Bani Mahindroo Kumar is a New Delhi resident who has been growing organic vegetables on her terrace for the past year. This week in the Magazine, we interview the recent mother on how and why she chooses organic!
Can you tell us a little about yourself - what got you interested in growing your own food?
When I was a kid, growing up in Bombay, we would visit our grandparents in Chandigarh every year. They had a huge vegetable garden, and our summers and winters were spent eating fresh fruits and vegetables. We later moved to Dehradun, and my mom grew a lot of stuff in our own garden – tori, corn, mushrooms, lychee, salad leaves, broccoli – some of which were not available in the market 20 years ago!
So I grew up with the idea that home grown food always supplements market-bought food. Organic wasn’t a term then; it was more about fresh, home-grown food.
Then when I had my daughter a year and a half ago, we were very conscious about keeping her away from pesticide-filled food. We stayed away from Cerelac – we tried to make sure we made the equivalent at home. When we went for holidays, we wouldn’t give her Gerber bottles (she also disliked them!), we would take home-made organic mixes of baby food with us.
Last year we came across an organization helping with expanding gardens on roofs and terraces – and we have a large terrace space that’s not utilized, so we thought of growing our own organic food at home. This was of course for our daughter, but we ourselves tried to have organic as much as possible.
We’re a very large family, so it’s not practical to always have organic– especially in places like Delhi where we have extreme temperatures (though winters are fabulous). But it’s easier for us to do it for her to start with, and then do it for ourselves.
Why do you think organic food is important?
The obvious: having a chemical-free, pesticide-free life. Leading a clean, healthy, fresh life.
What we don’t realize is a lot of these things have a long-term effect on your health, not an immediate one. It’s not that if you have a pesticide-laden bread you will die tomorrow – it’s much tougher to see the long-term effect.
You have to think long-term – start slow, and build your way to an organic lifestyle.
Do you feel that there are ways that businesses, the government, or members of the community can better promote organic foods – making it easier for people in the community to access them?
Essentially the government needs to help urban and rural farmers scale. The reason farmers often don’t choose organic is because you can only do it at a small scale – that’s the way organic farming is. It is not easy to do large-scale organic farming, because you’re not using pesticides to help your food double and triple.
The government needs to provide subsidies and incentives for farmers to go organic.
It’s not that people prefer to have pesticide-laden food, but it’s not affordable for the common man. The other day our house help was saying she’s thinking of stopping buying vegetables from the market because it’s getting too expensive.
Additionally, there’s a huge level of awareness that is lacking – the impact that this can have on people’s lives is lacking. Businesses can help raise awareness. Right now, awareness is only in select niches of the educated.
What have been some challenges you faced in growing organic foods for your daughter and family?
We didn’t face challenges, because we already had a system in place. But for others, who don’t have systems in place – having a strong support system is very important. Having the right gardener, you having the time to commit to it, an organization like Edible Routes coming to help you, and a mom-in-law who is passionate about gardening only helps!.
Your interest in being hands-on is crucial. It’s definitely easier said than done, but we were fortunate to have already done it. That’s why people don’t invest much in it – requires a lot of physical and mental energy.
My daughter is a fussy eater, but she’s seen bhindi [okra] growing, plucked it herself, plays with it – tries to eat it kacha [raw] – then we cook it and she eats it. A lot of her fruits have come from my dad’s house in Chandigarh – she has seen them grow there, and happily eats them. I’ve given her parsley and she eats it raw, plucking it off the stem and loved it! It does help to a certain extent.
What advice would you give to other parents and residents of Delhi trying to go organic?
Start small, be realistic – you don’t have to go the whole hog initially. You can continue to supplement with items available in the market. I don’t think 100 percent organic happens overnight, especially in a big family- or in India, where organic supply is still small and in selective products.
We try giving our daughter seasonal vegetables and fruits as we know they will be fresh. We make homemade snacks, cookies and granola at home for her so that we know what ingredients are going into them. We’ve also moved to organic milk a couple years ago- we’ve found all these fairly easy to do.
Also, if you go out, take your kids to the organic markets on the weekends- there are at least 4-5 in the NCR region- build your awareness from there. Start changing the mindset slowly – start buying a little, growing a little and find your middle path according to what is available and financial viable for you.
What is your perception of Devang and what we are trying to do?
I brought my daughter into Devang House; Pranav loved what she was eating then. So there was an obvious connection.
A lot of what you make is very innovative. I took one or two of your recipes and gave them to my daughter, and she loves them.
Essentially, we share similar philosophies and value system in terms of holistic living.
Bani with her daughter at their terrace garden.