Picking what to grow starts with understanding demand, and then planning for the same.
To track existing demand, we tap into data which shows us customer preference over time. We gauge what customers buy, how much, and how often, so that we may share relevant inputs with our farmers regarding both what, and how much needs to be grown.
For new consumer demand, we look into a bunch of factors. We start by observing food trends that matter to our consumers. For example, many of us have taken to eating salad regularly. In response to this, we increased the growth of spinach, capsicum, and other salad staples.
We also pay attention to the questions asked by our customers — about specific varieties and variants. It helps us understand what is gaining preference over time.
We plan for what to sow by mapping the customer preference against weather and soil conditions. For example, if we see demand for greens in the summer months, we grow them in greenhouses so as to counteract the heat and insufficient ground water supply faced by the region.
Once we know what to grow, and how much, the agronomy team refers to their database of managed farms, or scout for new farmer partners who fit the (very detailed) bill.
Farms are selected based on an extensive checklist which include criteria such as previous crop quality, yield, resources and farmer and worker experience and skill.
To bypass the shortfalls of crop seasonality, we aim to partner with polyhouses, which helps us provide consistent access to high quality produce even during off season.
Once the farms and farmers have been selected, the agronomy team engages in a 'mutual-benefit' dialogue with farmers. Here, both parties discuss costs, estimated yield, challenges, prep work, quality requirements, scheduled site-checks, fair prices, and much more. Only once both parties shake hands on all of the above, does the work begin.
We first help farmers figure out which seeds to use. Some farmers may need to start off by transplanting saplings, and we help them with the same from our own nursery located at the city outskirts.
Our agronomy team also works to ensure that the ‘seed to sapling’ and ‘sapling to flowering’ losses are as low as possible.
In traditional farming, typically for every 100 seeds sown a farmer, 75 of them would grow into plants. Approximately 15% would be lost due natural causes and another 10-15% would be lost due to disease or pest attacks.
With the inputs of our agronomy team and careful supervision of the sapling’s initial health, we have been able to increase the ‘flowering’ plants percentage from 75% to 85-90%.
Each plant has certain critical milestones of growth, such as when the sapling is supposed to sprout, when auxiliary stems are supposed to have grown, or by when pruning is supposed to begin.
These milestones determine whether the final fruit or vegetable will be of top quality or not. That’s why our agronomy team visits each farm during these milestones to ascertain progress and predict the quality of the final yield.
When saplings are examined, the percentage of healthy saplings can say a whole lot about what farmers should expect. If the percentage of healthy saplings is alarming, the agronomy team conducts a 'root-cause' assessment to determine what went wrong, and what can be fixed.
Similar checks are conducted at other stages, including checks for any kind of infestation or pre-emptive measures to prevent the same.
For all hydroponically grown fruits and vegetables, checks are conducted at different day-intervals as well, depending on the nature of the crop.
Good harvesting begins with on-ground monitoring and assessment right before the harvest. We take this very seriously, especially when working with first-time farmers.
The produce is checked for many things, including colour, shape, length, weight, etc and is classified accordingly.
Unlike standard practices, we at Deep Rooted.Co don’t burden farmers with the task of dropping off produce at collection centers, as perishables cannot survive so much handling. Our aim is to minimise the amount of hand-to-produce contact between the harvest and the home.
Additionally, by being able to do our own harvest assessment and selection on the farm site, we’re not only better able to assure quality control, but can also accurately estimate shortfall.
We first undertake a Field Quality Check after which many measures are implemented to ensure the safe transfer of produce. For example, we make sure that perishables, specially greens during summer months, are always collected in vehicles with in-built cold storage functionality.
Another example is that of spinach collection on-site, where our quality control process ensures that we do not pick up more than 6kgs in a crate. The spinach at the bottom is stacked with roots facing the left, whereas the spinach placed above is stacked with its roots facing the right. There are no more than 5 layers of spinach in a single crate, and each crate is covered with a wet gunny cloth to prevent water loss post harvest.
After the produce arrives at the warehouse, the second series of Quality Checks ensue. To maintain freshness, most greens have their roots intact up until the second quality check. After they clear this stage, the roots are cut off to make the produce more convenient for the consumer to use.
Most greens are grown within four key farms which lie 30-50KM from the Deep Rooted.Co warehouse. If the harvest is conducted between 3-5PM, the produce can then arrive at the warehouse by 7PM, after which the second stage of quality check is conducted. Produce is then stored overnight, and is ready to be sent out for delivery at 7AM - With all freshness intact.
The warehouse team follows strict guidelines to ensure all fruits and vegetables remain fresh till they reach you.
Greens are always packed in an ice-box, whereas produce which emit natural gases (and may hasten ripening in other fruit) is always packed separately.
Once the order-time cut-off (11PM) arrives, a representative moves the produce from the storage area to the packing area. Each packer is allotted a certain number of orders, but never too many, so as to maintain quality.
From when the orders are packed and stored, till about 4AM, the route planning is done by the logistics team.
After this, there’s one final round of checking before all the fresh produce is loaded onto the delivery trucks.
The entire process of delivering super fresh and clean fruits and vegetables within 16-20 hours is complete thanks to the meticulous planning and screening that we do at Deep Rooted.Co!