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The organic life

Food for thought from the market place, with t2

One of the most important things we can do around our food culture is reconnect to its sources, says celebrated food writer Michael Pollan in the Netflix series Cooked. “It means looking at traditions for what they still have to offer. Outsourcing has its values and it certainly makes life easier but it renders us all into passive consumers,” Pollan continues, grimly. 

As if on cue, a farmer proudly proclaims, “So we outsource it to nature!” A simple and effective solution to the worldwide concern over industrialisation of food, not on Netflix, but at The Market Place in association with t2. 

Held at Vedic Village Spa Resort on January 13 and 14, The Market Place saw a gathering of more than 100 farmers, along with farmers’ collectives and cooperatives, NGOs and academics, politicians and government officials and, of course, consumers. Also present were delegates from International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), a worldwide umbrella organisation for the organic agriculture movement.

“The Market Place is a weekend celebrating everything natural and organic. It urges us to adapt to the seasonal, ethical and sustainable world around us. This year’s market brought forward the farmer community in strength to interact with consumers and an urban audience, making it a success,” said Salmoli Mukerji, curator, The Market Place.

So, when Pramila Maity from Kanthi has a query regarding how to reach out to her customers to sell goyna bori, or Manira Khatun from Hingalganj wants to showcase the 35 varieties of rice from her farm, it’s The Market Place where they get an instant advice or a direct connect to the right consumer.

To sum it up, as Chaitresh Kumar Ganguly from The Timbaktu Collective, a farmers’ collective, put it: “The children of farmers are not doing farming any more because there is nothing in it. And if we, as consumers, are unable to give them back the real value for what they are doing then that would be fatal, not only for the farming community but also for us.”
The Market Place rang the alarm bell really loud and showed the way forward to a sustainable, organic and delectable future.

More than 70 varieties of rice, 15 types of bori (Bengal’s indigeneous lentil dumplings), nolen gur, corn cobs in five colours that grow naturally in the Indian soil, honey gathered from the Sunderbans, free-range chicken and duck eggs, different varieties of organic vegetables including sheem, brinjals, radish and their seeds... the Bish Mukto Haat (poison-free market) had 100-odd farmers from different parts of Bengal and other states like Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka displaying their organic produce. 

That’s the way you roll... while some visitors tried their hand at the potter’s wheel, others picked up terracotta crafts on display. Handicrafts like handwoven cane hats, mats and bags were up for sale.

Sujit Sumitran (right) — known as the ‘bread whisperer of India’ because of his love for the microorganisms that help make sourdough bread — baked fresh sourdough bread at The Market Place. 
(L-R) Aditi, Sachin, Madhu, Manish and Pooja — this family loved the The Market Place so much that they turned up on both days. “The whole thing brings you closer to mother nature. All the organic products are here and we are getting to know about them... about the plants and ways in which we can lead an organic way of life. We loved the tandoori counter. The Lachchha Paratha is good and the Malai Broccoli is very good... not too spicy, like home-cooked food,” said Pooja.
From traditional mishtis by Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick and fresh dips and salsa by Wingreens to tandoori dishes, breads, eggs and even mocktails and cocktails offered by the Vedic Village team, The Market Place spread was full of flavours.
‘Bring nature to your rooftop’ was the mantra at the urban farming workshop by Anshuman Das of BhoomiKa, an organisation that works with farmers of various Indian states to integrate the food chain, ensuring a free flow in the production-distribution-consumption cycle. Participants had a fun time getting their hands dirty as they learnt the tricks of planting saplings and taking care of them for a green corner at home.

Madhu Reddy, who only eats what she grows at her farm near Hyderabad, showed how to create organic compost at home and use it to turn a barren land into a fertile one.
Sangeeta Khanna, a food and nutrition consultant, spoke about fermented food, its usefulness and how to make it. She offered samples of popular fermented food from across India, including Bengal’s panta bhaat.

MUNCH MENU AT THE MARKET PLACE

Vedic Village executive chef Azad Taslim curated a traditional Bengali lunch, using organic ingredients from The Market Place. Bokphul Bhaja, Chholar Dal and Natun Aloor Dum with Radha Ballavi, Pora Lau Patar Mochar Paturi, Thankuni Pata Steamed Prawns and Bekti, Dak Bungalow Mutton Curry... the lunch was a riot of flavours. The dish that evoked a lot of curiosity was Choi-Asparagus-Sheem Jhal, a spicy hot gravy dish that used choi, a kind of indigenous root that lends hotness to the gravy just like chillies and pepper.

According to the natural way of eating, even if you’re cooking a dish from another continent, your ingredients should be locally sourced. No wonder, the dinner menu by Italian chef Davide Cananzi lined up a variety of Italian dishes using ingredients from the Bish Mukto Haat — beetroot carpaccio, sweet potato mash, ravioli “inked” with spinach, roasted quails and wine-poached prawns.

If ‘eat local’ is the mantra, then Diva sous chef Anumitra Ghosh Dastidar’s menu was spot on, with Bengali favourites like Kumro Phool bhaja, Boal Maachher Rosha and Shoru Chakli Pithe. We loved the twist in the culinary tale as Anumitra fried the pumpkin flowers in tempura batter and served the shoru chakli pancakes with Loita Maachher bharta and Kalo Jeere Bata.

T2 PICKS

Tulaipanji, an aromatic rice traditionally grown in Uttar Dinajpur. Claim to fame? This slender, non-sticky non-Basmati rice was granted the GI certificate on October 24, 2017. Before that, it was sent to a food festival as part of the 2012 London Olympics.
Kanakchur, a rice that can retain its aroma for a long time and is grown in the 24 Parganas. Why so famous? The puffed variety of this rice is used to make Joynagar-er Mowa! 
Handmade wood furniture by Jose Antonio Zelva of Prasad — a design studio based in Santiniketan — were chic-looking, comfortable to use, detachable and easy to transport. They are made by local artisans with minimal use of nails or screws. 
Mini slip-ons made of organic jute for your little one’s dolls. 
A pot of mint growing naturally in pesticide-free soil.
Hand-spun kurtis from Tula, made of rainfed organic cotton and naturally dyed.
Ghee and honey made by Sundarini, Bengal’s all-women-run milk cooperative project from the Sunderbans.

Text: Sibendu Das
Pictures: Arnab Mondal 

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