Gitanjali Rajamani will probably never work in a cubicle again.
After working at Tata Consultancy Services for almost seven years, one day Gitanjali quit. It wasn’t that she was bored of her job. However, she got jaded with the rat race. She wanted to follow her passion, she wanted to farm.
Today, Gitanjali is the Co-founder and COO of Farmizen, a startup that allows you to rent farmland outside the city to grow your food in a secure and organic manner. You can choose to grow fancy vegetables such as arugula, rocket leaves or your regular tomatoes and potatoes. While you’re busy with your life in the city, farmers at the farm will take care of your plants and even deliver the produce to you.
In an interview with HerStory, Gitanjali talks about her relationship with food, the growth of her startup, and why her passion led her to farming.
Gitanjali grew up around farming. “I come from a family of farmers in Kerala. Every vacation we used to go back to the farm and we’d plant rice and other crops,” Gitanjali says. Even when she was away from the farm, she was close to it. In her home as well, her mother divided their 2000 sq. ft. backyard into two parts– one for her brother, and one for her. “It was always a competition – who would grow better pumpkins? Who would grow better bitter gourds?” she remembers. Gitanjali and her brother would experiment with seeds, seasons, and soil.
So, when she quit her job, it was natural for Gitanjali to turn back to her roots. In 2013, she founded, GreenMyLife, a Bangalore-based landscape design, garden maintenance and online store. Later, with some partners the idea for Farmizen took shape.
The food we eat, she explains, is laced with chemicals but, the farmers can’t take the entire blame for it. Indian farmers are in great distress, with fluctuating prices and the risk that comes with managing production, distribution and financing. They hardly earn a sustainable income. As a result, they resort to using more chemicals to feed their income flow.
To address this cycle of concerns, along with Shameek Chakravarty and Sudaakeran Balasubramanian, Gitanjali started Farmizen in June 2017, with a twin goal. One was to provide access to fresh, healthy and chemical free produce by promoting a farming experience among city dwellers. The second was to help improve the livelihoods of local farmers.
How to get your hands dirty
Through Farmizen, people can rent out a 600 square feet mini-farm through the app for a monthly fee of Rs 2500. The farmer at the plot tends to the crops chosen by the user. Users can control their farm through an app, “It’s just like the online game Farmville,” Gitanjali says.
Users can visit their farm anytime and harvest their chemical-free produce. If busy, Farmizen will home deliver the produce every week to the user. You now have the power to know exactly when your veggies were harvested and what fertilizers, if any, were used.
Farmizen has a 50-50 revenue share with its farmers. The farmer is responsible for land, labor, electricity and water. Farmizen is responsible for agricultural inputs such as seeds, saplings and organic pest repellents, marketing, technology, customer support and logistics in terms of delivery of the produce to the customers.
Gitanjali says, “Farmers get a fixed and predictable income which is almost three times the income that they would get via conventional farming.” Farmizen is currently present in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Surat. It has about 1500 subscribers and 24 farms across three cities with around 40 acres under cultivation. They want to expand to 100,000 families and generate over Rs 300 crore in recurring revenue in two years.
Labor of love
Along with her co-founders, Gitanjali faced some initial hurdles. “It was very challenging to find our first partner farmer who scored well on all our criteria for partnership and convince him about working in this model.” After the trouble they faced with involving farmers, they thought scaling would be really difficult. But their model was good enough to win farmers’ trust.
“The farming community is a close knit -- and words of success of one farmer with a new model spreads fast - now we don’t need to actively scout for farmer partners - they reach out, and we evaluate their suitability for our partnership model.”
How to find your passion
For any other entrepreneur starting out, Gitanjali has good advice. “Find your passion, find what keeps you going. And most importantly, have fun. Otherwise every day will feel like a chore.” She also adds a quick suggestion on how you can find that passion: go back to your childhood. “There’s merit in digging into the past and seeing the things we’ve enjoyed doing. This will bring back a lot of joy,” she says.
(Video credits: Cameraman H Raja)