Happiness and business of organic farming in Kashmir

A Kashmiri scientist dropped out of her doctoral studies in South Korea in the middle of it to pursue her passion for starting an agricultural business. Insha Rasool, 30, from Budgam district in central Kashmir, has not let her transition from university to farming slip by and managed to turn her business into a successful one.

Insha and her husband, while working as scientists in South Korea, came up with the idea of ​​building an organic farm in Kashmir when they were on a school vacation in the valley. Insha Rasool, a woman in her thirties, got the idea to start organic farming in Kashmir after seeing a field of strawberries in South Korea and also after receiving encouragement from her husband.

Insha, who was studying molecular signaling at a South Korean university, wanted to learn more about organic farming. Over the past two years, she has put a lot of effort into growing the “farm to fork” business – Homegreens. She contacted nearby farms before starting this project, bought fertilizers and seeds, and hired people to help with planting, tillage, and other activities.

Preparation of the plot for planting activities. Image courtesy of Irshad Hussain

“As a scientist, I did extensive research on organic farming before starting this project. In Budgam, we had 3.5 acres of ancestral land. My experience in this sector has been enriching thanks to the support of my parents, although I still have a long way to go,” says Insha.

Insha says they are currently doing this on an experimental basis as it requires a lot of research. “My business has been successful so far,” she adds.

Insha left a well-paying position in South Korea to pursue her aspirations.

Dream come true

When she saw the vast and beautiful fields of South Korea, she wondered and even asked her husband why there weren’t such beautiful farms in Kashmir. “My husband then asked me why not me. I spend most of my time in my fields educating workers about organic and unusual crops,” says Insha. His organic farming journey began in 2018, and he is now thriving with each passing day.

When she’s not growing, she markets and sells her produce on the Homegreens social media pages, including varieties of vegetables and sweet corn that are in high demand in the country. She claims that customers buy her and other products on social media within 24 hours.

Insha Rasool Organic Farming and Kashmir's HomeGreens Story

Products from Insha Rasool’s farm. Image courtesy of Irshad Hussain

“I have established links with a number of producers who produce and market organic vegetables. The demand for my products is really high. The majority of my items are sold before harvest,” says Insha, who studied at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

Insha’s portal also receives many comments from people seeking advice on how to grow organic vegetables in their gardens or farms. “If all goes well, I would build a school where we would teach students how to grow organic produce, especially vegetables. It is important to consume high quality products, free of pesticides and chemicals,” she says.

Organic farming has presented its own challenges to Insha. “We need specialized seeds that we buy from the United States. Nevertheless, delays in their delivery sometimes cause problems. In addition, biological insecticides have to be purchased in large quantities, which is sometimes expensive and problematic,” says Insha.

Insha says that in her area, only a small number of people were selling unusual vegetables and crops produced from ancestral seeds. Now she also plants unusual vegetables on her property.

Additionally, she used her funds to amass a collection of rare seeds from national and international seed banks as well as her maternal grandmother’s personal stock.

Sometimes not all of those seeds turned into crops. She pulled weeds by hand until she found plants that repelled weeds as a permanent solution, as weed infestation was a serious problem.

A difficult task for Insha

Insha has stayed in different states also in green places. She moved to South Korea after residing in Kashmir, Delhi and Bangalore where the climate is more adaptable and pleasant. She says that after learning that her ancestors were farmers, she became interested in the profession.

She used her two years of dedicated work as the foundation to create HomeGreens, a farm-to-fork brand. She owned the land where her ancestors had once grown their own food, including vegetables and crops.

“I had more difficulties than expected. Sometimes the crop may not grow or the fertilizer may stop working. I sometimes add water. Sometimes I planted the tees too early which prevented the seeds from growing. This experiment continued for six months. Finally, I chose to continue cultivating. It fundamentally changed our life. And today, it proves that this decision was the right one,” says Insha.

Insha even tried the process of sowing in trays because she thought some old seeds needed more nutrition. It took him nearly five months to figure out the perfect soil-to-water ratio for germination. The weather presented another problem. She was thrilled when her farm produced lettuce in the summer, but it turned out to be bitter. After a year, bell peppers, lettuce, broccoli, peppers and beautiful cherry tomatoes were finally growing.

She feels that despite her tireless work, there is still a lot to do. “We are still testing things. In the years to come, we intend to do much more and collaborate with others to make organic farming a movement and a successful business,” says Insha.

Homegreen successful so far

Each acre was divided into four portions by her. By doing this, she ensures that she received multiple harvests over multiple cycles instead of just one harvest in a single cycle.

“We sow seeds in one section, use the next section after a month, and so on. I also plant fast growing crops like cilantro, spring onions, herbs, fenugreek, collard greens, etc. alongside the slower growing ones to make sure no part of the soil is left fallow,” says Insha.

She also started implementing the intercropping technique to keep pests away. She grows pest control plants like mugwort, garlic and common nettle between the vegetables. For insect infestation, she used a fermented mixture of mugwort, neem oil, chili peppers, onions and garlic.

Insha has kept the price of its products at a reasonable level. Every day more and more people are interested in the products of his company. She earned just over Rs 8 lakh in November and December last year. “Our expansion has been constant. We also sell varieties of frozen green beans and peas in addition to sweet corn and blanched tomatoes. We have year-round sales capability,” she says.

What is even more remarkable is that Insha has been promoting unique vegetables and value-added products like pickles across India by collaborating with local farmers under its brand. She says she organizes groups with an average of 15 to 20 farmers each month and provides them with prices above the going rate.

Ghulam Ahmed, a local farmer from Budgam, says Insha posted on his Instagram account new farming practices he has benefited from.

“His social media posts are proving very successful for local farmers. In all my life, I have never seen such a creative farmer who brought new organic farming techniques to Kashmir,” says Ghulam. “The majority of educated young people in Kashmir avoid agriculture. Insha breaks social taboos and offers young unemployed people an incredible example.

Homegreens is not just a professional business, it is an inspiration to sow hope, nurture it and turn a dream into reality against all odds.

The author is a freelance journalist. He tweets @Irshad55hussain

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