Want to grow chemical-free food but don’t have enough space?
Egmore-based Rahul Dhoka’s beautiful terrace is all the inspiration you need to don an urban farmer’s hat!
The 31-year-old founder of Green Rush Organics and hydroponic farming consultancy Acqua Farms, grows over 6,000 plants in a limited 80 sq ft space!
All thanks to the knowledge he acquired about the innovative technique of hydroponic farming in the last two years.
From the exotic Italian basil to carom (ajwain), mint, spinach, lettuce, kale and a host of leafy greens and herbs, he grows them all using planters made of PVC pipes.
Rahul’s family originally hails from Rajasthan, where his ancestors practised agriculture. In the 80s though, they branched out to different spheres ranging from real-estate to automobile finance.
Rahul, who grew up in Chennai, graduated in industrial biotechnology from Anna University and later moved to the UK to complete his PhD from the University of Warwick.
He worked for a brief period for pharma company Ranbaxy. When he realised that he wanted to do more than his 9-to-5 desk job, the youngster decided to return to India in 2010 and start his own business.
Having lived in the UK, he knew that organic food was in vogue. In India, on the other hand, this market was less explored. He established Green Rush Organics to cater to retail stores in India five years ago.
“It was only two years ago that the concept of hydroponics caught my eye. It started as a hobby because vertical farming in a limited space piqued my curiosity,” shares Rahul, in an interview with The Better India.
Soon, he started looking up the concept online. The internet and YouTube became his teachers, and his journey into hydroponic farming began.
Ever since, the man has been growing vegetables for household consumption in the limited 80 sq ft space using the soil-less technique.
“Using the internet, I started building my own hydroponic system. Within one year, I was able to use the vertical farming technique and grow 6,000 plants. My initial idea was to commercially grow Italian basil and mint since it has a great market here. It did get a good response. But during my interaction with the people I catered to, I realised that many of them wanted to learn how to set up similar systems at home to grow chemical-free food. And that’s how the idea of Acqua Farms came about.”
Acqua Farms started with selling hydroponics starter kits for those who wanted to get acquainted with the technology and was launched six months ago.
Their two-planter sets were a major hit for gifting purposes.
“These are like miniature versions of a large hydroponics setup, to help people understand how plants grow without soil, how to use the right amount of nutrients for plant growth etc.,” explains Rahul.
In the first month, he was able to cater to over 450 families in Chennai.
Apart from the starter kit, Acqua Farms also provides setups for larger systems with 24, 48, 72, 96 going up to 1,000-planter systems, based on the requirement of the user.
They also have a subscription-based service to those who have no knowledge of hydroponics, where, against a monthly amount, they assign the user an agronomist who takes care of their plants and monitors it once a week.
“Our idea is to make hydroponic farming affordable. Compared to other players in the market, our systems are 60 per cent cheaper. Hydroponic makes farming possible for a family of three living in constrained spaces with even a three-feet terrace. Using the technique, they can easily grow 100 plants and harvest three kinds of fresh vegetables every day,” he beams.
Highlighting the advantages of hydroponic farming, Rahul adds, “It requires 90 per cent less water than conventional soil-based farming. Since it is water-based, it has macro and micronutrients directly fed to the plant, and the plants grow 50 per cent faster as well as have a better yield.”
He explains this with an example, saying, “If lettuce grown conventionally in soil requires 60 days, lettuce grown using hydroponics yields double the produce in 28-30 days.”
He emphasises its water-efficiency saying, “Regular soil-based farming with 1,500 plants would require about 200 litres of water a day, but with hydroponics, only 20 litres of water is enough.”
Apart from growing Italian basil and mint, Rahul has also started growing stevia to replace processed sugar.
To aspiring hydroponic farmers, he says, “Often, while researching hydroponic farming, people land up spending a lot of time on gathering information rather than doing anything practical. So I suggest that you start on a small scale like a 10-planter system. Understand the technique and learn through trial-and-error. If you get good produce, then it’s time to scale it up.”
He will soon be travelling to the village of Vembedu in Tamil Nadu for a three-day camp where he will train the villagers to generate an income by growing fodder using hydroponics. He has received a government grant of Rs 50,000 for the same.
At a time when our states are fighting over water bodies due to the acute scarcity of water, Rahul signs off saying–hydroponics could be “a very effective way” of growing crops.
If this story inspired you, get in touch with Rahul on 89395 49895 or visit Acqua Farms’ Facebook page here.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)