The founder of an award-winning organic farm in Hassan, Karnataka, Hema Ananth earns lakhs through a unique farm-to-folk model. But she is far more famous for her 'Shop without a Shopkeeper' that runs entirely on goodwill and trust.
For the last 10 years, Hema Anant’s daily routine has remained unaltered. At the break of dawn, while her husband is sound asleep, she travels 11 kilometres to her farm in Gowripura village, near Hassan district, Karnataka. There, she assists farm labourers (whom she refers to as co-workers) in milking 50 litres of milk from 20 odd cows. Taking the fresh and unadulterated milk, she heads back home in Hassan and puts the milk outside her house for her customers.
The 56-year-old has neither kept any staff nor fixed a CCTV camera to ensure people are paying for the milk and not stealing it. An hour later, she goes to the stall and takes the money placed there.
Post breakfast, she goes back to her 30-acre farm and spends the day growing fruits, vegetables, crops and so on. She wraps up her day by harvesting organically grown food (around 25 kg) and puts it in her stall in the evening.
Once again, her regular customers drop by and buy vegetables as per their needs. Based on a chart listing the rates, they deposit the money in a box.
Entirely built on trust and goodwill, the best part about this arrangement is that Hema has kept the organic vegetable prices in sync with the conventional ones sold in the market as she finds it odd to charge extra. Likewise, milk.
So why would anyone leave their stall unattended considering the times we live where we think twice to even trust a neighbour?
“Only on 2-3 occasions, people have stolen food and that does not bother me. The fact that someone is taking food without paying money shows he/she is needy. I don’t consider that as an act of stealing. My customers are very particular about paying for what they take and my daily average income is Rs 1000-1500,” Hema tells The Better India. With some loyal customers, she has struck a deal where the bills are settled at the end of every month.
Apart from all kinds of vegetables and fruits, Hema also sells value-added products like coconut oil, turmeric powder, lemon pickles, fresh juices and so on.
“After interacting with my customers, I realised that most food packaged items have preservatives and artificial colours to enhance the taste and shelf life. And the healthy and organic ones are expensive in the market. As I already had buyers for my produce, I started making by-products. This way customers get healthy alternatives and income of my co-workers also increases,” says Hema.
Dr Ramakant, one of her customers for the last three years, says he has seen an overall improvement in his family’s health, “The milk is very pure and my daughter’s coughing problem has ceased. Even though I have to drive for nearly 45 minutes to take vegetables daily, I do not mind. The stall completely runs on honesty and for her money is secondary, giving organic food is a priority. It is my honour to buy food from such an honourable lady.”
Turning Rs 150 Into Lakhs
While Hema’s expertise in growing food and her selling model has received accolades including the State-level Can Bank Best Farmer Award by University of Agricultural Sciences this year, it may come as surprise to many that she did not know farming when she started.
All she had was inherited farming land from her grandfather, Krishnappa and Rs 150 in 1994 when she decided to become a farmer. At the time, the class 12 pass was a mother and a homemaker.
When she expressed her desire to grow food, people around her dismissed it saying such a big barren land requires lakhs of investment. Even her husband refused to invest in the beginning.
Finances aside, she didn’t even know how to grow something as simple as a tomato.
“Mother Earth is the biggest teacher. Just visit the land without any expectations and observe how the soil behaves,” exclaimed her grandfather. She found the advice bizarre but decided to follow it.
A couple of days later, when she was strolling around on the barren land, she met a group of cow herders who helped her get in touch with veteran farm labourers in the area.
“I met a couple of women who were willing to teach me and share their expertise in return for some bread and fruits. I got lucky as they have been with me for the last two decades now. I would observe how they sowed, tilled the land, watered the plants and use cow dung to keep away the pests. I owe this luscious farm to their ancient but simple practices that are completely organic,” shares Hema.
She purchased ragi seeds worth Rs 150 and three months later, Hema harvested her first produce and there was no turning back. She earned Rs 2600 (an amount considered huge back in the 90s) and purchased a second hand TVS scooter.
“This scooter was the first item purchased with my hard-earned money. I felt liberated and at the same time confident about growing more food. Gradually, came in coconut, sandalwood, teakwood, coffee, pepper and banana plantations. During this expansion, I took a bank loan of Rs 10,000 and within months I was able to repay it,” says Hema, who now earns up to Rs 4 Lakh every year.
With hundreds of trees flourishing in her mini-forest, Hema proves that one does not need a degree or experience to start farming. Neither a hefty investment is required. As rightly pointed by her, Mother Earth is generous enough to give us in abundance if we take care of it.
Edited by Vinayak Hegde