In 1971, chef Alice Waters opened her now-iconic restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California. The restaurant was a one-woman show for a long time, with Waters working as the only owner, chef, menu planner and waitress. But this wasn’t the only reason why Waters rose to immense global fame. At Chez Panisse, Waters gave birth to the farm to fork or farm to table movement, which has now become an extremely popular trend with restaurants around the world.
Waters’ idea, known as California cuisine when it was first born, was to source locally grown, regional, fresh, natural ingredients from a network of suppliers, farmers and ranchers. Five decades later, the concept—which still doesn’t have a cut-and-dried definition, or exactly one way to go about it—is so popular as a sustainable movement that it’s also finding a wide acceptance in India. Here’s what you should know about this movement, and women entrepreneurs leading its Indian offshoot.
Farm to table: A natural and sustainable conceptIn perhaps its purest form, farm to table refers to a dinner table set in the middle of a farm or farmland, with the farmer explaining how the ingredients are produced while the cook or chef prepares authentic, traditional or inspired modern dishes with them. For those who have had the opportunity to have such an experience at a retreat or event, the feeling of oneness with nature and the gratitude for its bounty is unique. However, the concept of farm to table that is most commonly used across the world refers to restaurant menus at urban centres that feature organic or naturally farmed ingredients sourced from local small-scale farmers and suppliers, or the restaurant’s own organic garden or farm.
At its very core, farm to table is extremely sustainable because it celebrates nature’s bounty, biodiversity, the wisdom and labour of farmers and producers, rural-urban harmony (because the farms are usually adjacent to or in the outskirts of the cities), natural farming methods, and the unique taste of the featured produce. The entire point of the exercise is to highlight the fact that creating the freshest, most delicious foods is nature’s job, and no amount of hybridisation, use of pesticides or processing can add to the value of this food. In fact, studies show that these conventional farming practices can be quite damaging as they reduce the nutritive quality, taste, and value of food. In the course of a single event, farm to table proves that you, the consumer, deserve the better option, which is organic.
Women leading India’s farm to table movementOver the years, farm to table has advanced from being a niche event at restaurants, farmer’s markets, pop-ups, or retreats. Now, with e-commerce and B2C platforms more popular than ever, the restaurant or farm table has been replaced by your dinner table within the comforts of your own home. In India, which has always had a rich and traditional farm to table culture in any case, people in urban areas are embracing the concept more than ever before. Organically grown grains, lentils, fruits, and vegetables are now so much more easily available in most cities, and this literally helps bring that fresh farm feeling right into your homes.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to lockdowns, limited restaurant operations and a rise in home deliveries of groceries and edibles, farm to table has not only become more viable but also a necessity. People are now more aware of the benefits of clean and natural farming practices, nutrition and sustainable living. Many have taken to growing their own food at home too. If you too are looking to adopt the farm to table concept for your home, or even your restaurant or food service venture, then look no further than the following women making a mark in the Indian scene for inspiration.
Gauri DevidayalA law graduate from the University College London and a chartered accountant, Gauri Devidayal started The Table, a fine dining restaurant in Colaba, Mumbai, in 2011 with her husband, Jay Yousuf. The shift to farm to table started when there was an accidental surplus crop of spinach at Devidayal’s Alibaug farm, which she introduced to the restaurant. The Table’s farm now grows organic spinach, beetroot, radish, carrots, leafy greens, heirloom tomatoes, herbs and microgreens—all of which are featured on the restaurant’s menu. During the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns, Devidayal and her team at The Table worked to provide meals to the needy, especially migrants, across the city.
Shriya NahetaShriya Naheta started Zama Organics in 2017 with the purpose of creating an ecosystem where organic food could thrive. The Mumbai-based start-up connects 50,000 farmers from across India, and their produce, with customers based in the city. The produce, which is delivered to the doorstep of customers, includes black rice, tea, avocadoes, mangoes, black pepper, turmeric, Himalayan pink salt and morel mushrooms. Naheta also started collaborating with artisans and self-help groups in Uttarakhand in 2019 who produce organic pickles, jams, oils and chocolates. In 2020, as demands for organic food surged in India, Naheta also started operations in Delhi.
Anisha Goel and Shruti JainAnisha Goel, Shruti Jain, and their partner Abhishek Dalal, founded Kaze Living, a direct-to-customer brand providing curated, safe, fresh and pesticide-free food to customers in Delhi NCR, in 2019. Realising that conventional soil-farming methods inevitably contaminate produce with pesticide, this trio adopted hydroponic farming—which involves growing produce in mineral-rich water—to sustain their farm to table venture. Widely believed to be the future of sustainable farming, hydroponics may be new to India, but the founders of Kaze Living believe it will soon pick up in the country as a safe and organic food source. Currently, the company specialises in producing organic leafy greens, tomatoes, berries and veggies with the help of hydroponic scientist, Dr Praveen Singh.
Sumeet KaurIn 2012, Sumeet Kaur quit her cushy job as a tax consultant lawyer to pursue her passion for agriculture. A few years later, her farm to table venture, Spudnik Farms, started delivering organically grown fresh fruits and vegetables to the Bengaluru area—and continued to do so throughout the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. Apart from standard veggies like okra, brinjal, tomato and radish, Kaur also farms exotic variants of veggies and non-native leafy greens. In 2020, Kaur brought tribal farmers from Dandeli, Karnataka, on board and is helping them create a customer base for their organic produce in the urban areas. While her venture is currently subscription based, Kaur hopes to gradually expand it without compromising on the quality of the organic produce.