For a couple of months we were members of farmizen, a service which I discontinued last month.
It is an app that let’s you rent out plot(s) in an organic farm for a monthly fee. You get to decide what is grown in your plot from the list of available crops, and once a week a doorstep delivery is made to your home of all that is harvested from your rented out space. The idea is that you get to appreciate what goes into farming, maybe learn a thing or two. The farm to home concept cuts the various levels of middlemen and thus the farmer gets a better deal. And you get freshest possible organic produce delivered to your doorstep.
The whole thing seemed like a great idea to me. I’ve been mildly interested in learning to grow edible plants and have a mini hobby garden in my balcony. But I signed up majorly because the condition of farmers in India is dismal to say the least. Farming is far from a lucrative profession, with news of farmer’s suicide and indebtedness always making headlines. I figured it could be a good model to try out for this reason. As for organic produce, I’m of two minds about it. The organic debate is not the point of this post, but bottom line is, I do not think organic is always better or most efficient use of resources. So that is not why I joined farmizen. The idea for me was:
- Get good quality fresh produce of my choice delivered to my home
- Pay the farmer better
- Learn a bit about farming and enjoy mini picnics at the farm
Three months down the line, I cancelled my subscription because I wasn’t really learning much due to time constraints. We visited the farm twice during the length of our subscription because the farm is quite far. While, the second goal was still being achieved, I wasn’t at all happy with the produce. The amount being paid per month could buy a lot more produce than we were getting, easily three times more.
But the main reason I opted out was that the whole process expects time from you. To choose what to grow, to keep a constant communication line open with the farmer (because the idea is you decide the fate of the plot and the plants in it, if you don’t pay attention it is left unattended), to visit the farm and experience the whole thing. It clicked me that the assumption here is that if we put our time and effort into this, that somehow makes it more valuable. I think the ‘Noble effort fallacy’ is applicable here, which basically suggests that it’s fallacious to think that something must be more valuable simply because someone has put a lot of effort into it. I also realized that I had to really try and take time out to do this, and therefore it was becoming more of a chore than a hobby and consistent failure to maintain the plot was making me feel guilty.
Other problems with the concept:
- The crops that do grow give bumper produce, for a month we got kilograms of eggplants, and only eggplants. There’s only so much one can eat. (We had 12 different beds in our plot and only 1 bed had eggplant. A few were greens, which were harvested in variable quantities, and rest of the beds weren’t yielding anything at the time).
- The crops that don’t grow/yield are just a lot of wasted effort (farmer’s labor, resources, etc.) and it isn’t always because of weather conditions. We had a case where lettuce crop wasn’t growing properly on our plot but was growing really well two plots down the line and the farmer suspected the direction of Sun to be the culprit. This was disappointing because something like this should have been corrected by putting up necessary shades, etc.
- Some crops like okra, bottle gourd need to be harvested twice a week or it overgrows and becomes inedible. Because the delivery is once a week, the harvesting happens once a week as well and you end up with bad crop. In hindsight, I did learn something about farming after all. 🙂
- The quantity of greens, and everything in general cannot be gauged in advance so it sometimes results in more food wastage.
- Maybe because they see that the harvest bag is empty, or maybe the farmers were inexperienced at farming or unaware of right time for harvesting, but I also received a lot of tiny carrots, tiny radishes which were impossible to peel and work with (I’m talking smaller and thinner than the smallest finger of my hand here).
- Some of the produce had insect holes or was partially damaged. Maybe that’s because it’s organic. But when you pay more and receive little, and some of it is damaged too, then it’s just not a good feeling. To be fair some of the produce is excellent quality as well.
- The App is nicely built but there are gaps. For example, the app suggests which crops would be good theoretically, but you still need to check with the farmer if you should indeed plant that i.e. is it a practical success at the farm? Often it isn’t and after a couple of weeks you’ll find that the farmer had to uproot the bad crop and the app then notifies you to choose another crop (while still showing the previous selection as an option in the list).
It’s possible that some of these points are regular occurrences in usual farms as well, and we just don’t see it when we buy from supermarket shelves. But I’m unsure if knowing all this makes one more or less likely to continue with the service. Personally, I found that farmizen isn’t the right fit for me. So I quit. I’d still like to pay the farmer better somehow. But I figure it could be done in some other, more efficient way that’s easier for me to sustain as well.
P.S. I did share most of the feedback above with farmizen folks because they asked for it. And I got a ‘thank you for writing the review’ mail back, with a suggestion to sign up for their fruits subscription instead as that might be a better fit.