ORGANIC INDIA’s True Wellness Quest

Changing lives in India, one farmer at a time
By Amy Vergin

It’s not easy being a farmer in India. Instead of struggling to get your acre or so of crops to pay off with traditional methods, a big company makes you a tempting offer with GMO seeds. They promise a higher yield and more money in return. Unfortunately the GMO seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides are expen­sive. Plus these GMO crops need abundant water, something India cannot always provide. In the end, farmers whose crops fail lose their land and the respect of the community. Faced with this unthinkable situation, many farmers commit suicide, leaving their families to fend for themselves. This scenario happens every 30 minutes in India.

ORGANIC INDIA is trying to help break this unfair cycle. The company was started by Bhavani and Bharat Mitra Lev who, along with many others, traveled in the early 90s to meet with spiritual teacher H.W.L. Poonja. During their quest to meet with him in northern India, they came face to face with the reality for farmers there and decided to create a holistic business to change a broken system. According to their website, they wanted to “establish a sustainable business model to support the liveli­hood of thousands of impoverished farmers in India by providing training and educa­tion, enabling self-sufficiency and skills that could be passed on to future generations.”

Growing tulsi

To help these farmers, the founders chose to have them grow tulsi tea crops. Tulsi (also known as holy basil) is a common herb that grows well in India’s soil and also happens to be used in ayurveda due to its multitude of benefits. The herb helps balance stress, which is greatly needed in the world we live in today. Grandmothers from India have used tulsi tea for years for whatever ailments their family had.

Heather Henning, national sales manager for ORGANIC INDIA, told us that farmers were initially hesitant about growing tulsi. “It was a very traditional plant to India and not something that the farmers would have grown commercially before. When the owners went to them the farmers thought they were crazy.” But, as Heather tells us, one farmer took a chance on them.

Kailash Nath Singh, pictured on the box of ORGANIC INDIA’s Green Tulsi Tea, chose to work with ORGANIC INDIA and it paid off. With his farming success, several of his friends began growing tulsi as well. Soon entire villages were willing to work with the organiza­tion.

ORGANIC INDIA provides the farmers with seeds and training and then turns around and purchases the crops from them at above-market prices—whether they fail or flourish. “If a farmer loses a crop to a drought or a flood, we still pay them for that crop.”

Caring for widows

Farmers aren’t the only ones who suffer when crops fail and they lose their live­lihood and self-respect. The widows of farmers are trapped in a type of caste system, leaving them disrespected and unemployable. “So often they end up being beggars or prostitutes, with very little hope of ever getting out from underneath that debt,” said Heather.

To turn the tables, ORGANIC INDIA teaches a six-month stitchery program to train women 16 to 22 years of age in how to sew and embroider so they are able to start a business or find employ­ment. This, together with their nonprofit foundation that helps with gender sensi­tization, helps give women education, job possibilities, a living wage, hope, and value.

The people of ORGANIC INDIA are also working hard on making sure their products are GMO-free, Fair Trade certi­fied, and Demeter biodynamic certified, a goal to be met in 2014.

If it sounds like the people of ORGANIC INDIA are busy, they are. But their goal is to be a true wellness company and they will do anything to make that a reality. “We mean that we want wellness for the people that are growing the plants,” said Heather. “Well­ness for the earth. Really, protecting Mother Nature and creating as much sustainability and biodiversity as we can. The products that we produce are going to be healthy and promote health with the consumers that use them