The seed community for the Mumbai Collective is shaping up well, with visits resuming after monsoon. We have revised our product offering keeping in account the carrying capacity of the place and the aspirations of the prospective members to a 1.5 acre share in the farm. We have received a lot of interest, especially in the second half of the month and the conversation are getting serious. We expect a closure of the seed community by the end of December 2021, after which the pricing would be revised to reflect the certainty of the project.
The big news from Poomaale is the launch of 7 new variants of Bewild Coffee. Positioned as ‘forest friendly produce’, this is the first time that anyone has grown coffee completely in the wild with zero inputs. Developed into a pure Robusta offering with a fresh new logo and packaging, these variants have been widely appreciated and are currently available on our website https://bewild.beforest.co and on leading online coffee portals like Something’s Brewing and Total Coffee
Besides our website, we will soon be listing Bewild Coffee on platforms like Amazon and other leading coffee and organic food based e-commerce services. Watch this space for more listing updates!
While the private house plots in the housing cluster have been marked, the internal works of the Blyton Bungalow have resumed and we expect it to be ready by December 2021.
The construction of the Estate Manager’s house has resumed and we expect to be completed by around February 2022. We have welcomed 6 staff families in the Old Staff Quarters and expect to have another 5-6 families at the New Staff Quarters being constructed at the East Gate of the estate.
Our summer holidays were spent at our village in the Konkan. Homes brimming with families returning and kids coming together to play hide n seek in large mansions.
Over the years, these homes started resembling empty caves. As families grew, landholdings reduced and growing mangoes became less remunerative. The price of chemicals to fight pests added to the expenses, reducing profits. The dependency on a single seasonal crop didn’t help their financial situation.
Fresh from my newly acquired knowledge of a PDC, my inquisitiveness to find why multiple cropping wasn’t practiced, threw up an interesting insight. Apparently stealing mangoes can get you arrested but this doesn’t apply to other crops (Not sure if this is a law or an urban, I mean rural legend). Locals who fancied certain crops would without permission walk into an orchard and help themselves, in the process damaging surrounding plants, the gate or boundary.
Taking action was futile. Eventually owners began wiping off any diversity and converted their lands to mango orchards. With the loss of diversity, came pests, the deterioration of soil and depletion of ground water. The heavy use of chemicals, especially in the 80s – 90s began taking its toll on the mango trees and the soil was dying.
Considering an average mango plant takes 10-15 years to provide a yield, we couldn’t afford to lose trees. Discussions introduced us to simple solutions like mulching, companion planting and chop and drop. With over 700 trees, fallen leaves and dung from wandering cows became a ready source of material for compost piles. Renewing and revitalizing soil became a mission, from the orchards to my window garden.
Back in the city, the barista at my office complex coffee shop became my new best friend. Ground coffee beans, otherwise ending up as waste, made great compost additions and feeders for flowers. Every few days, I’d receive a call from him – ‘sir maal tayaar hai’ and I’d be off to collect a silver bag of grounds.
10 years later, I now see changes. Once barren red earth, now shows luscious shades of green, with layers of fresh new soil, thick earthworms, a variety of fruits and flowers, but also the ground holding water instead of streams washing away soil.
What was once dying, is now coming back alive.
If only I had a dime for every time we were asked this question! In hindsight, it is only natural, especially when we keep saying we are landscape agnostic and don’t mind working with any kind of soil as long as there is soil. To pick one of the most biodiverse, water-rich pockets in India as our first prototype of food, water and power security seemed like the easiest thing to do. But honestly, Poomaale has been a tough battle from day one and here’s why.
WHEN IT RAINS, IT POURS.
Poomaale is located in Kakkabe Coorg just short of the Brahmagiri Range of the Western Ghats. These are the first set of hills that the monsoon hits. One has to experience them to really know what we mean. This season, we received approximately 7500mm of rain. That’s about 2.5 floors of rainwater. Considering our estate is a valley between three hills, imagine the deluge! With that kind of torrential rain hitting the earth, what keeps the soil together? How are the hills still standing? It is the forest that’s keeping it together. And where the forest has disappeared, the cracks are beginning to show in the form of landslides and floods.
As a firm, we have been very scientific in our approach at understanding this. The forest systems have around 7-8% carbon content in the soil. Every 1% carbon content in the soil increases its water holding capacity by around 750,000 litres per acre. At 8% carbon content, the soil is able to hold 6 million litres per acre, released gradually over time like a sponge. So while, in the Brahmagiri Range, water flowing down the hill slopes account for only 6.5 mt of annual precipitation, the coffee estates at its base have most of the water flowing down leading to erosion. Practically speaking, this is exactly why the Poomaale Estate has clear water in our monsoon streams while a few estates downstream, have muddy water. But how did we achieve it? For a start, we left half the estate wild, especially areas that were critical for ecosystem services – slopes, grasslands and stream beds.
Instead of growing just coffee, over the past 2 seasons, we have moved to a more diverse natural system and planted over 6000 plants to aid landscape diversity and supplement soil richness.
IN NATURE, DIVERSITY IS KING
The decision to diversify boiled down to asking, ‘Can we diversify gradually without compromising on the economic health’. From small experiments in a few 100 square feet to an entire block, we carried out different experiments to create gaps and plant other saplings. For a nutrition heavy plant like coffee, this meant taking a big hit on short term yield. While our neighbour was flooding urea into his soil and producing 20 bags per acre, we stayed content with just 2 bags per acre. Even over a 5 year horizon, our goal is to have around 3-5 bags an acre. What we really gain in the process are:
And by building our brand around it, Bewild Coffee hopes to be a value multiplier to bring us to the same financial health as our neighbour if not better.
DO A LITTLE LESS, BUT DO IT A LOT BETTER
We wanted to pick our battles. The estate was primarily Robusta coffee, while most retail coffee is a blend of Arabica with a touch of Robusta. Our inexperience with Arabica and its supposed lack of immunity to pests prevented us from doing so. Instead, we decided to develop a good tasting variant using just Robusta and only our Robusta. By focussing on the story behind the coffee and how we are adding to the soil and the ecosystem every single day, our goal is to create a new appreciation for responsibly grown coffee. Our new range of Bewild Coffee in 7 variants are being appreciated widely by our early adopters and hopefully will pave the way for economic viability.
All said and done, coffee, once introduced as a tree that is capable of growing in the canopy of dense jungles, has over the centuries, created a wall of estates that are miles away from the diversity that the Western Ghats are known for. Very few estates are willing to go sustainable in a true sense. We genuinely believe that we have to look beyond animal sightings and solar panels as a measure of how ecologically sensitive we are. It is high time and the cost of not going green is too high to rule that out as an option.
Did you know that Coffee is the 3rd most consumed drink after water and tea and the 2nd most traded commodity in the world after petroleum?
Mark Pendergrast’s ‘Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World’, tells the story of this magical bean from its discovery on a hill in Ancient Abyssinia and journey to different parts of the world, to the advent of big modern day coffee brands.
Get an in depth account of the competitive tactics used by coffee companies over the last 100+ years as well as the political and economic implications of its trade.
If you want an in depth look at the history of coffee, its journey from plantation to cup, the evolution of brewing techniques and instant coffee, this book covers it all while weaving the history of coffee in with the history of world.
In a small back alley in Tokyo lies a coffee shop called ‘Funiculli Funiculli’ which has been serving a carefully brewed coffee for more than a hundred years. This isn’t any ordinary café, but one that offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time.
But this experience doesn’t come without risks. Customers must sit in a particular seat, they can’t leave the cafe, and finally, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold. The consequences of breaking any of these rules drive many to give up the very idea of doing so.
In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, we meet four visitors hoping to make use of the café’s time-travelling offer in order to: confront the man who left them, receive a letter from their husband whose memory has been taken by early onset Alzheimer’s, to see their sister one last time, and to meet the daughter they never got the chance to know.
Grab a cup of hot coffee and time travel back in time on an emotional journey with the author … but make sure you get done before the Coffee Gets Cold.
We have always prided ourselves as being enablers to an intent and in offering a transparent participative structure to realise member aspirations.
Initiating any activity on ground only after the seed community shapes up, is one of the steps in this direction. This reduces the capital cost on the project and also allows us to focus on the main task as hand i.e. the rejuvenation of the eco-system and the shaping up of a like-minded community.
While the interest in the private estates at Balur has been consistently high, with more than 60 conversations going on; it has not materialised into prospective members issuing cheques of intent. As a result, we have not been able to close the seed community on this one.
The Balur Estate holds a special place in our heart. Being India’s oldest coffee plantation, this is a unique opportunity for members to own a piece of history and an unparalleled legacy. But in spite of what we feel as a firm, we took a decision to not pursue this opportunity beyond October 30th.
So if you have expressed interest but have some queries or concerns, please reach out to Vivekanand on +91 89206 19347 at the earliest and we will be happy to address them. Else, we will go back to the drawing board and think from scratch about a new collective in the hills of Chikmagalur.
This year’s wholesome monsoon has worked in our favour to keep the lake filled to the brim and the springs overflowing with water. We expect this flow to continue all the way to December – January.
Paddy farming in the backwaters of the lake seems like a good call and the crop so far is flourishing. The jowar experiment however hit a roadblock with stray cattle coming in and trampling the entire plot in one night. We have set up a night post in the middle of the field to guard against such incursions. The four hounds that we have added to the Hyderabad Collective family:
… will be night watchmen for now
The Veggie patch experiment over a small 1000sq yd plot has been a bumper success and is now catering to the needs of all 12 staff members on site. This season, we plan to expand this to around 2 acres and eventually to 8 acres. This should comfortably take care of the needs of 100 families.
The bio-fence is emerging beautifully with a close to 90% survival rate. The team has done a magnificent job by erecting a 2 feet tall stone and mud barricade on the rocky boundaries, where a bio fence was not possible. This barricade will be populated with thorny shrubs to strengthen the barricade and create a bio-fence of a different kind. To put things in perspective, the stone for the barricade had to be hand-carried by the staff. We are in the process of procuring some equipment, including a tractor and a power tiller, to make things easier for them.
The permaculture team has come up with a strategy for food production and we have decided on the backbone water pipeline. We have also applied for grid connectivity for the bore wells, which should materialise in the next month or two.
In the 17th century, a Sufi saint named Baba Budan, smuggled 7 coffee beans from the port of Mocha, Yemen and brought them to India, where he planted them along the slopes of the slopes of the Chandragiri Hills in Chikmagalur district in Karnataka.
Until then, coffee was exported to other parts of the world in a roasted or baked form so that no one else could grow their own and were forced to buy coffee from the Yemenis.
Later, the Dutch spread coffee cultivation with the British eventually making coffee a big commercial success by the mid-nineteen century. However, after the 1st World War, the Indian coffee economy fell into a deplorable state.
The British enacted the Coffee Act of 1942 and established a coffee board by the name of the ‘Indian Coffee Market Expansion Board’ as per Section 4 of the Indian Coffee Market Expansion Board Ordinance, 1940. Its main objective was to help promote research and education endeavours which could result in improving the quality and presence of Indian coffee.
Currently, the Indian Coffee Board falls under the purview of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Several efforts are being undertaken to bring it under the Agriculture Ministry so that the several benefits of the agriculture sector can also be extended to coffee growers.
At Beforest, we want to ensure that responsibly grown coffee reaches consumers in a pristine state. We are banking on some research, common sense and an expert Coffee Consultant to get through this phase with the least number of trials and errors.
Here are some interesting challenges we came across:
Moisture Content Of The Bean
Coffee is typically harvested in phases between November and March. Where and how the processed green beans are stored, affect its moisture content. Typically all green beans reach the roaster with up to 10%-12% moisture. Any higher, would mean a change in the roasting technique. It also means a loss of weight. A bag of 20 Kgs green beans would only produce 15-16 Kgs of roasted beans.
To address this, we are planning to upgrade the storage facilities at Poomaale. We have also procured green bags that can hold the moisture at original levels, be re-used several times to avoid waste and also be used for transporting.
Products And Variants
All coffee beans do not lend themselves to all coffee varieties. For e.g. Robusta coffee produced at Poomaale lends itself to premium Indian Filter Coffee. With a change in grind, we also now produce delicious variants of Cold Brew.
Sustainability and Packaging
To stay true to our values, we had to ensure our produce reached consumers in the most sustainable way, while keeping the price point in check. This meant we had to get deeply involved in the packaging process, along with labels. While food- grade biodegradable packaging solutions have made their way into India, Coffee-grade material is still at its nascent stages. While the current packaging makes use of recyclable and reusable packaging solutions, we are keenly on the lookout for completely biodegradable material.
The life cycle of coffee post – harvest requires an entirely different level of energy, commitment and mind set! No wonder planters stick to just the growing side of the spectrum!
With our network and size of operations, we firmly believe Bewild is in the right place to help Beforest and other farms following similar principles, reach consumers most effectively and efficiently. We are rearing to learn and take on challenges ahead!