Crop Connect Chronicles


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The Concept of Slow Food: Details on the Discussion

A discussion was held on ‘The Concept of Slow Food’ at PHD Chambers House, New Delhi on 4th of July, 2017 organised by their Women and Child Development Committee in partnership with the Slow Food Chef’s Alliance.  PHD Chamber members as well as many chefs, writers and entrepreneurs associated with Slow Food, attended the event. Original Indian Table was a proud participant at the event where our co-founder Puneet Jhajharia presented and we also had a stall to showcase and retail our products.

 

Here are the highlights from the event:

Mr Gopal S. Jiwarajka, President, PHD Chamber started by joking about how he was in a room where there were more cooks than there were people who would eat the food cooked by them.  He then talked about the abundant biodiversity of food in India and about the Slow Food Movement mentioning how it was born to protect endangered food.

The next speaker was Chef Rajdeep of ITC Hotels, also President of the Slow Food Chef’s Alliance. He told us a story of his childhood when eating watermelons and muskmelons was a seasonal summer thing and oranges were available only in the winter. He then said that when he became a chef, things were the same. However, on becoming an executive chef, he noticed times had changed and all produce was available round the year. He went to share how the global Slow Food movement aims to change this and spoke at length about the Slow Food philosophy which is to provide clean, good and fair food for everyone.

Gunjan Goela, Corporate Food Consultant and a famous modern-traditionalist chef,  talked about Ayurveda and Rishi Charaka addressed in depth thousands of years ago the very same things that Slow Food stands for today. She further went on to tell us how she was ashamed and sorry that she had to introduce Slow Food as something coming from Italy when we have such a rich history of our own food. “Every 20 miles you drive, there would be a change of taste such is the variety!”

 

The rapidly changing dining-out scenario in our country was talked about by Chef Rahul Wali who pointed out that visiting restaurants was an occasional thing earlier but now it is common and more convenient.

Our Director and Co-Founder, Puneet Jhajharia, talked about the rich and diverse culinary heritage of our country. Laying emphasis on the fact that other countries have globalised their food, he said that it is high time Indians understand that our knowledge of food is a treasure and a heritage to be preserved and cherished.

 

The discussion was followed by a lunch which featured three dishes made using Original Indian Table ingredients. We had Munsiari rajma, Amaranth parathas and a delicious recipe of Mappillai samba rice and gur(jaggery).  These products were sourced from farmers practising sustainable farming in various parts of the country.

 

We sincerely hope to have more of such events in the future and are optimistic that the concept of slow food is understood and adopted by all.

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A trip that demands recollection…

Visit to Kdlipalli, Sambalpur, Odisha

This is my first attempt at blog writing, I have thought of writing blogs a number of times but always thought that my right brain is partly dysfunctional and thus I can’t get my hands dirty with anything creative. But this experience called for challenging my own belief, so here I go-

Some craziness before the trip

On the night before my trip, the plan to go to Sambalpur from Bhubaneswar, was still hanging in midair. And since I was already struggling with network issues I decided to go and buy some fruits to make better use of time. While I was still buying fruits I got the call confirming the trip and now all I had to do was book my tickets. When it comes to booking tickets, I think I am the most optimistic person alive. I am saying this because I got the call of confirmation around 8:30 at night and I was supposed to book the ticket for a train that left Bhubaneshwar in the morning at 6:45. I was still calm, bought some fruits, got back home and started eating the fruits I had just bought (thinking I have the whole night to book the tickets). So after gulping down some 10-15 Litchi I decided to go out and ask for someone else’s laptop (as internet was not working on mine) at the guesthouse I was staying. Still maintaining my optimistic attitude I coolly logged into IRCTC only to find that the train that I had to board, had its chart prepared already, which means no more online reservations could be made now. Right – so now my panic button got switched on. I called up the person who was also accompanying me on the trip (with a confirmed reservation), discussed possible ways of reaching Sambalpur around exactly the same time or before he does (as he had made all the arrangements of visiting the village). So finally, it was decided that I would be taking a general ticket upon reaching station and if TT allows, I’ll sit in the reserved coach by paying the difference or else will go in general coach while listening to the unavoidable music of the train’s honk.

Starting of a memorable day

The next day started, everything went as planned (See: in the end things do fall in place and thus I continue to remain optimistic :P). So now I reached Sambalpur, the cute little city of Odisha, which is known for Sambalpur textiles and a very fun festival which is only celebrated in Sambalpur called Sital Sasthi (a festival where people get together to witness the marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati) which coincidently was on the same day as my visit to the city.

Some important mentions

Before going ahead, let me make an introduction to Mr. Gyandip who works with a very big trust, which funds NGOs who help farmers in forming producer companies and in facilitating capacity building. So me and Mr. Gyandip reached Sambalpur around 12:15pm, here we met Mr. Pradeep, who heads the NGO funded by the aforementioned trust. Mr. Pradeep, took us to a village called Kdlipalli. This village is part of the 5 village cluster that is helped by Mr. Pradeep’s NGO.

“Against all odds”

We reached Kdlipalli and were welcomed by the farming tribe who had assembled there to discuss their issues. The discussion started with the introduction to the cluster of 5 villages of which Kdlipalli is a part; apparently 2 of the villages of this cluster(not Kdlipalli) still do not have even a trace of electricity. The villagers say that a lot of people have tried to help but the forest department does not allow placement of electric wires in the village as they fear the elephants in the area might die because of the electric wires.

But in spite of conditions like these, those villagers have built a water clogging system locally to support their irrigation requirements; and both those villages contribute in a big way to the cluster in terms of their agri-produce.  Well, those villages are definitely living the “against all odds” idiom.

As for Kdlipalli, even though it is not one of the villages with no electricity, this village witnesses a number of snake bites. Black venomous snakes are common here and a lot of kids have also been targeted by them. Inspite of facing so many challenges in their day to day life this tribe had a very joyous and happy vibe to it. This tribe’s livelihood depends on agriculture, they majorly produce Ragi/Finger Millet (mandiya in Odiya) apart from that they also do pulses like horsegram, black horsegram, red gram, green gram, Sorghum, mustard, Jatangi (an oil seed), Kala Jeera rice (aromatic rice variety of Orissa) etc.

Tough battle between growing what is good for land or what sells

Since the land here is uneven, it is difficult for farmers to grow paddy here. The post-harvest processing is also a big challenge as rice milling plants generally refuse to operate for quantities less than 10 tons. So these farmers prefer to grow millets as it grows easily on their land and also consumes less water compared to paddy. But the challenge they face in growing millet is finding a market for it. Though they locally consume millets heavily, selling it outside of the local market remains a challenge and there is only a limit upto which the local market can consume their produce.

On further discussion, farmers also specified how the birds eat up their paddy field but the same birds do not feed on millets as millets have a hard covering. Also, because of the natural pest resistant nature of millets and awareness created by NGO towards usage of organic pest repellants, the farmer’s dependency on chemical pesticides has reduced to a great extent.

Delicious local recipes and their wonderful health benefits

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Farmers also shared their various recipes-

Ragi/ Finger Millet (Mandiya) – In summers it is soaked in water overnight. It is then ground finely and then filtered. Some jaggery is added to the water that is extracted after filtration. This water has cooling properties and thus people consume it in this form during summers.

In Winters it is ground to make flour and then eaten in the form of chapati and something similar to a steamed idli. Ragi whole or flour warms the body thus it makes a good winter food.

Ragi is said to be good for people who are trying to lose weight or control sugar; it is good for bones and thus prevents joint pain; it is specially good for growing kids and pregnant women.

Jowar/Sorghum (Gangai/Junjuna) – Jowar is locally eaten as a rice substitute. It is also ground to make flour to make chapattis around the year. It is again very good for sugar patients (good rice replacement) and for people with joint pain.

Horsegram – This is generally consumed in the form of lentil soup. It said to be the most protein rich lentil. It is supposed to be very good for sugar control, heart diseases and kidney stone problems.

Why is all of this important for us?

On meeting these farmers I realize that we are surrounded by an amazing variety of food and taste which we barely appreciate. Probably that is the reason that these farmers have such wide smiles on their faces in spite of facing so many challenges every day and most of the urban population is struggling with millennial crisis in spite of having all possible comforts in life. Healthy food made into delicious recipes is definitely one of the secrets to a happy life.

Switch your daily wheat/rice diet to a variety of local grains! This simple act of keeping your body healthy by simultaneously catering to your soul might eventually affect many such sweet little local tribes for good.

Thanks for reading. Please send us your feedback or suggestions for our blogs or our products that can help us popularize indigenous foods and help our farmers grow what suits the environment and not what suits market shelves.

I am also posting a small video of the song that was sung by one of the tribal farmers-


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5 reasons why Sustainable Agriculture is good for the environment and you!

Tomorrow, June 5th is World Environment Day. Let us take you through the benefits of sustainable agriculture.

Sustainable agriculture, as the name suggests, is farming in such a way that the needs of the present generation are fulfilled with minimal damage to the environment and not adversely affecting the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.

All methods used in sustainable farming revolve around not harming the environment while making the optimum use of resources in the best possible ways. These methods include conventional practices like crop rotation and crop diversity, making use of renewable resources and innovative methods of better water management and integrated pest management. Various techniques like cover crops, soil enrichment, and natural pest predators are also under the umbrella of sustainable agriculture.

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According to an ongoing study at Iowa State University’s Marsden Farm research center, complex crop rotation systems can surpass conventional monoculture in both yield and profitability. (Source: Union of Concerned Scientists)

Let’s understand why it is important for us.

  1. Environment conservation:

The various methods involved in sustainable farming not only replenish the soil and makes it healthier but also protect other natural resources including water and air; thereby making sure that our future generations can make the best use of them.

  1. Reduction in pollution:

Lack or minimal use of synthetic chemicals in the form of pesticides and fertilizers results in lesser release of gases like nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. Moreover, all the waste produced on the farm stays there itself and is utilized­. Less emission of greenhouse gases means less damage to the ozone layer around the Earth, which protects us from harmful radiation.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), agricultural land use contributes 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Industrial agriculture only increases this damage. (Source: IPCC Assessment Report)

  1. Healthy food for you:

Crops grown using sustainable farming are better due to the lack of residues of harmful chemicals used in pesticides like Metam sodium, Methyl bromide, Telone II and Chloropicrin. These can cause birth defects, nervous system and respiratory damage and can cause cancer. Moreover, the produce can be more nutritious owing to the overall healthier and natural methods of yielding crops.

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants highlighted that pesticides constitute 8 of the 12 most dangerous chemicals in the world. (Source: Persistent Organic Pollutants and the Stockholm Convention: A Resource Guide)

  1. Social and environmental impact:

Sustainable agriculture ensures better working and living conditions for the farmers. It also lets the livestock be in their natural environment, hence makes their lives better too. Moreover, you contribute your bit in doing something worthwhile for the planet by promoting this farming method.

  1. Biodiversity and healthy ecosystems:

The guardianship of biodiversity and employing it for mutual benefits is carried out by sustainable agriculture. A healthy ecosystem is guaranteed here as there is no harm to any organism and everybody flourishes together to create a balance.

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The advantages of sustainable farming are several. You can support sustainable agriculture by demanding for products produced using sustainable methods such as zero-budget farming, non-pesticide farming and organic farming. Let’s pledge on this World Environment Day that we all will do whatever we can to promote sustainable agriculture.


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A team trip to the Devbhoomi, Uttarakhand: our travel story!

Before the intense summer heat could take its toll on us, our team decided to have a team retreat in the hills. What better place for this than the land of the Gods? Hence, the destination was chosen to be the state of Uttarakhand where many of our farmer partners reside.

As the Shatabdi train approached the Kathgodam station, we could see the magnificent hills of the region. We made the journey to Ranikhet from there in a car admiring the beauty of nature in the hills, valleys, and rivers. We stayed at a homestay where the view from our windows was ethereal and the quiet of the place was soul-satisfying. We were accompanied by chilling rainfall at night when we went to meet one of our farmer partners and had a delicious traditional Pahadi dinner.

On the second day, we met with one of our women farmer groups and had a tour of their fields while getting to know their stories. We were caught in rain and a hailstorm mid-morning and ended up going back to our homestay for shelter. The chamomile fields that we visited afterwards seemed to be calling us to them with their distinct fragrance from far.

We reached Bhikiyasain by nightfall where we stayed at a guest house by the river bed. This place was warmer and we were looking forward to visiting some new farmer groups here. After an early morning trekking expedition, we set out to visit 2 women farmer groups who were growing the famous Lakhori chilli. We talked to them to get to know more about them, the state of agriculture in the area and about how we can partner with them.

After a long day, our team bonded over games of taboo and chausar before having an amazing Pahadi dinner. The next day, we bid goodbye to the hills with a promise of coming back soon. We were soon on the train watching the landscape change from the hills to plains with the stories of farmers etched in our hearts.

Devbhoomi was beautiful, and so were its people.

 


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Amaranth- the superfood that has always been!

Amaranth is known as a super food globally. Interestingly this gluten free pseudo cereal (it is actually a seed not a grain) has been grown and consumed in India since generations. Known as Chaulai and Rajgira colloquially, Amaranth is widely consumed during fasts due to its high nutritional value in the form of puris/rotis made with its flour and laddus made with puffed amaranth. We decided to spend our Saturday experimenting with amaranth seeds and trying out some contemporary recipes.

Amaranth Porridge 

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We loved this alternative to the regular oats porridge because of its unusual grainy texture. Make sure you try the porridge before adding honey as the combination of amaranth and cooked milk imparts a sweet flavour.
1/2 cup amaranth
1 cup water
1/2 cup milk
Honey to taste
Raisins and almond slivers
Lightly roast the amaranth seeds in a sauce pan till they smell toasty and start popping. Add the water, boil and let it simmer for 7-10 minutes. Add the milk, boil once and simmer covered for 10 minutes or till the amaranth is cooked. Keep stirring to make sure the amaranth seeds are not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add honey to taste along with almonds and raisins.
(Recipe adapted from New York Times Cooking.)

Amaranth Patties

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After a filling breakfast, we next tried to make some Amaranth Patties – two ways to have with our evening tea. We tried one recipe with egg and amaranth flour as a binder and one with just amaranth flour as a binder. Both turned out different and great. The one with egg stored better due to the viscosity of the egg while the other one started becoming dry within an hour of cooking.
1 cup amaranth
2 cups water
1/2 red onion finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic grated
1/2 red capsicum chopped
1/4 zucchini chopped
2 tsp amchoor (dry mango powder)
2 tsp chilli powder
4-6 tablespoons amaranth flour*
1 whisked egg
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste
Cook the amaranth in water – first boil the water and then simmer to cook. Once the amaranth is cooked, drain the water and let it cool. Heat some oil in a pan and add the onions and garlic. Once brown, add the capsicum and zucchini and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the mixture to the cooled amaranth along with amchoor, salt and pepper and mix well. Add the amaranth flour or flour and egg and mix well, ideally with hands. Add flour till you get a consistency that allows you to form round balls with your hands which can be pressed into patties.
Once the patties are made, add some oil to a flat pan and cook the patties on both sides till brown and crisp. Enjoy the crunchy amaranth patties with some freshly made coriander chutney made with fresh coriander, ginger, green chillies, lemon juice and salt.
*quantity of flour varies depending on whether egg is used. With egg you will need lesser flour.
(Inspired from a recipe on NDTV Smart Cooky) 

Here’s to a health filled and delicious weekend! Oh and btw, here’s Original Indian Table’s Himalayan Amaranth on Amazon.


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Lakhori chilli – Unravelling the famous yet obscure Yellow chilli!

The Lakhori chilli is quite a well-known indigenous chilli variety even though there is very little information available about it on the web. Let’s get to know about the chilli that can add remarkable flavor to your culinary adventures!

Bhikiyasain and Salt in Uttarakhand are famous for the Lakhori mirch (chilli). The former is a tehsil while the latter is a block in Almora district of the state and the famous chilli grows only in these areas in spite of futile attempts to grow it in other regions.

AreasFields where the Lakhori chilli is grown

What distinguishes the Lakhori mirch from the other varieties is that it gets a specific type of wrinkle on drying. Interestingly, we asked a lot of people for the etymology of the word ‘Lakhori’ and finally got to know that the variety of chili was first grown in a village called Lakhora in the Garhwal region giving it its name. We were very curious to find out which part of Latin America the original chilli seeds came from to Lakhora but were unable to find this piece of information.

Lakhori chilli has a distinctive yellow colour, thereby giving it the name Yellow chilli. Though it is claimed to be extremely hot, we found it to be pretty unpredictable. We tasted the famous Lakhori chillies from different villages in the region; some were so hot that they brought tears to our eyes while some were mild and piquant.

The Lakhori mirch can be categorized into two types based on their size. The smallest ones, known as Lakori Jamri, have the most number of seeds and are alleged to be used to make chilli flakes. On the other hand, the big ones are used as whole spices or grinded into powder.

Growing chillies requires a lot of hard work compared to other crops. The sowing season varies but is generally around February to March; sown by scattering the seeds around. Harvesting starts in October. Once the chillies are harvested and sun dried correctly, they can be used all round the year. The farmers say that if these chillies are dried again after a period of 2-3 months, they will never go bad thereafter. Cultivation of these chillies benefits them as Lakhori chillies are heavy and yield good financial return for the farmers who sell them by weight.

IMG20170408130358.jpgWomen farmers telling us about the Lakhori chilli that they grow

The local people generally grind it and use it in the powdered form. This way, the heat gets balanced as the chillies vary on the pungency scale.  They also make a spicy achaar (pickle) from it. It is perfect for adding to kadhi, curries and daal after frying in oil as chhonk (tempering). The chilies also make a great garlic chutney, the traditional Maharashtrian Thecha as well as a chilli oil for western and Chinese meals. Moreover, it is said to give an unparalleled flavor to non-vegetarian recipes.

According to the locals, the chillies with more seeds are usually hotter than the rest. Soon after harvesting, the chilli is sold in the local market where people from outside these villages come to buy the produce in bulk. While the whereabouts and end use of the bought produce remains a mystery, we heard stories of the chilli going to Kanpur to be used for making tear gas.

For all the people who love their food hot, spicy and flavoursome, the Lakhori is a must-try!