India: Growing strawberries, oyster mushrooms and other exotic vegetables in arid Jodhpur

Imagine walking through fields of sunflowers, pausing to smell the Sorrento lemons swaying in the wind and reaching for the ripe guavas dangling from trees. All the while, a sense of serenity hangs in the air even as peacocks strut around and birdsong fills the air. No, this isn’t a scene from Punjab or Haryana but at the quaint village of Manai in the arid desert of Jodhpur. Mharo Khet, experiential farmland, has much such amazement, including a greenhouse packed with over 80 varieties of exotic fruits and vegetables.

The birth of a Farm
The idea of using their 30-year-old ancestral land to grow exotic vegetables came to biomolecular scientist Rajnush Agarwal and his psychologist wife Vedika on vacation to Kyoto, Japan, in 2019. “We were really impressed by the way the Japanese used fresh farm vegetables to carve simple yet gourmet meals. And it wasn’t just the small restaurants and hotels doing it but also Michelin-starred restaurants. Having the farm in the family and being attached to farming, we thought we could do it too,” says Rajnush. The 40-acre farm is largely used to cultivate medicinal plants used by the pharmaceutical industry.

The pandemic-enforced lockdown gave the couple time to dive headlong into the dream. The next few months were filled with interactions with experts from IIIM (Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine) in Jammu, who came down to train the team of farmers, as well as CAZRI (Central Arid Zone Research Institute) in Jodhpur, which carries out studies on desert plants. The couple slowly found their footing with broccoli — an exotic crop that they personally loved eating at home. Kohlrabi, a vegetable generally grown in the colder regions of Uttarakhand and Himachal, was next, and then followed herbs such as rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano.


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