Updated: May 23, 2021
As we sit on the platform, in a small town in Rajasthan, waiting for the train to arrive and take us back home we can’t help but notice the relentless joy and an evident sense of complacency we feel albeit spending two hectic days in Rajasthan. After braving multiple farm visits in scorching heat and sampling cumin we were ecstatic to finally zero down on our cumin farmer.
This sourcing trip has bitter-sweet memories. Whilst 2021 found us struggling with the second wave of the pandemic, even worse this time, traveling was nothing but gnarly and a tad bit scary, to be honest. With movement restrictions imposed all across the country, crossing borders wasn’t easy but we were determined that we couldn’t miss the opportunity to witness the much-awaited spring harvest of cumin and personally sample the best of the lot for you all.
We started the day early at 7 in the morning, a super long day lay ahead of us. As we started walking towards the taxi stand to meet our pilot (that's what we prefer to call him and he loved it) for the day who’d gladly agreed to take us around villages, after about a mile we found ourselves distracted at the sight of crispy kachoris being made so skilfully at a small local street shop, fresh outta the frying pot. We headed there right away for a quick breakfast and for a brief moment we were knocked out by its swooning aroma. We took a bite and our taste buds were overwhelmed with an incredible flavor of whole cumin and coriander. Guess it’s safe to say that it was the best kachori we’d ever had, it was so darn good. In that very moment we knew this place won’t disappoint us and we’d lay my hands on the best cumin that there is.
Anyway, we don’t want to turn this into a food blog so let’s proceed.
We visited about 4 farmers on day 1 of our trip and the cumin samples just kept getting better and better. Cumin requires a cool and dry climate. It can not survive high humidity and heavy rainfalls making this arid region of Rajasthan suitable for its cultivation.
Interestingly, what we observed was that all the farmers there practice rainwater harvesting. The water table in this part of Rajasthan is depleting rapidly leaving farmers with no choice but to resort to alternative means of irrigation. This is further fuelled by increasing demand for water and growing concerns of water scarcity. Rainfall in this region is also erratic and thus rainwater harvesting not only enables the farmer to be less dependent on it but also helps to divert heavy rainfall from reaching agricultural lands, thereby protecting crop plants from getting damaged. Furthermore, the use of soft water from rainwater harvesting can help to reduce farmers' operating costs. Rainwater is also used as a source of drinking water for livestock and is so much better compared to chlorinated water. We can testify that since we had a glass or two ourselves. :p
By the end of the day, we had a bag full of cumin samples, a tummy full of freshly plucked berries from trees, and a perplexed hotel manager who couldn't understand why his lobby smelled of cumin.
The following day we had another 3 farm visits. Surprisingly, the people living in villages were in complete denial of the whole Covid-19 situation. Nobody was wearing masks, we were literally the odd one out. People sat together enjoying meals, playing cards, chit-chatting and it felt like 2019 pre-covid. Honestly, that sight was such a reliving escape from the distressing reality we were otherwise exposed to back in Delhi. It was 1 PM and we had just arrived at Dhanveer’s. His farm is small compared to all others we had seen. He’s got a huge catchment area for rainwater harvesting and solar panels to make up for the lack of electricity. He was talkative, had a peculiar Rajasthani accent that sometimes we found hard to catch, he didn’t understand us either so our conversations had long pauses followed by inevitable laughter, the entire family engaged in decrypting our dialogues most of the time. When we tasted the cumin from his farm our eyes widened with joy because we knew we had found our cumin farmer. His cumin had a warm, earthy flavour and aroma with a bit of both sweetness and bitterness.
Even though we loved the produce of another farmer we had met the day before, we had an unceasing urge to associate with Dhanveer. He seemed humble, genuine and we truly wanted to work with him. Dhanveer has been practicing organic farming for 3 years now but he doesn’t have a lot of buyers. Due to lack of demand, he ends up selling his organic produce in the commodity market at a very low price. This discouraged him from continuing organic farming but we had resolved to help him keep going and never look back.
Sun-dried cumin almost ready to be harvested
Dhanveer was recently introduced to intercropping which is a venerable agricultural technique. It offers so many benefits like saving space, more efficient use of resources, ensuring better yields, repelling pests, reducing weeds, and of course enhanced biodiversity and ecological stability. After spending an hour at the farm we left for his home and were greeted with vibrant smiles and the most exquisite lunch awaited us. Gigantic bajra rotis, ker sabzi, yummiest atta halwa with oodles of ghee and lassi(hand-churned buttermilk) with freshly ground cumin, it was divine. By the time we were done with lunch and exchanging life stories it was 4:30. What followed next was a bike ride with Dhanveer around the village and back to the city. We reached our hotel covered in dust, almost sunburnt and as we called it a day we smiled and thought to ourselves damn, we wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world.
Interested in seeing what we got for ya? Check it out here: Single-Origin Desert Cumin