It is the end of a long workday. The employees of an IT company in Chennai rush out of the doors and only come to a halt when they spot Major (Retd) Ved Prakash Sharma.
The former Indian Army officer, who is now a farmer in Puducherry, hands them their pre-ordered packages of organic, chemical-free and affordable vegetables.
These people are among Sharma’s 1600 customers in Chennai and Puducherry.
Sharma also teaches civilians his techniques of multi-cropping organic farming. You can join him in his training centre in Puducherry this weekend. Click on this link to book your place in his workshop.
From an Army Major to an organic farmer
Sharma served in the Indian Army from 1985 to 2001 before retiring and joining a corporate organisation. For years, he served in executive positions quite enjoyed the cushy life.
But not everyone gets a chance at a second lucrative career. The issue is so severe that the official website of the Indian Army mentions it.
So, he decided to take it upon himself to provide a respectable livelihood to his fellow soldiers, who were retired and living in Puducherry.
Many of his friends are organic farmers, so Major (Retd) decided to give it a go. But before roping in retired soldiers, he wanted to try it himself.
“So, I travelled through Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and a few other states, to speak with organic farmers. I realised that many people have done remarkable work in the field, but it is rather uneven and has a limited reach. Nevertheless, I knew that with discipline and determination—both of which are inherent to any soldier— the former officers could succeed in organic farming,” he shares with The Better India.
Sharma returned to Puducherry and began with clearing out his 2-acre plot of unutilised land. He tried his hand at various methods and failed several times before mastering multi-cropping that allows the growth of 14-16 varieties of plants to grow in four separate layers on one-acre of land.
“When my organic farm flourished, the owners of neighbouring lands asked me if I could replicate the model there too. Slowly and steadily, I leased about 20 acres of land, all scattered in about 100 km in Puducherry. The former soldiers I work with are employed here,” the 54-year-od explains.
Sharma has taken ten retired soldiers and officers under his wing, and now you too can learn from the team. He is conducting a two-day workshop in Puducherry for which you can enrol by clicking here.
Everyone has the right to affordable organic vegetables
Sharma and his team tried approaching big players in the organic produce business to sell their vegetables and fruits. But no one would give them a reasonable price.
So, he tapped into his own network.
“I started with a WhatsApp group in Puducherry, asking my friends if they’d like to buy fresh organic vegetables and fruits directly from us farmers. We had such a good response that there were 6 groups in Chennai and Puducherry within 6 months, with nearly 1000 customers!”
After his first group in Puducherry gained popularity, Sharma’s friend, the CEO of a corporate office in Chennai, introduced him to his employees. The meeting was a hit, and today, Sharma has approximately 1600 customers!
Their USP? The organic produce is harvested by 9 am, packed and organised by afternoon and delivered to the doorsteps of customers by 5 pm.
“I take pride in the fact that we have also employed local women interns. For every acre of land I farm, we employ three women to work on the field and one to work off-field,” he explains.
Through this self-funded venture, Sharma wants to train more army personnel and undertake organic farming throughout India.
But after several requests from his friends and customers, he has also started training civilians. You can take the opportunity this weekend and enrol for his workshop by clicking on this link.
What to expect in the Puducherry workshop
The two-day workshop will cover everything from organic farming to sustainable living.
Here are the highlights:
- How to bring organic in your life and chuck harmful chemicals.
- How you can convert your domestic wet waste into compost for your farm and bio-cleaners for your floors and bathrooms.
- Purifying our home with organically grown oxygen-generating plants.
- How to take up organic farming as the primary or side business.
- Techniques for growing organic vegetables, greens and fruits in small terraces and balconies. Designing a low-cost terrace/balcony garden.
- How to grow about 60 kg of vegetables per year (good for a family of 2-3 people) on a 40 square feet terrace garden.
Please note that you can opt for an overnight stay at the training camp, or choose to go home after the session and return the next day.
The cost of the workshop will vary accordingly. Families are welcome and no fee will be charged for children below 12 years of age.
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(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)