Ask anyone in Goa about ‘Saladbaba’ and they will direct you to 34-year-old Janardan Khorate, manager of Ambrosia Organic Farm. The farm prides itself not just on being one of India’s first organic companies, but also on being the go-to provider for numerous restaurants and cafes across Goa.
The story behind this young man taking charge of Ambrosia Organic Farm, a venture whose profits have grown from Rs 20 lakh in 2008 to Rs 22 crore today, is quite fascinating, to say the least.
For Janardan, who now goes by the name John, 2003 was the year his life changed forever. In a conversation with The Better India, he recounts how it all took shape.
The seeds for Ambrosia are sown
“David Grower and his wife Michaela Kelemen, my adoptive parents, would often visit Goa whenever they came to India from London, from 1978 onwards. They became so fascinated by Goa that they wanted to start an organic farm there,” recalls Janardan.
In 1993, they set up their own 5-acre farm in Siolim, an area of Goa that they would frequently visit where they began growing tomato, capsicum and other exotic vegetables and fruits.
“They would supply the vegetables and fruits to nearby restaurants for salads and that’s how the name ‘Saladbaba’ came to be,” Janardan adds. By 1999, Ambrosia had started diversifying to producing peanut butter, rice and grains such as chia. At the time, Janardan wasn’t involved in the venture, but as fate would have it, he soon would.
He recounts, “Whenever David and mummy (as he fondly calls Michaela) visited the farm in the course of the next few years, I would accompany them and we would roam around the farm together,” he notes.
By the year 2003, the couple had taken such a liking towards young Janardan that they proposed he come with them to London.
“I instantly agreed. They spoke to my parents who gave their consent since the couple promised to provide me with a college education, a home and everything one could possibly ask for,” he says. In 2008, they handed over Ambrosia to him to manage, officially.
Today, the family spends a few months of the year in London and the rest in Goa, while Janardan is closely involved in all the activities of the venture.
From a local venture to national pride
“There weren’t many organic farms or ventures in India at around that time. Ambrosia was a start in this direction,” he recalls. “We had to make decisions on the farmers we wanted to collaborate with, the products we wanted to focus on and the way we wanted to expand the concept of organic farming.”
However, it was only when online sales came into the picture in 2016 that the business picked up speed.
“Until then we were doing well among our local customers. But soon we had people from other states visit our farm. Some people who visited from Delhi loved our products so much that they asked us why we didn’t consider selling to Delhi. That was when we decided to get on Amazon to reach a wider base,” he recounts.
Soon, Ambrosia’s journey took a steep upward turn.
“Today we have farmland that spans 135 acres, 4,000 registered farmers working with us, and 59 different products,” says a proud Janardan.
Among their much-loved products are blueberry-flavoured peanut butter and rice cakes, which are apparently a hit among Russians, Italians and Germans. These are ready-to-eat ladoos made from brown, red and black rice. The rice is puffed and the cake has a shelf life of nine months. “People carry it with them after their stopover in Goa,” he notes.
“Apple cider vinegar is one of our products which we source from Himachal. We provide seeds and compost to the farmers who grow the crops there,” Janardan adds. Ambrosia ships its products all over India, and began exporting to Japan and Taiwan in 2020. They are also planning to export to the Middle East this year.
The brand has witnessed a turnover of Rs 22 crore in the last financial year and the numbers are only set to increase. With the funds they raise, they provide children in schools across Goa and the Maharashtra border with books, notes and uniforms. “Some of these schools are for orphans while others are managed by the Government for children of farmers,” Janardan notes.
Ambrosia is scaling heights, but for Janardan, it all still feels like a dream.
“None of this was planned. I never imagined my life would turn out like this. The moment I said yes to David and ‘mummy’, my life changed.”
Edited by Asha Prakash