Workshop on Naturally Growing Wild Vegetables & Greens
Vegetables and greens that grow naturally without any cultivation or care are called wild vegetables. These plants mainly grow in forests, wilderness, edges of farmlands, and barren fields. Wild foods have been gaining popularity over the years as they help build natural immunity and health. Eating seasonally can go a long way in making you more healthy, is environment friendly, and can help support the farm-to-table movement. Indians have been eating wild vegetables for thousands of years, but unfortunately, we lost track somewhere at the dawn of modern times. Tribals and rural Indians still value these wild vegetables. An interesting fact is that some wild vegetables have a dedicated cult following in urban areas & big cities where they are sold in special markets. We’re now once again turning to our forefathers to understand the importance of wild foods and why we need to incorporate them into our diets.
Watch this amazing workshop on “Naturally Growing Wild Vegetables & Greens” with our speaker Suresh Kumar G on a quick guide to wild produce across India. A Sculpture Artist by profession and a proud father of a beautiful girl. He is currently working on a community gardening project called “Sarjapura Curries”, archiving, reviving the lost knowledge of growing wild vegetables and greens in a natural farming method, and digitally archiving the findings and recipes of the region. You can find him on Instagram “sarjapura_curries”
Suresh and his ways to grow long-lost vegetables:
“Hello, everyone. Welcome to another workshop by TAOS. Today we have with us, Mr. Suresh Kumar. Let me introduce you a bit to our viewers. He is a sculptor designer by profession. Besides, he is also a passionate gardener and is currently working on a community gardening project called Sarjapura Curries, where they work on bringing back forgotten vegetables to India into the mainstream. Let’s get started then,” said Zehra.
“Good evening to everyone. Firstly, I would thank Zehra and TAOS for having me today. So, this farm you see here, I have printed out from my relative’s cousin. Previously, we were involved in a community kitchen in a village to which I belong. It was there that this idea, which initially was to share this knowledge about the recipes and vegetables that are long forgotten, came from. We set up a small nursery and kitchen garden there to encourage people there to get back to kitchen gardens. It is near the border of Bangalore and Tamil Nadu here. There is a lot of construction activity going on there, and from there, I realized that there is a lot of space around houses, but the gardens are continually shrinking still. The idea to develop more edible vegetable gardens came from there, and it was accepted very well by the public. We have our presence both online and offline. However, a challenge came up in front of us when small-scale farmers asked us how they could scale this up. This setup was before covid, so during covid, we came up with this farm in about one to two years for others to take an idea and replicate this model, to try and grow not just organically but as naturally as possible. They can develop an integrated farm where they can grow more sustainable things. We are strictly not growing any hybrid crop here, which is why we can’t grow cabbage or cauliflower here. So, the idea is to imagine a farm that existed fifty years ago. Initially, it was quite difficult since the customer would ask for methi or palak, but I wanted to introduce things like Manthakali, three spinach, pumpkin shoots, etc. I’ve also grown cherry tomatoes, and there were several greens that I had to introduce. For example, this balloon vine which is very medicinal was getting quite wiped out from society. To bring them back, what we did was instead of offering bundles of palak, we offered bundles of mixed greens where these vegetables would be present. This way, the food would also become a lot more nutritious in nature. For example, people would not know how to cook agathi, but we would add a few leaves of it to the mixed greens. We would also make a package of mixed vegetables, having turkey berry and ivy gourd, and add them in a mixed pack. This way, people who aren’t familiar would initially hesitant to try a full meal, but not in the case of mixed curry. This approach is going well so far, but we have a long way to go. We should grow native vegetables for a variety of reasons: they do not need much attention, and they go by season. We had these beans that we wanted to introduce into the customer’s food, but not many people were up for it. So, we decided to peel the shell, and we have beautiful pink beans inside, which can be eaten raw as well as cooked. Moreover, they actually tasted better than broad beans. Ours was a double-edged project: on the one hand, I wanted to conserve the knowledge of cooking and eating these vegetables and, at the same time, spread awareness among people so that local farmers would take up their cultivation. For example, we have this bathua, which is very common here in open fields. However, it is not very common now. Replacements also come over time, such as dondakaya has now been replaced by the northern Indian kundru. New things come up over time, and we also tend to become more particular, thereby not growing mainstream vegetables but trying to grow shifting varieties of them. For example, here we have the common turkey berry, and with that, we have another variety that is smaller and thornier. Then we have an interesting green spinach, which can grow like a fence on your farm side, and whose leaves can be cooked separately or added with other mixed greens. When we were exploring varieties of recipes, I realized how many vegetables we had left behind. So, we are trying to bring them back into the mainstream. We are currently collaborating with farmers so that we can grow them and scale them up, ultimately making them widely available again,” said Suresh.
“Amazing, sir. It is a very noble idea indeed to bring back the lost culture and recipe of our country,” said Zehra.
“So, we have the double beans, which are very difficult to grow individually. However, we have an alternate variety of beans that can grow on their own with some support, such as a tree, they will grow on their own. This is why they happen to be very sustainable. Then again, we have the idea that ivy gourds can be consumed, but even their shoots are very medicinal. People who have mouth ulcers often consume them raw in the villages. These are all the things that we add to the mixed greens, such that 250 grams o it will have at least 10 to 15 types of edible herbal greens. We even share recipes when we sell some of our vegetables on online portals, such as bottled gourd soup or pumpkin flower recipes, etc. This way, we can create some demand and can supply the same. This way, we are creating a chain in the local region, in and around, and we are planning to take this further away in days to come,” said Suresh.
“So, you are trying to gradually increase your reach to other states?”
“Not other states yet, only up to Bangalore. That is because these vegetables do not have a very long shelf life, and we have to consume them fresh within the day. These vegetables are also good in the sense that even birds and animals prefer them more than hybrid food crops. However, there may be a problem with pests because they are still alien to this environment. On our farm, everyone knows all the processes, which is not the case with mainstream farms. There will be different people for different tasks over there. The gardeners who are working with us also get encouraged after gathering sufficient knowledge. We try and work on a lot of things to get a proper natural output and as much of our seeds as possible,” said Suresh.
“Wonderful, sir. Your efforts to go back to our roots are indeed commendable,” said Zehra.
“So, we have these beans here, which has another variety called jack beans. There’s a lot of diversity present in all of it. Many people must know about winged beans, which can be grown wildly during the rainy season. We also have a purple stream in this. There’s a lot for me to learn every year as we keep exploring and experimenting with vegetables.
I even go to the people and women in the village to cross-check my knowledge since they have a very intense knowledge of these green vegetables. I have also come up with three to four types of greens that are lost nowadays. On our farm, we have an approach where we avoid digging the soil, so no machines or animals are used for ploughing. We generally work on raised beds to grow live greens, saags as covers, and other creepers, or turmeric and mint at a higher-levels, to give it a multi-crop layer,” said Suresh.
“One question here, when people have long forgotten the use of these vegetables, how does it taste like when they try it for the first time?”
“I have examples of vegetables that are more than 60 years old. They aren’t even found anymore in villages or fields. I want to grow them again and introduce them to our customers. These Agathi pods we have been selling for the last seven or eight months have also taken up with the customers and bring us good money with less investment,” informed Suresh.
“Does your farm provide volunteering opportunities?”
“Yes, we generally do welcome volunteers, but currently, we are trying to shape it up properly since we are on rent. By May or June, we will move to a new space, and we will be in full swing, so we can accept volunteers then. However, if anyone is interested in working in the kitchen or this small space, they are always welcome, irrespective of their gender,” said Suresh.
“Can you inform us about the medicinal benefits of these plants and how you spread awareness of it among the masses?”
“I haven’t delved into the medicinal aspect of it, but there is common knowledge among people, such as when and what vegetables can them. I strictly go by knowledge of what people are consuming at that time and not going too deep into the medicinal details. Based on traditional knowledge, we recommend the herbs to people,” said Suresh.
“Do you upload all of this information on your Instagram?”
“The online presence is a bit restricted in my case, primarily because I get very involved with transportation, payments, and other spaces. Also, we have to coordinate with the farmers to scale up in the days to come. However, we have a model for that also. I would scale up like, if I produce one unit for one family, I will produce ten units for ten families to keep it proportional instead of growing excess. I will request the organic farmers, too, not to produce unnecessary quantities of food, which won’t be recommendable,” said Suresh.
“Can you share some more information on balloon vine?”
“Balloon vine is a seasonal thing, in the sense that it won’t grow well in lack of rain. It has good vegetation and can be used for joint and other physical pains; also, the knowledge of it is available online, apart from the edible aspects of it.”
“Okay, please continue.”
“Apart from greens, we also have indigenous breeds of cows, hens, ducks, and even rabbits around. This helps build a better ecosystem on the farm and also adds to our earnings. In a way, having so much going on on your farm adds to the dignity of a farmer.
Also, the fact remains that much of our everyday consumption has been concentrated in a specific industry, which should not be the case. Unfortunately, we are growing so much food, but not much comes to us in the purest form,” said Suresh.
“What are the natural manure techniques used on the farm?”
“For now, we are dependent upon our cattle to cut down the input. There is also a community of people who make and sell compost, known as Compost Connect, so I buy some of it from there. Also, I use sheep manure and other cattle, as well as kitchen compost,” said Suresh.
“The vegetables you are growing on your farm, is it possible to grow them on our terrace?”
“It is possible since even I have practiced much of it on my terrace in the past.”
“How to get accurate information on these long-lost vegetables? I sit available online, or do people need to depend upon local communities to acquire knowledge?”
“Local communities are quite helpful, but like I mentioned that some vegetables are seasonal. So, you need to have the proper knowledge to grow a vegetable because there can be various hindrances on the way otherwise. Over time many things that were consumed daily have become symbolic of something in the present day. So things that were offered daily are not consumed much nowadays. This way, everything becomes symbolic in one way or the other,” said Suresh.
“How did you manage to get the recipes for these lost vegetables?”
“I have been somewhat adamant about it and wanted to archive these recipes, so this project will end when these are available in the homes of people. Many parts of this project are still left undone; I aspire to collect these from the native people who have the relevant knowledge, document them, and then make them available for people,” said Suresh.
“It is very interesting the work that you are doing since most families are accustomed to consuming the same vegetables over and over again. It was a very motivating and knowledgeable session. Thank you so much for joining us today,” said Zehra.