This retired teacher from Kerala is helping farmers from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala by sourcing organic veggies from them for his shop.
“The entire goal of the ‘Thakkali’ shop was to ensure that everyone could access chemical-free, locally-sourced organic veggies. Many vegetable stores have popped up in recent years with the ‘organic’ claim. These shops have created a niche customer base where affordability is of the least concern. I wanted to break this concept,” says Mathew T. J. who has been helping farmers from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala sell their produce at his organic shop ‘Thakkali’ in Kozhikode, Kerala for the past two years.
Starting out with just one Whatsapp group, Thakkali now has upto 15 groups with 250 participants in each of these groups with a customer base of around 3,800 members. Mathew posts pictures of the vegetables, the price, the seasonal vegetables and fruits that have come in and interested customers and vendors follow up.
The passionate farmer has started three other stores as well in Wayanad and Kozhikode with a total of eight employees who help him in transportation and sales.
Making Organic Veggies Available: Farming in Gundalpet
After his retirement as a school teacher in, Mathew, 58, devoted his time in farming in his 8.5 acres of land in Gundalpet, Karnataka, which he had taken for lease in 2013.
“A lot of people ask me why I started cultivating in Gundalpet, Karnataka when I could have just started cultivating in Kerala. But my idea was to create a community of farmers and that wouldn’t be possible if I started out at home,” explains Mathew.
The ex-teacher hailing from Nadavayal, Wayanad started out by cultivating tomatoes and then moved onto a variety of vegetables and fruits like broccoli, cabbage, carrots, jackfruits, mangoes along with paddy cultivation.
“I took the first few sets of harvest back home and sold it to the local markets. The response was quite overwhelming, the vendors started requesting me to bring more vegetables, so I thought why not start an organic store, sourcing vegetables from farmers from the neighbouring three states. So I started ‘Thakkali’ (Tomatoes) in March 2019 in Kozhikode,” explains Mathew.
Mathew’s vision through the store was to create a market for farmers in these states and create a community that could help each other out. As part of the initiative, Mathew started coordinating with farmers in these different areas through WhatsApp and Facebook groups.
As fresh and organic produce from these states started pouring into Mathew’s shop, he realised that the next and most important step would to build a strong customer base. He decided to approach his long time friend and farmer Prof. Johny G. Vadakel to join him as a partner. Together they started a WhatsApp group under the name ‘Thakkali’ to bring together customers who were genuinely interested in purchasing fresh vegetables on a daily basis.
All in a Day’s Work
“Last month there was a 15-day gap that farmers all over the country faced due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The transportation stopped and all our produce was left to rot. But when they started relaxing the regulations, I started gathering organic veggies from individual farmers and groups in again, because if we farmers don’t support each other who will?” says Matthew.
Every Friday, Mathew sends a goods truck to the farming land in Gundalpet to collect fresh produce and on the way back collects produce from farming groups like the Bengaluru Sahaja Samrudha, the Sathyamangalam Ainthunai Farmer’s Group and individuals farmers mainly in Mysuru and Ooty.
“Mathew’s ‘Thakkali’ shop has been a great boon for my produce, especially during the lockdown. I had really lost hope at one point in time, but he was one of the first to restart the business. Nothing has ever stopped him from helping the farming community,” says Harish Acharia, a Mysuru-based farmer who provides his produce for the Thakkali shop.
Veluchamy from the Inthumi Natural Farmer’s group echoes a similar sentiment. “We’ve been providing for Mathew’s shop for the past two years and it has been a stable source of income for many farmers. The best part is that the good truck arrives just in time for the harvest, so there’s absolutely no delay,” he says.
I got in touch with Krishnakumar, a regular customer of the Thakkali shop who says, “I’m super satisfied with the vegetables from Thakkali because unlike other stores, the prices are reasonable and the product is absolutely fresh.”
Mathew, who has been following Subhash Palekar’s zero-budget natural farming methodology for the past 7 years, firmly believes that farming doesn’t have to mean investing in expensive fertilisers and pesticides.
“All that our plants need are already available in nature. The maximum that I’ve done for my cultivation is to provide cow dung as manure. The rest of it completely depends on how we perceive farming. If you see it as a way of life then agriculture won’t seem like a stressful job,” he concludes.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)