Friday, April 22, 2011

Go the natural way


When Ms. S. Balachitra met a diabetic couple pondering over a list of powdered millets, each packed separately, she began a culinary crusade. Her shop, Diya's Health Food, promotes a simple, traditional alternative to foods loaded with pesticides and junk calories. Her forte is millet-based readymade food mixtures. Also cashing in on people's newfound health consciousness is Gaja Dayalan's The Organic Store.

“Health-conscious people chant a new mantra — organic and natural — that had faded into oblivion with the emergence of herbicides and pesticides,” says Ms. Balachitra. She stocks about 11 products made of millets and cereals like varaharisi, solam, kambu, ragi, thinai, kuthiravalli and maize. She customises the products to suit the modern-day kitchen, processing them into puttu flour, adai dosa flour, venthayakali, sprouted health drink and murukku flour. She also packs parruppu podi with manathakkali keerai (green) and vilva roti flour, which are good for stomach-related problems. Now she is working on packaging drumstick leaves in powder form.

“People are familiar with foreign food stuff like pizzas and burgers but they are not aware of millets,” she feels. Millets have more fiber and minerals that help in controlling diabetes and obesity – major health problems of the century. But how organic is millet? “It is organic,” says Ms. Balachitra.

“Millets do not require artificial agents as they have the capacity to counter pests naturally.” They grow in dry lands and need less water, and animals never graze on them because they have too many layers of husk. She adds that millets are nutritious, tasty and healthy and can be used to prepare any food commonly made with rice.

“I have been consciously trying to break the idea that organic food is more expensive by selling at the lowest margin possible,” she says. When she first saw that couple searching for individual ingredients, she put her mind to making healthy eating easier. “There I decided that I should make value-added products in millets that could enable working women to make flavorful dishes,” she says. This postgraduate in management joined the training courses conducted by Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Madurai. After months of trial and error, she now supplies her products to a few city-based shops. She creates her own customer base through word of mouth, mostly from satisfied beneficiaries.

Gaja Dayalan of Grow by Green's The Organic Store feels that people are ready to pay more for healthy products, but the supply chain is very small. Ms. Dayalan sold vegetables and fruits grown in her Kodaikanal farm at a stall near Pandikovil, and people flocked to it. At the shop, she sells unusual foods like horsegram appalam, sprouted rava and mango pickle with no oil.

“Everything is produced naturally and even drying and powdering processes are done manually under the sun,” says Ms. Dayalan. The flours such as ragi, wheat, unpolished rice, sprouted rava, sprouted dalia, and unpolished masuri fly off the shelves. The shop also stocks spices, pickles, teas, jaggery, dry fruits and nuts, and cholesterol-free virgin coconut oil extracted from tender coconut. There are eco-based gift articles, including baskets made of palm and korai leaves. Within a year, The Organic Store has attracted about 100 regular customers, of which 80 are doctors.

“In fact, we are not able to display products as people order for their groceries in advance,” says Ms. Dayalan. “After getting the consignment we straightaway deliver to their homes.”

She is now creating a chain of producers and also thinking of selling seasonal vegetables and fruits grown on her farm.

The consequences of our agricultural excesses have come home to roost. People who connect the dots between pesticides and the protests of their own bodies are ready to shift to natural and organic foods. And Balachitra and Gaja Dayalan are ready to give them what they are looking for.

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