1. Success Story

Banker-Turned-Farmer Couple started a Farm-to-Fork Business; Earned Rs 60 Lakh Last Year

'Green and Grains,' founded by Madhya Pradesh's Prateeksha and Prateek Sharma, is a Farm-to-Fork business concept in which partner farmers are educated to manage production on their property and organic produce is delivered to clients' doorsteps.

Chintu Das
Banker-Turned-Farmer Couple; Prateek and Prateeksha
Banker-Turned-Farmer Couple; Prateek and Prateeksha

It all started in 1983 in a little village called Dolariya in Madhya Pradesh's Hoshangabad district. Prateek's father, Praveen Sharma, a postgraduate in English, began selling agricultural equipment after years of collecting international literature on new farming practices.

Praveen constantly fought for the growth of the agricultural community as a whole, and it was there that the seeds of 'collective good' were planted in Prateek’s mind. 'I still retain my father's collection of literature on Australian and European agricultural systems.' 'I'm not sure how he got these while dwelling in a small area,' Prateek explained.

How Things Changed?

Prateek's life was altered in 2003 when he lost his father. Prateek had recently graduated and, rather than continue his father's company, he opted to earn an MBA and work in the banking industry.

Prateeksha, on the other hand, is the daughter of an IAS official who has always desired to make a difference in the lives of people. Farming, on the other hand, was never on her thoughts. 'Being from a lower-middle-class family, I've always assumed that farming was not a vocation for the educated, just as most city dwellers believe,' Prateeksha explained.

But, buried behind their ever-expanding banking careers at Kotak Mahindra, a spark for social action persisted in each of them. When their daughter Mihika was born, this spark became a blaze. They looked into healthy eating habits and discovered how tough it was to get the correct food in a society where chemically modified agriculture is the standard. Prateek's search led him back to his hometown. Prateek became a weekend farmer in his village, where he erected a polyhouse, when the couple was transferred to Bhopal.

'It was exhausting”. I was in charge of four states at the time, and my work required me to travel regularly. Still, every weekend, I'd drive down to my village and work on my farm,' Prateek explained.

According to one couple, their worst mistake was building a polyhouse with all of their savings. The first year was a colossal failure. It did, however, help them comprehend the key difficulties that farmers face.

1. There was a communication barrier between officials and farmers.

2. A costly cycle of purchasing seeds, fertilisers, and pesticides in order for chemically enhanced farming to function.

3. They have no control over the marketing of their own goods.

Prateek thought he could solve the first problem by speaking out for the farmers in front of the authorities. He coped with the second by cultivating organically and learning everything he could about it. To do so, he began by visiting and learning from some of the country's greatest organic growers. He also began to study the science of agriculture. He rapidly realised that there was no one-size-fits-all solution for every farm, soil, and farmer. As a result, Prateek devised his own tactics to meet his circumstances.

Prateek could only tackle 'marketing' if he could fully eliminate middlemen, eliminate reliance on'mandis,' and create a farm-to-fork system.

For a single farmer, this was impossible. As a result, in 2015, he collaborated with an FPO, the Kalpavalli Greens Producer Company Ltd., with twelve additional farmers, in addition to cultivating vegetables on his own 5.5-acre organic farm. Prateek had learnt enough by 2016 to leave his work and pursue his dream of being a full-time farmer. Prateeksha, on the other hand, continued to work as a banker to help him financially.

Prateek is now advising farmers on how to improve their soil, what to plant, and when to plant it. Then he'd drive to Bhopal, pick up the food from the farmers, grade, clean, and pack it, and bring it to the consumers' doorsteps. Prateeksha's parents' building society and his own building society were his first customers. Prateek became a 'family farmer' to fifty families as news got out.

The Breakthrough Moment

'It wasn't simple to leave my work. We all know that farming is a very unappealing profession, and for many people, abandoning a rich financial position to pursue it was virtually insane. Our corporate pals, on the other hand, were always there for us. They'd tell us how proud they are of us for achieving something they wanted to do but had the confidence to achieve,' Prateeksha added.

'I got a call from Manabi from The Better India in August 2017.' It was my first time working with the media, so I was ecstatic. She requested a convenient time to talk with me. But I just parked my car and talked to her for the next 45 minutes,' Prateek explained.

The Start-up Incubation Centre at IIM Calcutta (IIM Calcutta Innovation Park; IIMCIP) saw the storey and reached out to Prateek. They went through the selection process, received financing, and used it to launch Vishalya Foods and Farms Pvt Ltd, their startup firm. After that, they introduced their products under the Green and Grains brand.

IIM Calcutta also supervised, trained, and assisted in capacity building, exposure trips, and the crucial 'Seed Funding' under the Government of India's INVENT initiative. Green and Grains was therefore registered as a start-up under the Start-up India programme and the Madhya Pradesh Start-up Program.

The Next Chapter

Green and Grains was able to purchase its first vehicle and a larger warehouse with the help of seed money from IIM Calcutta. The next stage was to put all of the products that a family would need each week in their basket.

As a result, Prateek attracted additional farmers who grew cereals, spices, and fruits. Green and Grains also personally instructed them on how to develop high-quality organic items.

'Being a part of the "start-up life" is like riding a roller coaster. It may be physically and emotionally taxing at times. But, not just emotionally, but also operationally, we soared through our highs and lows with my mother and father's unwavering support.

Prateeksha was able to leave her profession as a result of her progress. Her ten-year banking work had given her knowledge in operations and customer service. Prateek was in charge of the entire production, while Prateeksha was in charge of the post-production, which included everything from segregation to grading to delivery.

They persevered with the help of their mentor, Gaurav, and their devoted consumers. However, due to the large working capital required in the firm, they were practically bankrupt by February 2020. The pair absorbed the losses themselves, never putting the farmers or consumers in jeopardy.

The End Game

Prateek posted on Facebook on February 12, 2020 that he will launch a farm training programme. Many others assumed it was simply another side job. Prateek's last attempt to preserve Green and Grains, however, failed. 'That was the most difficult day of our lives.' This was our only chance. We had no choice but to stop farming if this did not succeed. It wasn't just about us, either. We had the option of returning to our professional life. But what about the farmers who are part of our network? We knew their lives were improving, and we could make a difference in so many more lives if we had money,' the couple explained.

Prateek and Prateeksha might not have been able to pull it off. However, during the first wave of COVID in March 2020, a countrywide lockdown was abruptly declared. During the lockdown, Green and Grains was just what was needed.

People were more health-conscious, therefore organic food was desired. However, because they were unable to leave the house, they needed doorstep delivery. And everyone was seeking for choices that required the least amount of human touch. 'Orders continued pouring in like a flood. The loudness was five times what it usually was. As a result, Prateeksha would stay up all night preparing our orders. And I'd go early in the morning to pick up the veggies from the fields, returning only about 11-11:30 p.m. after completing all of the orders,' Prateek explained.

This boost provided them with the funds they required to operate the company at this magnitude. Green and Grains also made money for the first time. They made Rs 60 lakh in earnings last year. Prateek used the funds to develop technologies that will benefit them in the long run.

Green & Grain now collects products from farmers in six states and serves over 2000 Madhya Pradesh families. In the following 12 months, they hope to reach 20,000 families. They now deliver over 250 things to their consumers at their homes.

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