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Haat trial run for toxin-free food

A 40-year-old society of traders, who deal in old tools and ball bearings in College Street, will set up a haat on Tuesday to make organic greens, veggies and fruits available to the “middle class” at an affordable price.

The Bharatiya Byawsayee Sangh Co-operative Credit Society’s organic haat at its office building on Madan Mohan Burman Street will also complement its effort to spread awareness on toxic vegetables.

The idea took roots from Mahesh Bhatt’s Poison on the Platter, made around five years ago, and Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate, said Bijai Jaiswal, the secretary of the College Street society.

“I had watched Bhatt’s Poison on the Platter on genetically-modified seeds. Later, I sat through an episode of Satyamev Jayate with a similar name, Poison on Our Plate. Aamir Khan dwelt on the harmful effects of pesticides and the importance of organic food. The film and the TV programme were eye-openers and I thought we should also contribute to spread awareness.”

“It is important to make chemical-free vegetables available to the people. They want to buy organic food but can’t because they don’t have access to such items or the ones sold at stores are far too expensive,” he added.

In Calcutta, only a select few have access to vegetables free of pesticides and chemical manure, sourced from farmers who have adopted organic farming methods. These are sold at limited outlets across the city.

The society has invited around 10 farmers from across the state to sell abar khabo fruits and veggies at the haat, called Farmer Organic Bazaar.

The stalls will be open from 11am to 3pm, followed by a feast of Khichdi and Begun Bhaja (fried brinjal) “for a sense of what chemical-free food tastes like”.

“You’ll know the difference the moment you put a spoonful of Khichdi into your mouth… you’ll keep asking for more. That’s why we call these organically-grown fruits and vegetables abar khabo,” says Prodip Saraswati, a member of the Confederation of Social Welfare and Environment who has been advising the society.

Jaiswal said farmers too would benefit from the initiative. “Organic farmers have been selling their produce at half the market price in their villages. When they sell it to middlemen, the produce gets mixed with non-organic vegetables and consumers can’t differentiate between the two. We want to help create a direct selling network between farmer and consumer.”

He said the society picked the farmers for the haat after a conference in July on food toxicity with a panel of health experts, author-activists and agriculture consultants. “We also consulted experts and NGOs for suggestions on farmers we could invite.”

If the trial run hits a high note, the society will organise such haats more frequently.

A permanent store is also on the anvil. “It will be a co-operative of farmers, consumers and traders. The profit will be shared with the farmers. We want to get it started this year itself,” Jaiswal said.

Though the society hasn’t run any promotional, early birds at the haat are sure to go home with bags full of healthy and fresh cucumber, bhindi, jhinga, moong dal, gobindobhog and radhunipagol rice from the Sunderbans. And of course, ghee, honey, moa, aamsatta and dhekichhata rice from Santiniketan’s Bonolokhhi; gourd, pumpkin, cucumber, bitter gourd, begun and potol from Nadia and Bankura; oal from Badu; and guavas from North 24-Parganas.

There will also be organic mushrooms from Varanasi.

ORGANIC ADVANTAGES

• No genetically modified organisms
• Contains fewer pesticides
• Tastes better and fresh
• Protects soil, rivers, drinking water and air from chemical contamination, thereby supporting environment sustainability
• Retains most of the important food nutrients
• Prevents health hazards for farmers since they don’t have to handle toxins, chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers
• Less dependence on fossil fuel