At 22, and that too with a higher education from London, not many would want to muddy their hands in the faraway farms. But Delhi-based Niharika Bhargava seemed to be cut out for that; she decided to work against packaged products and empower underpriviledged rural women.An MSc degree in Marketing Strategy and Innovation from Cass Business School, London, gave Niharika the global exposure and practical knowledge. She set about with her three-fold approach—go organic, give employment to local women and revive traditional recipes.
In July 2016, Niharika launched her brand, The Little Farm Co, and started working in collaboration with farms in Paharapurwa village in Madhya Pradesh. The company registered sales of pickles worth around Rs 2 lakh in the first year. Today, the figures have reached `7-8 lakh—around 70-80 units sold daily.Her brother Aditya, who now works for a multinational company in Delhi, was also a part of the launch team. He occasionally helps her now.
So what exactly is happening at The Little Farm? “Our market survey indicated that most products, especially pickles available in the market today, are produced using mechanised processes and filled with preservatives to increase shelf life. Also they do not have the same taste as the home-made ones.
Therefore, our endeavour is to provide customers with pickles that are farm fresh, and preservative- and additive-free, and are made using ‘traditional recipes’. Combinations of five natural preservatives—sugar/jaggery, salt, spices, natural vinegar and oil—are used for all the recipes. Mixer-grinder is the only electronic gadget in the unit and entire production process is same as those from the pre-technology era.”
Fruits and vegetables used for pickling are plucked just two hours before processing. “And that is because we need two hours’ time to wash and dry them in the sun. We make sure no artificial ripening is done to the fruits/vegetables or the end product,” she adds.
The Little Farm’s story is not just about the pickles. It also produces a whole range of superfoods—seeds, spices, vegetables, mustard and sesame and presses its own oil. Most spices used in pickling such as fennel seeds, coriander, carom, fenugreek, red chillies, turmeric are grown on the farm using organic practices.
Niharika says, “To produce in the most natural way, we use sendha namak (rock salt) instead of normal salt, sugarcane vinegar instead of synthetic vinegar, desi khand instead of sugar, and gur that we use is produced without any chemicals or colouring agents.”
Niharika has employed 15 women from the Paharapurwa and nearby villages, and closely works with neighbouring NGOs to recruit and empower these women.Pickles is the subject that lightens up Niharika’s face. She says, “The first pickle we made was from my father’s recipe. My dad is a businessman but a foodie by nature. When our grand moms passed away, he started collecting recipes from all relatives, as he wanted to preserve the family recipes.”
As the business started growing, they collected recipes from remote villages. “We got the recipe for the lemon chunda from Gujarat, for jalapeno garlic dip from Madhya Pradesh and method for the lemon made in oil from the south. The whole point of this exercise was to appeal to different and varied food palates,” says Niharika, who keeps travelling to the farms from time to time.
The Little Farm sells at exhibitions, trade fairs and through specialty stores such as Qtrove, Place of Origin, Engrave, Milkbasket, Flavours of my City, The Naamrana Shop, Dastkar, Foodcloud and Healthkart.About future plans, she says, “I want to make The Little Farm Co a household brand by taking healthy products to each and every member of a family.”