In India’s magical north, a revolution in farming is profoundly transforming the community. Lucknow was a region where desperate farmers were taking their lives. But today, in this place where organic agriculture was unheard of and teas made from the holy basil leaf were becoming rare, a company combining ethical business practices with the ancient wisdom of India is helping the whole area to thrive.
Kailashnath Singh had farmed his lush green ancestral farmlands in the village of Kamhenpur for decades until toxic agro chemicals permeated his crop, devastating the land. He said this had a massive impact. “We couldn’t farm our land and myself and many of the villagers were faced with terrible poverty and illness.” The farmers became hopeless and despairing. The future seemed bleak. Then Kalaishnath heard of a new group wanting to work in partnership with local farmers so he attended a meeting with other farmers and was presented with a vision of new organic farming possibilities in the area. “At first we found it difficult to understand organic farming and we didn’t want to give up on our traditional crops.” They were telling us to start farming Tulsi and no-one farmed Tulsi. It was a big risk for us.” But eventually Kalaishnath decided to give it a go, trusting the promise of higher returns through the organic farming of the sacred herb Tulsi. He became the first farmer in the area to convert his land to organic and start growing the herb. It was hard work cleaning the land and water of chemicals, but a team of experts were there to help him.
Kailashnath’s leap of faith paid off and after three harvests his farm was certified organic and Tulsi has grown into a thriving crop which supported all his needs and provided for his family. Pretty soon more local farmers followed the path to organic and today in Kamhenpur, the air is filled with the sweet aromatic basil scent of pure Tulsi. The farmers are regenerating the earth and feel more connected to their crop of organic tulsi and medicinal herbs. Fourteen years after he sowed the first Tulsi seeds, the village is now prosperous. Now it has deep wells, a medical clinic, and sacred Tulsi fields for future generations to tend to and flourish.
Founded in 1997 by Bharat Mitra and Bhavani Lev, ORGANIC INDIA started with a vision to be a vehicle of consciousness. Inspired by their spiritual teacher, Papaji, to create a conscious business, Bharat Mitra and Bhavani nurtured this vision and started a tea company with a difference; a business merging spirituality, environmental practices and community values. At the heart of ORGANIC INDIA is the commitment to be a living embodiment of love and consciousness in action.
Bharat Mitra and Bhavani created ORGANIC INDIA to be “an inspiring, trustworthy and innovative global leader in providing genuine organic products and solutions for healthy conscious living.”
The company aims to be a vehicle of consciousness in the global market by creating a holistic, sustainable business model that inspires, promotes and supports true wellness. They have taken a radical and uncompromising approach to business.
“Business, in its true essence, is a vehicle to add value to society, to humanity, to the planet. Profits come as a by-product of fulfilling its mission,” says Bharat.
While some may scoff at a conscious business based on spiritual and ethical principles, today ORGANIC INDIA is a successful international company, exporting their products to over 40 countries and with over 40 stores and specialist Wellness Centres in collaboration with FabIndia and US Wholefoods. The popular and signature Tulsi tea range is known all over the world and has broadened to include Ayurvedic medicines and health supplements.
“In the name of success and to generate profit the corporate world has and is inflicting suffering and destruction on humanity and the earth. Most of us accept it as normal, but it is not! Many of us understand that a change is needed. We also need to understand that the change will not come to us, but must come from us.” – Bharat Mitra.
A vision starts a movement
ORGANIC INDIA is centred around the herb Tulsi, one of the pillars of the Indian healing system of Ayurveda and revered throughout India as the Queen of herbs. The company bought the first international organic certification in India and truly started an organic revolution in farming across the country.
“We were blessed to meet one of the world’s greatest integrative doctors, enlightened scientist and researcher, Dr Narendra Singh, who in the most generous and incredible way provided us with 40 years of his studies and research about herbal medicine and about Tulsi. Tulsi is an adaptogenic herb, one of the most incredible life sustaining herbs that we have on this planet. As we learned more about it, it was a real natural evolution to be a vehicle to bring Tulsi to the world.”
With a commitment to the highest quality possible, Bharat Mitra and Bhavani quickly realised they would need to grow the herbs themselves to ensure the purity and best quality. Pretty soon they were faced with the reality of the massive problems facing Indian farmers due to the greed of corporations who were manipulating farmers and creating chemical devastation.
Their idea was simple: 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 onto future generations. This idea became a movement as organic and biodynamic farming methods were developed and practiced.
“It was a calling from the heart, rather than to fight the injustice, there was a calling to be part of the solution and to co-create a model that will transform and transcend this reality into one which is reflecting the true nature of Oneness and the truth of who we are, to support the Earth, to support the farmers, to support the company and our customers. This was the beginning of a real magical journey that brought us to now.”
But, it wasn’t all smooth sailing, there were challenges in getting organic certification in a country where organic didn’t exist. There were also the initial challenges of getting the farmers to grow Tulsi instead of rice or wheat. ORGANIC INDIA educated farmers in the use of non-toxic pesticides and regenerative agricultural practices. After three years of growing Tulsi they were met with the setback of a chemical company giving some of their farmers, what they called “medicine” to support the crops to grow better and they lost their organic certification for a time. But despite all of this they achieved organic certification, being the first group to do so in India, starting an unstoppable organic movement.
In the company’s fourth year of growing Tulsi there was a huge flood in the area and all the farms were filled with plastic and garbage. The entire company from the executive, accountants and salespeople chose to travel by bus to the fields, and for a week everyone cleaned the fields, sleeping in tents.
“Fear and greed have been the two tools in the corporate world for performance. But actually happiness, love, fulfilment, dignity, respect, purpose are such more powerful than just greed and fear,” says Bharat Mitra.
And in spite of a drought the following year, the power of organic became quickly apparent, with the ORGANIC INDIA farmers producing a far tougher, resilient, nutrient filled and robust crop. In fact the organic crops also had a far greater yield than other crops.
Farmer, Shankar Pratap Singh shares how in his area for many years farmers used poisonous chemical pesticides, ignoring warnings on the pesticide packaging and feeling there was something very wrong. He says some of the farmers even developed health problems and one farmer died.
“ORGANIC INDIA educated us and taught us about pesticides that were not harmful and can be made completely naturally using Neem leaves, manure, Kowa leaves and Datura leaves, red chilli and garlic and tobacco leaves. We make this mixture and turn it into a powder and use it to help our crops grow strong and healthy. The mix can also double up as a fertilizer. And we have great results with what they taught us and we put into practice. All the tulsi farmers in the area use this mix and nobody buys any pesticides from the market anymore. I want every village to know about this. I want this to spread all over the country. There should be no district, no farmer left that does not know about this.”
Not only has ORGANIC INDIA started a revolution in organic farming in India, but the company also supports the empowerment of women, training and employing hundreds of women farmers who might otherwise be denied the opportunity to earn a livelihood. ORGANIC INDIA provides them with equal pay and equal opportunities as men. At the ORGANIC INDIA processing plant in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh, 95% of the over 200 people working there are women.
Rajeshwari works on one of ORGANIC INDIA’s rose farms and was one of the first women to start working on the farm, over 12 years ago. Today there are many women working there. Rajeshwari says she enjoys the work a lot and especially enjoys coming together with the other women who work there: “We laugh, we sing, we do a lot of things … if we get a chance we even play a drum.” She’s grateful for the work and has now been able to provide a house for her family, is able to support herself and also educate her children.
The Power Of Regeneration
In this sustainable and conscious business, regeneration does not stop with the land, it is also about regenerating communities. ORGANIC INDIA’s herbs are grown on thriving farms that operate in a way that benefits small family farmers, their communities, consumers, and the planet.
ORGANIC INDIA CEO and Managing Director, Abhinandan Dhoke says the model is one where everyone is in a win-win situation.
“The unique thing about my team is that they are never tired. Passion and love drive them.”
Today ORGANIC INDIA provides a life of dignity and training for thousands of small family farmers and tribal wild crafters. Tens of thousands of acres of land has been regenerated and the company sustainably gathers herbs from over half a million acres of certified forests throughout India. According to Bharat Mitra, when you work with the intention of supporting the good of all, a powerful alchemy occurs.
“We put the fire in people’s hearts, not under them. This is an entirely new paradigm for business … It’s business that comes from connection, and community, that benefits all, and is still profitable.”
This conscious way of conducting business is one that focuses on benefit for all, not just profit.
“With every purchase, ORGANIC INDIA customers enjoy the healing benefits of our products while supporting the environment, the farmers, the communities that grow them, the employees who produce them, and the land that nourishes us all. In this way, our holistic business model creates no separation between profit and purpose, and ‘doing well’ is ‘doing good’. We call this “True Wellness”. – Bhavani Lev.
The ORGANIC INDIA Foundation provides health care services to all farmers and villagers in need of medical assistance and treatment, providing education for women’s health & infant care, as well as vocational training to encourage self-reliance.
Bharat Mitra and Bhavani’s guru invited them to start a private limited company. At the time they had no idea what this would actually mean. Today they have been successful in bringing an organic revolution to India that supports thousands of families, along with their communities. From its humble beginnings over 22 years ago, ORGANIC INDIA is an amazing embodiment of the magic that happens when a business is driven by a purpose that is deeper than just making money.