Micro greens and macro joys: Nithin Sagi
It’s photography that took Nithin Sagi into the world of food. Then he took the road less travelled to grow micro greens and edible flavours that adorn plates in the most fashionable restaurants.
Through the lens
Nithin Sagi is not your conventional farmer. For one thing, he used to teach mathematics at a high level before. He’s done a stint in the corporate world, in IT. And, what’s more, he’s a passionate photographer, with a special affinity for turning ingredients and platters of food into images that capture the deliciousness of it all.
In fact, it’s his expertise in food photography that indirectly paved the way for him to realize a long-time dream. “My stint in IT was very short,” says Nithin. “I quit to take up photography, specializing in food photography.” That’s a very specific genre and it brought Nithin into close contact with several of Bangalore’s top chefs who often used his services to capture the essence of their food.
A dream getaway
Meanwhile, he and partner Hamsa V were straining at the leash to leave the city and find work and satisfaction far from the madding crowd. “We wanted to give up the urban life and all that comes with it,” says Nithin. They were looking for a rural experience and farming seemed the natural thing to take up in a place far removed from Bangalore, its noise, pollution and frenetic pace of life.
It was while this need to get away was growing stronger that Nithin happened to be having a chance conversation with Chef Manu Chandra of Olive Beach, who also went to create Monkey Bar and Fatty Bao. “He was bemoaning the fact that micro greens and edible flowers, now used by gourmet restaurants to garnish their foods, were so hard to come by. I shared with him my plan to take up farming and he suggested why not start growing micro greens,” says Nithin.
Sending forth shoots
Thus was born Growing Greens, Nithin and Hamsa’s project on the outskirts of Bangalore to grow a range of micro greens, from mustard to pea shoots, amaranth, beets and more. These tiny shoots, often pretty and multi-hued, don’t just freshness and colour to plates of food, they also impart flavours from sharp to subtle. Soon news of Growing Greens spread in chef and restaurateur circles and demand began to grow. Hamsa, who had also quit her corporate career to become a grower of mini greens, and Nithin found the assurance they were looking for that they were on the right path and had been justified in chasing their passion.
Turning a passion into a pay cheque
The accomplishments were ever sweeter, given that there was a great deal of scepticism from friends and even family when they first announced they were stepping off the beaten track to follow their passions. “We wanted to be close to nature and this was an ideal way to achieve that,” Nithin says. Growing Greens now supplies to an array of fine-dining restaurants and they have also begun to grow edible flowers which are another big gourmet trend. Next time you admire a nasturtium adorning your dessert, it could well have come from Nithin Sagi’s farm. Encouraged by the reception for their produce, Nithin now wants to expand the farm and add more produce.
If they feel a sense of achievement and are able to enjoy the pleasure of pursuing their passions, Nithin and Hamsa have also had to struggle hard because working with nature is not always easy. There are the vagaries of weather, pests and a host of other imponderables they have had to deal with, learning as they went along.
Lessons from Nature
But, like most people who dare to chase their passion even against seemingly large odds, Nithin feels the journey has been hugely rewarding and entirely worthwhile. “There are chefs like Abhijit Saha of Fava and Caperberry who’ve crafted dishes entirely out of microgreens, such as a mixed micro green salad tossed at the table. It gives me the greatest joy to know that we are enhancing the dining pleasure of so many people and fuelling the creatively of chefs, too. Meanwhile, we get to live the dream life, away from city stress,” says the smart and passionate entrepreneur.
It may be a dream life, but you have to stay real, believes Nithin. “Often, you have a certain vision. But when a project actually takes shapes, reality will kick in and you will have to deal with that.”
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