Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Want subdji?

It all started with a simple request: “Can you show me the vegetables you have in your house?” Meera and Kursida, the two older daughters of Saira and Sadiq – a family we have a chicken coop project with in Modia Mansar- pointed to the phali (rajasthani beans) drying on the floor of their one room house and to three pieces of kakria (an Indian sweet cucumber) laying in a small basket. To me it didn’t seem like a lot of food for a family of 6 (they have two more children) so I asked “Or subdji? (More vegetables?) Aloo (potatoes), gobi (cabbage), tamatar (tomatoes), piaj (onions)?” The girls shook their head no. After some more questions, I came to realize that Modia Mansar only has a small variety shops that sell cookies, chips, and dhal, but no vegetables or fruits. They have to travel all the way to Gajner to get them.

Gajner is located 10 km away from Modia Mansar and although 10 km doesn’t seem that far, unfortunately not everyone owns a car or a bike, and not everyone can afford to use a tuk-tuk on a regular basis. Even if they can afford it, we know by experience that tuk-tuks are not always available, nor its drivers willing to do that specific journey, as there is a highway in between and the roads are in really bad shape. That’s when I realized the limitations this community face in terms of accessibility to food and how it to a certain extent affects their food choices and health. In conversation with one of my fellow co-workers this idea of a pop-up vegetable came up and now we are doing it every week.

Our formula is very simple: every Monday, in the morning, we scavenge Gajner vegetables stands for the best prices; around 3 p.m. we pack our vegetables and fruits, a bed sheet to display our goods, a scale and off we go. Once in Modia Mansar, we display our things in the front porch of Sadiq’s house with the help of his children and then we wait. Usually it doesn’t take more than 10 minutes for our first customer to arrive. Saira is often present, and usually helps manage all the weighting in a not-so-easy manual scale and understanding the more complicated customers’ requests. All I can say is that so far the initiative has been a great success. We already have requests to bring more products, such as eggs, and a woman from the community has demonstrated interest in taking over the project.

Me selling a bag full of vegetables to one of our regular customers

In addition, last week we almost sold out all the vegetables we brought. Only the cauliflower didn’t find a home, as usual, and to this I must say something about. Our customers are really demanding when it comes to cauliflower. At first, the problem was the stalks. They didn’t want to buy cauliflower because they didn’t want to pay for the stalks, as they don’t eat them. In order to make our customers happy, I started bringing the cauliflower without the stalks. It was not enough. I came to realize that in addition of being stalk-free, the cauliflower needs to be a certain size (not too small but not to big), have the perfect beige color and be just firm enough, to have a chance of conquering a place in their kitchen. In the presence of a non-conformity, even dropping the price from the usual 20 rupees to 5 rupees is not enough to convince the cauliflower experts. 

Carrots are also neglected but surprisingly not for aesthetic reasons. The truth is people don’t know what to do with them. I believe part of the reason for this is that people are not used to having this vegetable around, as it is only available during the winter months. In the beginning of November, we started to hear “carrots are coming”. The possibility of having carrot soup or a simple raw carrot was something that made us all pretty excited, but unfortunately many Indian families don’t share the same enthusiasm, as carrots are not frequently used in a lot of typical dishes. Spinach faces similar popularity issues, which is something that I’ll work my best to change, as spinach is one of the few high sources of iron in a community where anemia is prevalent. On the other hand, green chilies, ginger and bananas sell effortlessly, and radishes are equally appreciated by humans and the goat population, as some of the goats walking around always try to get some when we are not looking.
A goat trying to steal some radishes
The vegetable stand in Modia Mansar is much more than a way to provide the community with a service that was not available before. It’s not only about making things easier. For me as the Health Project Manager in Gajner, it is ultimately about forging new relationships, deepening my understanding of the community’s eating habits and diversifying their vegetable and fruit intake. 

A successful vegetable stand in Modia Mansar with Saira's family and neighbors

Ana Silva - Portugal
Health Care Project Manager, Gajner (Rajasthan)

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