“The entire goal of my shop is to ensure that everyone can access chemical-free, locally-sourced, organic veggies. Many vegetable stores that claim to be organic have popped up across the country in recent years. These shops have created a niche customer base where affordability is not a concern. I wanted to break this concept,” says Mathew T J a farmer from Kerala who also runs an organic shop of farm products – Thakkali (Tomatoes).
He sources vegetables and fruits from farmers in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala to sell them in Kozhikode and Wayanad, Kerala, where his shops are based.
And how does he market his products? Through WhatsApp!
Starting out with just one Whatsapp group, Thakkali now has upto 15 groups with 250 members in each. Overall, Mathew has a customer base of around 3,800 people. He uses these groups to post pictures of the vegetables, the price, and details of the seasonal vegetables and fruits that have come in. After that, interested customers can go to the shop and vendors can follow up.
The passionate farmer has been running Thakkali for the past two years and has started three other stores in Wayanad and Kozhikode as well. He operates with eight employees who help him in transportation and sales.
Making Organic Veggies Available: Farming in Gundalpet
After his retirement as a school teacher, Mathew, 58, devoted his time to farming on his 8.5 acres of land in Gundalpet, Karnataka, which he had taken for lease in 2013.
“A lot of people ask me why I started cultivating in Gundalpetwhen I could have just started in Kerala. But my idea was to create a community of farmers and that wouldn’t be possible if I started out at home,” explains Mathew.
The ex-teacher hailing from Nadavayal, Wayanad, started by cultivating tomatoes and then moved onto a variety of vegetables and fruits like broccoli, cabbage, carrots, jackfruits, and mangoes along with paddy cultivation.
“I took the first few sets of harvest back home and sold in the local markets. The response was quite overwhelming. The vendors started requesting me to bring more vegetables. So I thought why not start an organic store, sourcing vegetables from farmers from the neighbouring three states. This is how I started ‘Thakkali’ in March 2019 in Kozhikode,” explains Mathew.
Mathew’s vision through the store was to create a market for farmers in these states and create a community in which members could help each other out. As part of the initiative, Mathew started coordinating with farmers in these different areas through WhatsApp and Facebook groups.
As fresh and organic produce from these states started pouring into Mathew’s shop, he realised that the next and most important step would to build a strong customer base. He decided to approach his long time friend and farmer Prof. Johny G. Vadakel to join him as a partner.
Together they started a WhatsApp group to bring together customers who were genuinely interested in purchasing fresh vegetables on a daily basis.
All in a Day’s Work
“Last month there was a 15-day gap that farmers all over the country faced due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The transportation stopped and all our produce was left to rot. But when they started relaxing the regulations, I started gathering organic veggies from individual farmers and groups again, because if we farmers don’t support each other who will?” says Matthew.
Every Friday, Mathew sends a goods truck to the farming land in Gundalpet to collect fresh produce and on the way back collects produce from farming groups like the Bengaluru Sahaja Samrudha, the Sathyamangalam Ainthunai Farmer’s Group and individuals farmers mainly in Mysuru and Ooty.
“Mathew’s ‘Thakkali’ shop has been a great boon for my produce, especially during the lockdown. I had really lost hope at one point in time, but he was one of the first to restart the business. Nothing has ever stopped him from helping the farming community,” says Harish Acharia, a Mysuru-based farmer who sends his produce to Thakkali.
Veluchamy from the Inthumi Natural Farmer’s group echoes a similar sentiment.
“We’ve been providing for Mathew’s shop for the past two years and it has been a stable source of income for many farmers. The best part is that the supply truck arrives just in time for the harvest, so there’s absolutely no delay,” he says.
I got in touch with Krishnakumar, a regular customer of the Thakkali shop who says, “I’m super satisfied with the vegetables from Thakkali because unlike other stores, the prices are reasonable and the product is absolutely fresh.”
Mathew, who has been following Subhash Palekar’s zero-budget natural farming methodology for the past 7 years, firmly believes that farming doesn’t have to mean investing in expensive fertilisers and pesticides.
“All that our plants need are already available in nature. The maximum that I’ve done for my cultivation is to provide cow dung as manure. The rest of it completely depends on how we perceive farming. If you see it as a way of life then agriculture won’t seem like a stressful job,” he concludes.
If you are in Kozhikode or Wayanad and want to get fresh organic produce then call: +91 94958 66365
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)