Edible Routes, reaching out to urban dwellers to change their consumption habits

Edible Routes, an urban farming initiative in Delhi NCR, Jaipur, Bangalore and Mumbai

Most people in India do not have access to clean, safe, fresh and nutritious food. When food travels long distances, it loses a large part of its nutritional content. In fact, Indian farmers receive unfair remuneration for fresh produce, only a third or quarter of the amount paid by a consumer. The difference is eaten by middlemen, transport, inefficient supply chains and wastage. Hence, the next generation of farmers have little motivation to remain in the occupation.

With more people migrating to urban areas, food security is not receiving the attention that it should. Other aspects that require attention are food quality and nutritional content. Edible Routes is on a journey to address this issue through urban organic agriculture. They promote sustainable lifestyles and are creating diverse food ecosystems.

In an email conversation, I learnt about the journey of Edible Routes from Kartika Rana, their marketing and research officer. I was first acquainted with Edible Routes at an organic farming workshop in Delhi in 2017. The edible routes team had an interactive session on the urban organic farming. I still remember Kapil Mandawewala teaching us the nuances of plant compatibility, summer and winter crops and design ideas on terrace plots. It was probably the first time that I transplanted a sapling.

Kapil Mandawewala founded Edible Routes in 2015; he has established CSA (community supported agriculture) initiatives since 2008 in Gujarat. Today, Edible Routes is one of India’s largest organic farm setup. They help in setting up kitchen gardens, offer land on rent for organic farming (farmlets) and conduct workshops on organic farming and sustainable food. They also sell farming essentials that assist customers in their growing. Edible Routes is working to solve urban food security issues through farming consultancy, education and sustainable product development and by constantly striving for innovative yet simple/affordable solutions to growing organic food. They are functional near 4 major cities- Delhi, Jaipur, Bangalore and Mumbai. Their busiest centres are in Delhi NCR and Jaipur.

A poster for a Chyawanprash making workshop

Edible Routes has set up food landscape in balconies, terraces, backyards and farmlands for more than 800 individuals. They launched their mini-farm rental programme or farmlets in 2018 in Delhi NCR, this project has harnessed a community of 150 conscious urban farmers. The organization hosts famers market in NCR, Aali and Damaali at their community farms. They have also conducted over 300 workshops on urban farming, composting, growing, natural building techniques, permaculture and sustainable food choices, with an outreach to more than 3000 people. Moreover, they have partnered with 12 schools and institutions to educate students about food, ecology and sustainable living.

The organization is a private limited company that was initially bootstrapped along with a few grants. This was sufficient to keep the operations rolling and in the news. To encourage organic food for the masses, they have kept extremely modest pricing for their functional areas. Edible Routes has earned a name for fair prices and quality service. However, their revenues are sufficient only for break even. They lack funds to develop additional ideas as they have been working at cost with almost no profit.

Salad Workshop

The team feels that Edible Routes would benefit with after sales support or post setup services for farmlets and kitchen gardens.  Only 30% of their projects have annual contracts and they are in touch with other members for a few initial months. While individuals get a great kickstart, they find it difficult to sustain gardens beyond the first planting season. If a longer contact period is maintained, the remaining 70% of urban farms will continue beyond the first season.

In order to grow Edible Routes, the team is focussing energy on activities across various platforms, content development and paid tools. Moreover, to manage their growing farmlet project (farms on rent in peri-urban spaces) they plan on developing a mobile app. Edible Routes could use help in funding its marketing efforts and mobile app.

In the next 5- 10 years, their plan is to increase spatial impact and output of current operations. They want to reach each household in New Delhi and promote the idea of healthy eating, DIY growing and education on farming. The ideology behind community farms is to create a common platform for urban farmers to grow food, share their knowledge, experience and joy of growing. They plan on going beyond community organic farms in urban and peri-urban spaces and create therapeutic landscapes as stress relievers for urban adults and children.

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