, they will come up with a thousand names, but in reality they will be doing business. This will be very dangerous for our agriculture.
Agriculture is the foundation of Indian life. It is not a business. It is our cultural heritage, our ‘sanskriti’, it is not our business. Agriculture is the bridge between nature and the needs of human lives. Contract farming and corporate farming is going to break this bridge, because the stakeholders will only be interested in profits. They will not be interested in the culture that envelops agriculture. There will be no love for agriculture in contract farming. Those involved will want to grow stuff that brings in more money.
On the culture of agriculture:
It is my belief that if we are talking about agriculture, we have to examine its foundational principle. We have to examine our soil, our ‘bhoo sanskriti,’ its diversity and its potential to grow food that is good for us, good for the soil and the earth. When my soil health, my water health and the health of my land is good, then I will be good. To keep this chain of good health active, permaculture is the entry point, he concludes.
Viewed in the context of the farmers’ march, the intuitive advice from Dr. Rajendra Singh can tackle present day farmers’ woes and will continue to remain relevant in the times to come.
Daana supports the cause of sustainable development by supporting small and marginal farmers who grow food without pesticides.