It has been raining and The Slow Farm in Gulimangala, on the outskirts of Bengaluru, is bursting with every possible shade of green. Founder Reema Gupta is trying to find a nook with network so we can speak uninterrupted. Nearby, her four-year-old daughter, Tara, is watching an earthworm crawl across the floor. One can sense the unhurried pace of life, with rhythms dictated by nature, not vice versa.
It has been seven years since Gupta, a former investment banker, decided to shift focus to her family’s smallholdings, spread across 2.5 acres, in Uttarakhand and Karnataka. “Nature was always my go-to place, a place to heal,” she says.
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There was no epiphany, or any single moment, that showed her the route to farming. It was, rather, a gradual yearning for more conscious and mindful living. In 2014, she started The Slow Farm—an acronym for sustainable, local, organic and wholesome—at the two holdings. Today, she finds fulfilment in growing and harvesting local produce. “With us, you can trace where your ingredients come from. But my goal has never been to be a trader of organic goods but to be an organic farmer. The Slow Farm continues to be small in scale but authentic,” says Gupta, 43. “When people think of organic farming in terms of the market, it might not add up. But when you put the environment first, it makes perfect sense.”
A family-run entity, The Slow Farm is an organic food, wellness and sustainable lifestyle brand that makes a conscious effort to grow, create and consume responsibly. Gupta grows only what’s local and seasonal, be it turmeric, kokum, moringa or karonda. She also works with local craftspersons, using the skills they have rather than changing them, to create bamboo straws and tongs and cotton bed linen. She crafts jewellery for the brand herself. Fifty per cent of the proceeds are invested back in the farm—to maintain the soil and biodiversity, composting, solar panels and rainwater harvesting.
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One doesn’t come across a lot of women farmers within the organic space—Sneh Yadav of the Tijara Organic Farm in Rajasthan, Anjali Rudraraju of the Yarroway Farm in Karnataka are some of the names that come to mind—and for Gupta, it is a matter of pride that she is in this company. “We are also family-run, so everyone at home is involved.... They are always available to ask if you are happy and if we can do something to help you,” she adds. The family calls itself “seasonal migrants”, shuttling between the two states, depending on the sowing and harvest seasons at the farms.
The slow life movement started as a slow food movement in 1986, when Carlo Petrini founded an organisation in Italy to promote local food and traditional cooking, put together in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Slowly, it percolated into every aspect of life—wellness, design, health. It came into focus once again during the covid-19 pandemic.
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“There is a slow dawning of appreciation of the things we have failed to value enough. The proximity of those we love; the luxury of idling; the value to our lives of friends not in our immediate reach; the enriched quality of a kind of existence that is possible when we are not running our lives against a ticking clock,” wrote journalist Mariella Frostrup in The Guardian on 10 May 2020. She described the pandemic as a “moment” for people to take note of the beneficial impact that simpler lifestyles can have on us and our planet.
Gupta believes her decision has only been validated further by the pandemic. “I always wanted Tara to be surrounded by trees and nature. Today, she can identify fruits, worms and birds, which might not have been possible if we were in the city. Seven years ago, I put all my eggs into farming. When Tara was born, I felt reassured by the decision.” In these difficult times, the farms offer peace, and space to walk or cycle around.
Over the years, Gupta and her family have planted more than 400 trees on the farms, including 70 varieties of seasonal and fruit trees, spices and neem trees. They intercrop organic vegetables, turmeric and ginger in sync with permaculture design and regenerative farming techniques. Some of the produce is available for order online, while the rest—beeswax, cold-pressed oils, pure honey, turmeric, hibiscus, kokum and flowers—goes into the botanical skincare products and recipes crafted in-house. The motto is to produce only so much, without harming the natural resources or the environment.
“The fruits and vegetables that we grow are enough to sustain us. We live according to the seasons,” says Gupta. “We want to take care of the soil and the biodiversity, and we do that with our proceeds. For our needs of rice and grains, we have collaborated with like-minded farmers. Our needs are pretty basic.”
The family doesn’t harvest honey during the monsoon, to ensure the bees have their entire stock of food to sustain their needs. “We don’t break hives. When you grow quintals of corn, albeit organic, you end up cutting down an endless number of trees. As a consumer, you might be eating vegan but you are part of the process that cuts down green cover,” she explains. “There is a lot of demand for pure ahimsa honey by vegans and cancer patients. But we want to give bees a healthy farm and not exploit them. So we harvest only twice a year, and are happy to give that quantity to cancer patients if they want it.”
Gupta works with local craftspersons to create small batches of handmade bamboo tongs, wooden muddlers and bed linen as well. It has always irked her to see crafts being made in large volume, often going against the core strength of the artisans. “Of course they need a sustainable livelihood. But I want to use the current skills of the craftspersons and not change them,” she says.
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For muddlers, Gupta has been working with a craftsperson who knows just when the eucalyptus wood gets softened in water, and how to sandpaper it to create a sparrow’s shape. After the beak is formed and body crafted, a metal wire is burnt on a high flame to stain the wood line by line, feather by feather. It’s not a skill everyone has. “We don’t want 100 pieces—just something small and functional. These muddlers are used at the farm as well to create cocktails and mocktails,” she says.
The jewellery, created for the Slow Farm brand, is made by Gupta herself. It is a slow process and takes days, but gives her immense joy. “Whether it is tilling the soil or making bead jewellery—it gives me immense joy to be part of the process. I wouldn’t give it up for anything,” she smiles.