The Green Grocer: Samar Gupta of Trikaya Agriculture
If palm hearts, jicama, bird’s eye chilli, heirloom tomatoes, lima beans, edamame, blackberries, rainbow Swiss chard, and over a dozen other fruits and vegetables have been on our restaurant menus and in our supermarkets in recent times, it is entirely thanks to Samar Gupta. The head of the Mumbai-based Trikaya Agriculture has acres of farmland in Talegaon, Ooty, Chinchani (in Thane), and other places in the Konkan region, where he grows dozens of fruits and veggies not traditionally seen on our shores.
Founded in 1991 by Samar Gupta’s father Ravi, Trikaya was the first company in India to grow non-indigenous varieties of produce on Indian soil. The company puts in research and time to introduce exotic varieties of vegetables and fruits in our markets, and eventually other farmers in the region follow suit. When the varieties become commonly available, Gupta stops growing them (as he did with zucchini, baby corn and red and yellow bell peppers) and moves his focus to new, more challenging produce, often before consumers are ready for them. “For the first two years of growing dragon fruit, I couldn’t give it away if I wanted to,” said Gupta. “We threw away about 20 tons of it, because nobody was buying it.” Now Trikaya grows and sells about 30 tons of this red-skinned Central American fruit per year and it’s still not enough to meet demand.
Trikaya’s research is immense and laborious, taking anywhere from one to six years from planning a variety to making sales that justify the investment. Gupta first selects varieties from seed catalogs, and then tests out various cultivars to see which will take hold in our terroir, and yield produce that is sustainable, of good quality, and can be sold at a fair price with a decent margin. Then he introduces it in the market at a low price to see if customers take a shine to it. When it picks up, he increases both price and production. After production has been regularised, he introduces it to chefs, so that they can feature it on their menus.
Today, Trikaya supplies its homegrown produce of 94 varieties of fruits and vegetables that are not native to India, to about 90 hotels and fine dining restaurants in Mumbai, not only bringing fresh produce from farmland to plate, but dramatically decreasing our carbon footprint. So what can we expect to see in our local markets in the next two years? For a start: purple and orange cauliflowers, Romanesco broccoli, fennel pollen, seedless guavas and custard apples, purple-fleshed sweet potatoes and three kinds of lavender to name just a few.
In Mumbai, the company’s retail stall in Crawford Market is the best place to get all their produce but many of their fruits and vegetables are available at major supermarkets and street vendors across the city.
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