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047: Tons Valley- How to grow a socially conscious marketplace by Shubhra Chatterji (Day 2 SFW)

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

When the COVID-19 pandemic crippled the heavily tourist-reliant villages of the Tons Valley, Uttarakhand, Shubhra Chatterji and her husband Anand Sankar decided to help the local community by selling boxes of apples online. Their backgrounds in journalism and culinary documentation helped them tell stories of the lives behind these apples. As Kurush informed us, these apples were incidentally introduced in Himachal Pradesh by an American Gandhian Satyananda (Samuel Evans) Stokes Jr. in the early 1900s. Shubhra and Anand built on their 7 year long sustained work with shepherds, women farmers and children from these 37 villages and began posting on social media.

Image credit: Preeti Narula on Unsplash

The impromptu relief effort by the duo eventually gave birth to their “pandemic baby” - the Tons Valley Shop. Through this online marketplace, they make available local produce and products such as apples, rajma, dal, rice, ghee, salt and garlic across India. The proceeds from the sales in turn support, educate and empower residents of this remote community 4 kms from the Tibet border through the efforts of the Kalap Trust. With their attention to quality, they have found 70% repeat customers.

Yesterday, Shubhra (and towards the end Anand) shared the challenges of starting and growing a social enterprise. Sealing machines that run on a generator, packaging that needs to be transported from Gujarat, a seven hour bumpy ride to the nearest service centre and hospital, customers who insist on glass jars, state laws not conducive to ciders and rats that don’t eat rajma! All the while trying to maintain a balance between spending and saving and between cynicism and idealism.

The biggest reward for their work though has been in building an identity for food from the Tons Valley. Shubhra beamed with pride as she recalled how the locals have now started valuing their home produce, and not aspiring for maggi noodles. She quoted a local farmer as remarking in Hindi “hum bhol jate hai, sheharo mein yehi chahate hain” (we sometimes forget (the value) at home, but everyone from the cities want (our) produce). The pandemic has forever changed the way we value food, the way we see food supply chains, and has made to some degree transparent the immense ecosystem that brings food from the orchards and farms to our urban tables.

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