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Selling salads to promote good health

By Huned Contractor
July 02, 2015 15:37 IST
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Green Tokri is a unique business venture set up by Indo-German couple, Dr Marc Cremer and Benedikte, who grow lettuce on their farm outside Pune and make it available at your doorstep so that you can add this nourishing item to your meals each day.

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Guess why more and more people are adding salad to their diet? Simple! It's one of the most nutritious additions to your meals that will keep you healthy and energetic. And no one knows this better than Pune-based Dr Marc Cremer and his wife Benedikte, who not only love to eat salads, but grow and sell them too.

"It is not only the easiest dish to prepare but eating a salad every day offers several health benefits: raw, green leafy vegetables provide high level of antioxidants; the enzymes present in the raw vegetables are great for digestion; lettuce is a great source of fibre and therefore consuming a lot of fiber can help lower cholesterol levels and prevent constipation; and salads are very filling so that if you are trying to lose weight by eating less, start your meal with a salad," Marc informs.

It is this fascination for salads that led the Pune-born Indo-German Marc to venture out into setting up a salad farm. With Benedikte showing an equal amount of enthusiasm, the couple started 'Green Tokri' in 2001 in partnership with two friends, Zaheer Vakil and Mohiuddin Mulla.

"The initial idea was to experiment with farming and then if successful, try and find an outlet for the produce," Marc says.

This was quite a risk to take since Marc, who has been living in India with his family for more than 15 years now, had worked in the IT sector for several years and was quite used to a financially rewarding corporate lifestyle. But he also has a PhD from Berlin's Humboldt University in Agricultural Engineering, which is why the passion lay in connecting afresh with the soil.

"At the back of my mind was this desire to become a farmer. And so I left my job and decided to use my knowledge of agricultural engineering and technology to give salad farming a new spin," he states.

The result has been a farm with an intricate computer-operated drip-irrigation system providing not just hydration but also fertilisers to the plants based on carefully monitored chemical factors. He has thus made it possible to grow tasty, high-quality lettuce in harsh Indian terrain. But while growing salad was one thing, selling it turned out to be a different ball game altogether.

"When GreenTokri started there was no market for lettuce. We began by marketing the lettuce to our own friends," he recalls.

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The Green Tokri team, from left: Benedikte (The Heart of Green Tokri), Dr Marc Cremer (Founder & Director), Mohiuddin (Founder & Director) and Premos K (Farm Manager)

Fortunately, word-of-mouth publicity helped and those interested in a healthy diet started calling up to know where they could buy the salad from. Most of them wanted it to be delivered to their doorstep. Today, GreenTokri's home delivery distribution network has grown to cover all areas of Pune and you can even find their lettuces and herbs in retail shops and restaurants.

"What has also helped our enterprise grow is that with changing Indian urban lifestyles, renewed health consciousness is entering our homes and kitchens. However, fresh, high-quality and affordable leafy salads were not easily available in the Indian market until we decided to get into this," Marc points out.

Growing salads year-round is both challenging and resource-intensive.

"Agricultural experts from different countries have visited our farm in Saswad in Maharashtra and given consultancy on technology and production systems, thereby allowing us to achieve our goal of growing the best quality produce year-round. All produce is cleanly processed and packed and delivered to our cold storage in Pune. From there, we efficiently deliver to our retailer partners and customers so that our salads retain freshness, quality, and nutritional values," Marc elaborates.

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As to whether Green Tokri has adopted the natural or organic way of growing salads, Marc replies that it is not a fully organic process.

"We use very carefully and properly selected pesticides when there is a severe attack of pests on the fields. We do use a mixture of organic and mineral fertilisers and grow in a way that our fields maintain and renew their fertility. Also, we use our own well water which was tested for minerals and heavy metals and which is very clean. Moreover, we grow our own saplings in a nursery on vermiculture compost and undertake manual de-weeding and do not use chemicals for regular weed eradication," Marc states.

The big objective in this entire process is to be as environment-friendly as possible.

"We want our lettuce and other products to be absolutely natural without being contaminated by any outside source. For example, we want to minimise the use of plastic bags to transport the lettuce and are working on finding a solution to keep it moist till it reaches the customer," Marc says.

Meanwhile, there's also a plan to grow exotic vegetables which are normally not available in the Indian market. These would include artichokes, avocados, broccoli, etc.

"Everyone's topmost priority should be good health. And we are happy to be contributing our bit towards making people lean towards nutritious food," Marc says.

Photographs: Green Tokri/Facebook

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