A 40-minute drive from the bustling cultural hub of Jodhpur, a tractor ride leads you into the heart of Mharokhet, a farm that belies all expectations of what you'd expect in the middle of the Thar desert. In this sun-soaked, arid land, Rajnush and Vedika Agarwal, with their handy farm workers, grow 83 different types of fruits and vegetables, bringing to life a unique farm-to-fork experience that stays with you long after you've left the lush fields.
Home and Hearth
The 40-acre farm has been in the Agarwal family for over 30 years; while Rajnush and his family have a business that supplies machinery for stone processing, his biomolecular engineering background regardless, he has always found the farm to be his space. Mharokhet found its roots in the pandemic, where a drive to escape the confines of their house drove the Agarwals to their farm on the outskirts of the city. Propelled by their love for food, they started experimenting with exotic vegetables, many of which were unheard of in this region.
"The farm, for us, has always been a place of tranquillity and union. We have always grown a large variety of products at the farm but only for our consumption. The Covid-19 pandemic made people more conscious about their health, bringing forward the farm's commercial promise. People wanted to consume fresh (hence local) whilst also becoming more conscious about the source of supply. So we started Mharokhet in November 2020 as a direct-to-consumer service, delivering fresh produce (specialising in exotics) across Jodhpur that consumers could receive within four hours of harvest," Rajnush tells us as he guides our motley group of five through the guava orchards. The produce is ripe for the picking, while the pomegranates have a few weeks to go. The superiority of their produce and burgeoning demand in the local community to visit the farm spurred the duo to start immersive experiences for guests in 2021.
Farm-To-Fork, And More
At Mharokhet, visitors from far come for guided tours, often staying back for the elaborate, plant-forward seven-course meals that separate them from other culinary experiences. While "organic" is the buzzword, Vedika says it is a highly misunderstood term. Instead, they believe in farming which is responsible (using no harmful chemical additives), regenerative (leaving the land in a better condition than they found it in) and promotes polyculture (growing a wide variety of crops and plants in the fields).
On the farm tour, we walk through fields filled with lemons the size of oranges and sip on Moringa chai that helps us dust off the travel fatigue. Even though it's December, the sun is sharp. Even as the sand continues to fill our shoes, it is hard to believe that a desert could support exotic fruits and vegetables. Rajnush guides us into the greenhouse, where we are greeted by women busy tending to the plants with almost meticulous precision. From swiss chard to jalapenos and strawberries, neat rows of plants and vegetables delight us, and many appear on our dinner table later that evening. The farm also has a seed bank, where meticulous records of the produce ensure the farm has various exotic plants adapted to the land with continuous efforts.
The cynosure of this experimental farm is the seven-course meal, best savoured on a leisurely evening. The Agarwals, with their innate passion for experimental cooking, chose the culinary experience to introduce visitors to the perfect farm life.
The menu is dynamic; the day's harvest determines it, but the hero of the dish is always a plant. "The thrill is in constant recipe innovation and thinking outside the box. One of our most appreciated courses is a soy-braised honey-glazed cabbage served on a large Swiss chard leaf with an Indonesian-inspired peanut sauce (read: bumbu kacang)," Rajnush tells us as we enter the guava orchard, where a table surrounded by fruiting trees awaits us. Baby corns and carrots turn into Michelin-star entrees and the dessert, aptly named "crumble from the top" gives us a chance to savour the guava, once again.
Sun and Sustainability
A walk around the farm also lets us appreciate the love and care that has seeped into the estate's core operations. Mharokhet takes its commitments as a farm very seriously. The most significant scarcity, no guesses here, is water. "To conserve water, we use 'trickle-drip-irrigation'; this only irrigates the immediate vicinity of the plant (as opposed to the entire field) and reduces our water consumption by a staggering 60%! We are experimenting now with bio-dissolvable hydrogels to increase soil moisture levels and further reduce the need to water plants," explains Rajnush. Locals in the vicinity are also free to collect water from the farm for their personal needs.
Biopesticides and biofertilisers have replaced chemicals in the field. Natural ingredients such as garlic, onion, clove, asafoetida, chilly, neem and fermented buttermilk ensure soil fertility and health. What's also heartening to see is that most of the workers on the farm are women who work flexible hours. This is why the dinners at Mharokhet wrap up pretty early, leaving us free to spend our evening flying kites, whisking in the aroma of chamomile from the nearby plantation and chatting up the locals, who are always eager to teach us more about this farm.
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