Is it possible to do social good, protect the environment and make a profit in agriculture? Anju Srivastava of Wingreens proves you can.
As told to Puja Ganguli. Photographs: Anil Chawla
I had a career in advertising for over 25 years before I started Wingreens Farms five years ago in the heart of Haryana. Essentially, I set out to prove that by enriching farmers and the land around us, an organisation can grow faster, bigger and much richer.
We rent land from local farmers at twice their produce income. This way we are able to breakthrough decades of resistance to moving from traditional crops (like wheat and mustard) to new crops such as basil, lemongrass, peppermint, oregano and lettuce. We then invite the farmers and their families to work with us, which further enhances their income.
In summer, we grow oregano, thyme, marjoram, Italian basil, sweet Asian basil, lemon basil, camphor basil, sacred basil, peppermint, mint, lemongrass, peanuts and chickpeas. In winter we grow lettuce, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, kale, broccoli, celery, parsley, dill, roses, spinach and garlic. We also sell potted plants for home and kitchen gardens.
We grow microgreens of almost any herb or vegetable in season, of which wheatgrass is the most popular. Microgreens are young seedlings of edible vegetables and herbs harvested less than 14 days after germination. They are usually about 1-3 inches long and pack in more flavour, and more nutrients than the entire plant.
We grow produce using a mix of microbial cultures and other methods that restore the ecological balance of the soil, naturally negating the use of pesticides and chemicals, and hugely increasing productivity. An emphasis on water harvesting and drip irrigation has helped us reverse environmental degradation and enhance the farmers’ profitability. In fact, we save over 2,50,000 litres of water per acre annually by using efficient irrigation systems, and grow only water-conserving crops in areas with water shortage.
How ethical is Wingreens? Wingreens received organic certification for their wheatgrass, sprouts and microgreens around a year and a half ago. According to Anju Srivastava, the initiative was started with a focus on sustainable agriculture, not organic produce. However, the scientific methods they adopted to grow their produce resulted in them becoming an organic practice by default.
Innovation is the heartbeat of Wingreens and new products are launched every season. Two-and-a- half years ago, we had a farm laden with fine basil. The mandi vendors offered us a next-to-nothing price for it, so we decided to make pesto. We took the mixer-grinder to the supermarket and started making pesto in the store. There was no fresh dip available on shelves then. Today, apart from pesto, we specialise in condiments such as salsa, dill tzatziki and hummus as well as infused oils. We sell around three tons of dip every month and the demand continues to grow.
So far, we have developed growing practices for over a 100 different herbs, vegetables and flowers. This year we are hoping our herb teas take off. Freshly grown and dried lemongrass, peppermint, basil, rose petals, chamomile and hibiscus mixed with green tea will be retailed at stores, not mandis. We plan to work with farmers in other geographies soon.
Wingreens is not just an agricultural initiative, it is also a social one, with a focus on women’s empowerment. We were a women-oriented enterprise from day one: the “WIN” in Wingreens Farms stands for ‘Women’s Initiative Network’. The rural women we employ – who have mostly never been to school – today receive training at the Wingreens Farms Training Institute about food safety, food hygiene, food preservation and processing along with communication skills. We also sponsor the education of their children.
Wingreens retails in most Nature’s Basket, Spencer’s and Modern Bazaar stores in New Delhi. Free delivery anywhere in India for orders over Rs.800. Visit wingreensfarms.com for details.