“Redefining Agriculture with Hydroponics”- Somveer Anand, Co-founder, Pindfresh
In the times, when most of our vegetables are laced with harmful pesticides, Somveer Anand, founder of Pindfresh, is bringing in a new revolution to ensure otherwise. Meet Somnath Anand, the founder of the Chandigarh-based startup, who has adopted the method of hydroponics to grow fresh and healthy food, and that too without the use of soil. Yes, growing vegetables without soil with a 100% chemical-free method!
Pindfresh and Hydroponics
Somveer was living in NYC back in 2015 with wife, Sohila Kapoor, and their one and a half year old daughter. About shifting base back to India at that time, he says, “Sohila and I came back to India in the autumn of 2015. It was a no brainer – I was very clear that I wanted to be around family and give my daughters the same sort of environment that I had when I was growing up”.
Sohila was 6 months due with their second child when in a medical check-up, the doctor told her that she wasn’t consuming enough nutrients. The doctor asked her to take better food and gave her some supplements for better nutrition intake. This came as a surprise to the couple who was already eating clean and healthy home-cooked meal. This is how they came to realize that the vegetables they were buying were not up to the quality standard. This made them realize how important it was for one to be sure of what they were eating.
Somveer says, “We started Pindfresh in 2016, as a way to teach people how to grow their own fresh and healthy vegetables at home”.
But even before Somveer had reached India, his father was already trying hydroponics. Som tell us, “By the time we got back, my father had already been growing food (hydroponically) for a while. On examining his lab (I had expected to see a small, tech- heavy, expensive system that produced some super exotic food), I was taken aback by the sheer scale of food production from such a small area. And that too without any pesticides and soil! Plus, this method uses only 10% of water in comparison to the conventional agriculture system. Soon we were growing anything and everything we wanted – from rocket leaves, to lettuces, to basil and tomatoes and climbing gourds – the list was endless”.
What is Hydroponics?
Imagine the comfort of growing your own food in your kitchen! It is a technique of growing crops without using soil. The plants are placed into long tubes filled with nutrient-based water solution. It’s a clean, chemical-free process by which plants and food can be grown inside your very own kitchen or living room. Another big advantage is the fresh oxygen that fills your home, thus promoting an overall healthy living.
Are hydroponic crops technically different from organic crops?
He replies, “Absolutely! Hydroponics is now termed as ‘beyond organic’. Organic farming talks about the quality and nature of the soil. In contrast, hydroponics uses no soil at all. All plants are grown in nutrient-based water solvent, thus eliminating the use of any and every chemical”.
Talking about Pindfresh, Somveer tells us, “We sell small testing and learning kits that allow people to grow hydroponically and basically learn about hydroponics. When we first started, I got a lot of encouragement from my family. Everyone wanted to learn how this works, and everyone bought a kit. If I have to name someone who was my very first paying client, it’ll have to be Sohila. I sold her one of my first hand made pipes and she grew lettuce on our dining table”.
He further talks about the present operations, “We today have clients in all parts of the country. Our customers include students, housewives, young professionals, and what is most heartening – small farmers. We sell about 4 pipes a day (still a long way to go) and this retail for an average of 2500/- per pipe. We also have a few other products and on an average we put up 2-3 new ideas every month. Bit by bit, we have also formed a small team of 6 all of whom are awesome people and we are lucky to have them on the team”.
Somveer feels the Indian market is ready for this new chapter in farming. He says, “Selling the idea was not at all difficult. Indians are very inquisitive and willing to learn; the only problem is that us Indians are not a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) people.
In technologies like hydroponics, it is very important to be involved with the growing. It doesn’t work too well if you’d expect someone else to manage it, like domestic help, gardeners, etc”.
Som elaborates, “The bottom line is that people want pesticide-free food. In India – partly due to our small landholding size – no field (smaller than 200 acres) can be organic for a long period of time. Our water and soil are so polluted that in order to consistently provide pesticide and poison-free food, hydroponics is the only answer.
I think people have realized that now and are placing hydroponically grown a notch above organically grown”.
This technique is expected to go a long way in making farmer debts and unpredictable weather conditions things of the past. He says, “I have no doubt that to cater to a water-starved, polluted, and a very hungry population like ours, we have to turn to innovative means of agriculture like hydroponics and aquaponics. This means less resources being used, more predictability and lesser wastage”.
Discussing Pindfresh’s future plans, Somveer says, “We’re trying to tackle a number of problems. The first one was about education and learning for which we made DIY kits and learning materials. We’re doing this through Pindfresh. For the future, I believe that our largest issues will revolve around the traceability of our food. To give you a little background −As we were building Pindfresh and were doing our initial surveys, I realized that we had no idea where our food comes from. Did you know, in summers, our lettuce in North and East India comes from Ooty and Bangalore? That’s 2000 miles away! Ask yourself this −Do you know who grew your turmeric, or your wheat, your dal, your rice?”
He further adds, “To solve and sort out this issue, we started another venture named Whofarms (as an extension of Pindfresh) with a few other people. This effort predominantly deals with the first mile traceability and tries to educate the consumer on ‘who actually farmed the food you’re eating’. It carries out batch testing on every product that we market and promises clean, green food, grown by a small farmer close to you”.
Co-founders & Couple
Both Somveer and Sohila are co-founders of Pindfresh. Usually such a situation can be tricky. On asking about the pros and cons of it, he tells us that they easily divide different responsibilities among themselves based on each other’s core strengths. That’s one of the advantages of being in a partnership with your spouse.