EXPATS AND OTHERS CRANK UP ORGANIC QUOTIENT IN HALCYONIC GOA BY SETTING UP ORGANIC ENTERPRISES
By Anna Steele
Goa’s melting-pot, culturally diverse population and ‘Popular Vacation Destination’ status have made it home to an ebullient organic community. Its golden beaches, verdant landscape, and languid pace serve as a befitting backdrop to the many organic and eco friendly enterprises that are being promoted by residents—mostly expats. From organic restaurants to organic textile boutiques, organic groceries and even an organic urban farming initiative, the state has plenty to offer on the organic spectrum.
“In my second year of business in India, I realised opening a store in Gandhinagar (Gujarat), where I lived, would not help me establish clientele who appreciated the organic clothing revolution. I had been to Goa a few times over the years and remembered the great international energy of the Saturday Night Market in Arpora. Now, we are operating an outlet in Anjuna, supplying designs to a boutique in Sangolda and exhibiting at the Arpora Saturday Night Market regularly, selling 1,000 stock keeping units every season to both domestic and international clients”
Ondi McMaster-Chullil, Founder, AtelierOM + OMkhadi
Today, there are many organic eateries in Goa but back in 1994, there were few establishments where one could get an organic meal, the German Bakery in Anjuna being one amongst them. The idea of opening the café was first conceived when Pankaj Kohli, its current owner, was serving a stint at the original German Bakery in Pune. Klaus ‘Woody Pumpernickel’ Gutzeit, a German health fanatic and the brains behind the Pune German bakery, suggested they expand to Goa. By 1994, the eatery was up and running, serving healthy dishes made from entirely organic ingredients. Pankaj’s upbringing influenced this decision to go organic: growing up in the midst of mountains in his home town in Himachal Pradesh, he had been brought up on organic food. The bohemian, earthy ambience, its culturally eclectic patronage and wholesome and delicious food served by the Bakery have made it an institution. Visitors can also purchase organic superfoods such as apricot oil, raw cacao beans, muesli, spirulina, amaranth, etc, (sourced from the Himalayas) at the popular joint.
Besides organic restaurants, grocery and processed food providers are also joining the organic bandwagon in Goa. Leading the pack is British expat, David J Gower, who established Ambrosia Organic Farm Pvt Ltd in 1999 and is a key supplier of fresh organic produce in Goa. Gower first visited Goa in 1978 on a holiday and so deeply did he fall in love with the place that he visited every year thereafter. ‘Salad Baba’, as he is popularly known in the region, went on to establish Ambrosia, which sources its produce from organic farmers across India—from Ladakh, Assam and Himachal Pradesh to Maharashtra, Karnataka and of course Goa itself. Gower co owns the business with Baby Phimester, who is also sole proprietor of the Ambrosia Organic Farm near Belgaum, Karnataka.
Extremely pro-farmer, Ambrosia pays the highest possible rates to its collaborating farmers for their produce and has as many as 50 organic products on its inventory, inclusive of organic rice cakes, organic wild honey, organic brown rice, sunflower oil, peanut oil, organic peanut butter, organic ragi flakes, etc.
AtelierOM + OMkhadi
It’s not only organic food that is thriving in Goa; the state also has its fair share of organic textile businesses and boutiques. AtelierOM + OMkhadi, an enterprise offering handcrafted eco ethical textiles, chiefly produces running meters, scarves/stoles and home furnishings. While the eco textile division falls under OMkhadi, AtelierOM offers east-west styles of apparel and accessories made of eco textiles. All of OMkhadi’s stock is 100 percent handmade and created in the khadi tradition of local spinning, handweaving with natural fibres, hand blockprinted, naturally hand dyed, zero waste, upcycle vintage and recycled waste fabrics. Most of OMkhadi textiles are certified organic and fairtrade.
According to the company’s American founder, Ondi McMaster-Chullil, setting up her boutique in Goa was a strategic decision. “In my second year of business in India, I realised opening a store in Gandhinagar (Gujarat), where I lived, would not help me establish clientele who appreciated the organic clothing revolution. I had been to Goa a few times over the years and remembered the great international energy of the Saturday Night Market in Arpora,” she says. Today, she operates an outlet in Anjuna (open seasonally), supplies her designs to a boutique in Sangolda and exhibits at the Arpora Saturday Night Market regularly, selling 1,000 stock keeping units every season to both domestic and international clients.
Walking away from a successful costuming career in the US, Chullil’s love for Indian textiles and a deep reverence for Mahatma Gandhi’s Swadeshi Movement prompted her to start her label in 2011. “I spend the majority of my time in India and USA in the development and oversight of production to create a unique collection of limited edition eco textiles, apparel and accessories. I am committed to producing goods that have the timeless qualities of beauty, simplicity, comfort, function and versatility, and do not harm people, animals or the planet,” says she.
La Vie + Me
While Gandhi served as Chullil’s inspiration for OMkhadi, the vibrantly hued markets of Goa proved to be Amy Vance’s muse. Hailing from a fashion background, the British founder of the children’s clothing brand La Vie + Me (meaning Life + Me), initially started her collection with flowered head dresses, and then graduated to organic clothes, eventually moving on to organic babywear in 2015, after the birth of her daughter, Ava. Vance’s exclusive collection is moulded in large part by fabrics, colours and textures that she has catalogued on her extensive travels across India.
Although still in its infancy and selling only in Goa through retail stores as well as exhibits in local markets, Vance has grand plans for her label. “My fashion line creates clothing that is durable, ethical, organic, affordable and beautiful for the future generation. I am excited to develop a line of wholesome yet aesthetically pleasing baby and kids’ wear. It is so enjoyable watching it all grow along with Ava! I feel blessed to design my collection in a place like Goa with such natural beauty,’’ she says.
Green Education Organisation
Venturing off the beaten track, Savio Souza channelled his passion for organic agriculture into creating the Green Education Organisation (GEO), which makes urban farming a reality for city dwellers. The Goa resident conducts in-depth DIY (do it yourself) workshops on organic urban farming, demonstrating how homes can become microfarms and citizens can grow their own organic microgreens such as spinach, beet greens, arugula, sunflower, radish and mustard by creating tiny little farms on their balconies, windowsills and backyards.
GEO was founded in dedication to Souza’s late mother whose battle with final stage cancer propelled him to delve into an in-depth study of plant based diets and organic cultivation. In memory of her passing, GEO conducted its maiden programme in the same school she had served as a teacher in for 30 years, to teach young children about organic farming. “The initiative was well received and GEO never stopped ever since,” says Souza.
Savio speaks about organics as the way of the future. “An increasing number of people are realising the value of organically grown food today, embracing the way our ancestors used to farm before the big fertiliser companies came in. So we have to either empower people to grow their own or buy and support their local farmers’ markets. GEO’s vision is to encourage people to grow their own organic foods at home,” says he.
Besides working with schoolchildren, corporate firms and individuals across India, GEO assists commercial farmers and government bodies in urban farming initiatives.
The growth of the organic movement in the state has also spawned specialised businesses such as Raw Rainbows, which produces raw vegan organic chocolates. Founded by Mohammad Arif and yours truly, Raw Rainbows chocolates are made from organic cacao beans cultivated in South India and are enriched with ayurvedic herbs. “We created the recipe for the bars at home, while trying to make a confectionary from cacao beans which was nutritious
yet tasty. Little did we realise how popular these chocolates would become. The positive feedback convinced us to start production on a commercial scale in 2015,” says Arif.
Retailing through grocery stores locally, Raw Rainbows has gained popularity amongst the Yoga and spiritual seekers’ set in Goa, and especially the vegan community in the state has embraced the brand as a healthy munching option. Unlike conventional chocolates, Raw Rainbows bars have never been heated or cooked in any way and are entirely raw and vegan; they’ve been created using varieties of natural sweeteners and sugar free options tailored for the health conscious or diabetic.