By Michael Rosenkrantz
“It’s ok if vegetables are less green. People are used to (buying) shiny things, but don’t know what they’re eating.” Shoba Rayamajhi, owner/manager 1905 Restaurant Farmers’ Market
In Kathmandu, more “westernized” styles of farmers markets, although still in their infancy, are slowly becoming part of the landscape, the most successful being the 1905 Restaurant in Thamel, followed by the new Yellow House Market in Sanepa, the Trisara Restaurant Market in Lazimpat, the Hotel Summit Organic Market and a new market at Flavors Restaurant in Boudha. As a person who has been intimately involved with US farmers’ markets, I can’t say enough about my love and passion for these delectable social/economic entities. In my travels, especially in India and Nepal, I’m always on the look-out for any kind of fresh food market which is a large part of the tens of thousands of photographs I’ve taken. I enjoy shopping at more local, daily markets, for what I consider to be fresher food, than at mega-box stores in the US. However, many of these stores have taken a page from farmers’ markets, e.g. Whole Foods, due to customers changing palettes for fresher foods.
There are many reasons why I love markets as they’ve always been an integral part of the history of human beings. Markets are a place to not only purchase food and other items, but also provide a connection with others, to build and share community. When I interviewed Los Angeles shoppers and vendors in my summer 2008 research for Market Umbrella, people consistently indicated how important “their” market was for building community. Even in the car “crazy” culture of Los Angeles people came to markets to connect and feel a sense of belonging.
Markets can help to build and empower the communities which they are located in and this should not be taken for granted. Creating “ownership” on the part of customers, vendors and market coordinators/managers is vital to success. There is little doubt that markets help people become more connected to their communities and market managers need to be mindful of this and constantly think about how to also connect with the larger community, e.g. having community message boards, information about community events and newsletters at the market.
Markets, of course, are all about fresh food, the colors and smells of fruits and veggies, conceivably picked that morning, the taste of fresh sauces and baked goods, cheese, fish, and free-range organic meats. Markets are truly democratic institutions and egalitarian with all types of people, rich and poor, different ethnic groups being on equal footing. In fact, in the US special incentives are provided to those who are poor in order to encourage them to shop at farmers’ markets.
Markets are all about hearing your favorite local musicians or seeing your favorite performers. As markets become more deeply rooted in a community and continue for longer periods of time, they become part of our larger family traditions, passing these on to the next generation, something that lasts forever. Markets offer the opportunity to learn about other cultures and enable education, e.g. the positives around choosing organic, finding a new recipe, how to make the planet a better place; they are the essence of acting locally, while thinking globally.
Farmers’ markets not only bring fresh, organic, nutritious food to urban dwellers, but can also turn underutilized public spaces into community gathering places. Markets have also been used as a place in which NGOs, as well as community based businesses, create awareness regarding their social mission, reinforcing a sense of community, e.g. in the Kathmandu markets I observed the KAT Centre, SAATH, Tipling Basket Weavers and the fact that the Trisara Market was started a number of months ago, organized by Pushpa Basnet of Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC), as a method for generating funds for this NGO. At Flavor’s Café and Restaurant employees include Persons with Disability, as well as, supporting an NGO helping Street Dogs This shows a real social consciousness on the part of the restaurants hosting the markets. Markets are also about incubating businesses, trying out new ideas and products.
Unlike the majority of markets in the US, those in Kathmandu are held on private property and could be viewed as a method for increasing opportunities for the main business, e.g. a restaurant. However, it might be difficult at this point to locate farmers’ markets in public spaces in Kathmandu due to government bureaucracy and/or no regulations regarding this type of activity. This may have also never been tried.
Because of their locations, the Kathmandu markets seemed generally geared towards establishments that focus on ex-pats. Although I was told that there has been outreach to Nepalis. As Shoba Rayamajhi the Owner/Market Manager of 1905 told me, one of her biggest challenges is getting Nepalis to shop at the Market. On more than one occasion I was told that the products being offered were not necessarily eaten on a large scale by Nepalis and also that the prices were higher than in local markets, which is comparable to the US. Rayamajhi indicated that the higher prices seemed to be related to fuel costs, as well as, the fact that organic farms were much smaller in scale than those growing for mass markets. However, in general, people native to this part of the world, unlike most Americans who shop at mega food stores, are used to shopping at smaller neighborhood markets or buying from street vendors. But as also witnessed by the establishment of Big Mart, Saleways and Bhat-Bhateni stores, there is some movement towards a more westernized style of one stop shopping, leading away from more traditional markets. (Pemba (Sangam) Sherpa of the Organic Farmhouse, who had a stall at the Flavor’s Market, indicated that he was selling his lettuce at Bhat-Bhateni). There is also a great need to educate people about the benefits of eating organic foods, something which takes a long time. In some sense this is very ironic, in that, before large scale chemical companies, all foods grown were organic.
According to the US based Farmers’ Market Coalition: “A farmers market operates multiple times per year and is organized for the purpose of facilitating personal connections that create mutual benefits for local farmers, shoppers and communities. To fulfill that objective farmers markets define the term local, regularly communicate that definition to the public, and implement rules/guidelines of operation that ensure that the farmers market consists principally of farms selling directly to the public products that the farms have produced.”
As people have become more concerned about what they eat and somewhat move away from factory farming, the number of community based farmers’ markets in the US has increased exponentially from 1,755 in 1994 to more than 8,000 in 2013. This is also based on movements for real food, such as Slow Food, Edible Gardens and community and school gardens. All of these movements have tremendous implications for Nepal, in growing and maintaining fresh food and keeping away from that which is mass produced. A good example of this are the number of “kitchen gardens” and growing food even in Kathmandu city. Additionally, Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), the INGO that brought me to Nepal, is using school gardens and organic growing methods as an entrée point for working with communities which has potential implications for health, education and livelihoods in breaking the cycle of poverty.
I recently went to a number of Kathmandu based markets and talked with organizers/managers, shoppers and vendors. At the markets one can see an entire age range of people, shopping, talking, eating and enjoying. However, one of the concerns that I had was whether or not the markets were geared towards Nepalis or ex-pats, as a method for attracting them to an established business.
The Kathmandu Markets are all somewhat similar in their roots, e.g. the Yellow House Market started in October, 2013 was a way to help people make the connection between the organic breakfast started some eight months ago, and the farmers growing/producing vegetables and fruit. The 1905 Market was started in 2010 in order to provide an outlet for selling organic produce, meats and cheese. As noted by the Trisara Market Manager Arun Shrestha, this market was started in order to support the NGO ECDC, but is also a platform for providing local organic products. The Summit Hotel Market touts itself as the first organic market in Kathmandu. According to Anil Yonzon Director of the Flavors Market, the idea was to create an outlet for promoting organic products in Boudha.
Nayantara Gurung Kakshapati, the Yellow House Market Director told me that there is a growing interest in organic and local produce and that there are not enough outlets for these products. Kakshapati decided to open the Yellow House Market because there weren’t many markets in the southern part of Kathmandu. (The market at New Orleans Restaurant closed). She has visited markets in the US, e.g. Northampton, Massachusetts area as she attended Mt. Holyoke College and has also traveled to Europe, noting one of her favorites as the Turkish Market in Berlin.
The Yellow House Market, regularly has about 15 vendors. During December the market also allowed non-food vendors, e.g. an NGO selling hand knit clothing and a book seller. Kakshapati hopes to allow non-food vendors two or three times/year and also help to promote NGOs, something which is common in US community based farmers’ markets. Although I noticed primarily ex-pat customers, who might eat their breakfast, listen to the live music and then shop, the majority of vendors were Nepali. Most likely the farms employed Nepalis which is a direct job creation benefit of enabling farmers to have more outlets such as weekly markets. There is also a low entrance fee, enabling farmers to have direct access to customers without losing profit to middlemen.
Kakshapati told me that, “Our market is based on the haat bizarre which are held outside of urban areas and occur on a weekly basis. We are trying to open the market to more Nepalis, and since we are located in a residential area, we have gone door-to-door with flyers advertising the market.” Kakshapati felt that more Nepalis want chemical free foods.
Organic Certification Nepal (OCN) has been doing some organic certification. However next year the Ministry of Agriculture through the National Organic Agriculture Accreditation Body (NOAAB) will be working with OCN and a Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) to ensure that farmers, or groups of farmers can receive an organic certification certificate. This is good news for consumers who will be assured that products touting as being organic, are in fact at this quality level. But the government should also ensure that only locally produced products can be sold at the market, e.g. one could purchase Indian wine at three of the markets. There might also be farm inspections conducted by individual markets to determine how “organic” products actually are grown.
There can be a tension between allowing jobbers, i.e. middlemen, those that don’t necessarily grow/produce the product and actual farmers/producers selling what they grow/produce which general market rules could regulate. Shoba Rayamajhi, the 1905 owner/manager noted that she wanted to ensure that at 1905 the actual farmers were making money as opposed to middlemen
Similar to the US, there is a need to encourage the younger generation to become farmers. Kakshapati said that, “Many youngsters don’t want to farm, but we need to make farming a cool thing to do. Urban youth seem to be getting more interested in farming with small markets being an outlet and creating community. We need to build the profile of farming as a legitimate profession.” An example of this is the SriJana Farm in Palpa.
When I visited the Trisara Market, although new, there were very few customers, never a good sign for a market. There was a very inviting hand painted farmers’ market sign on the road, but the actual market was located deep inside the restaurant. The question then becomes how do farmers’ markets, market themselves. Arun Shrestha noted that he is using Facebook and trying to attract regular Restaurant customers to the market. However, something which might help would be to have the market and its vendor mix viewable from the main road. (It also didn’t help that the road was in a state of disrepair for a long period of time). This same idea could also be undertaken by other markets, creating better marketing and “inviting” potential customers into the markets. Having the right vendor mix, where customers can do one stop shopping is also extremely important. One thing I observed was that none of the markets sold fish or flowers.
The most successful market in Kathmandu is located at the 1905 Restaurant. Shoba Rayamajhi told me that since her family owned a farm, and that she knew both Nepalis and ex-pats who were interested in organic products, she wanted to create a space for direct connection for these products with consumers. Rayamajhi is very serious about the 1905 Market and has sacrificed bigger parties and the revenues these might have brought, for holding the market every Saturday, rain or shine, monsoon or not. Rayamajhi looks for products that are organic, but in consumer products, e.g. jewelry or pottery, she looks for those that are creative and environmentally friendly, creating a very balanced vendor mix.
Rayamajhi understands food movements, value chains and a bigger picture perspective starting with branding her more than 100 year old family farm, Dhokadi, creating a farm stay, further connecting people to the place in which their food is grown. She also wants to create a model village, based on good farming practices. The farm grows, among other things, unbleached wheat, mustard and flack seed and buckwheat. They also raised free range turkeys for Thanksgiving. She spoke to me about Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and working with the Government in bringing these to Nepal. But she feels that more awareness needs to be created, growing more in Nepal and not importing as much food from other countries.
I also spoke with a number of vendors to to get their opinions. Gaurav Khadka, a young farmer selling a variety of organic produce at the 1905 market and working at his multi-generational family farm, Appropriate Agriculture Alternative in Bhaktapur, told me that his family employs 45 people. Sushil Khanal has been farming for nine years, after spending his career in the tourism industry. Khanal changed professions because farming is his passion. He drives two hours from his farm in Nagarkot to get to both the 1905 Market on Saturdays and the Yellow House Market on Sundays. Khanal comes to the markets because it is a way for him to get new contacts and is a good advertisement for his farm. Rasmita Baniya of Vienna Bakery sells unique breads, e.g. rye, made from organic flour, at both markets and hopes to also sell at any new markets which come into existence. Another vendor, who sells at three markets is The Sri Aurobindo Yoga Mandir, which includes an organic farm and a home for orphans. At the stall one could purchase flour, rice, garlic and other products.
The Flavors Market features seven vendors including Mr. Sherpa, who has a background in tourism, but has combined this experience with his Organic Farmhouse in Kapan, where he grows a wide variety of organic produce which could be found at the Market. Mr. Sherpa, a new farmer told me that his was the first organic farm in Kathmandu. He employs a number of women and other former rural dwellers, who came to Kathmandu looking for employment. Sherpa is trying to get Nepalis to eat more leafy green vegetables, high in vitamins and minerals, which haven’t been cooked. He feels that this will help reduce stomach problems. Mr. Sherpa has brought seeds from the Netherlands and has had bio-organic training. Another interesting vendor, who also sells at the Trisara Market, was Sudarsan Karki of Kavereli Family Farm in Kavre. His only product was something called Yacon or Ground Apple, a cross between a pear and an apple, but looking more like a sweet potato.
In speaking to market customers, one ex-pat told me that sometimes he feels that there are too many ex-pats, that many of the vegetables being sold targeted this community and that there should be more of a balance in the offerings. Ambica, a Nepali woman, accompanied by an ex-pat friend Diana, a chef who owns a resort in Indonesia, told me that she has been coming to the 1905 Market since it opened. “Markets provide an outlet for farmers through direct selling, with no middlemen.” Diana who comes to Nepal two to three times/year indicated that she always makes it a point to shop at the 1905 Market and bring product back to Indonesia.
All in all it makes sense to support local (organic) farmers whether they sell at weekly markets or on the streets. The problem however might be that middlemen are making most of the profit on the streets. The best bet then is to support local farmers’ markets, and purchase organic products directly from farmers, in creating a sound local food movement throughout the country.
The Yellow House every Sunday 9 AM-12 PM, Sanepa. Some organic produce, avocado, lettuce, carrots, Jumla apples, kiwi, baked goods, jams, honey, meat, rice, pasta.
1905 Saturdays 9 AM- 1 PM, Thamel The largest and oldest of the farmers’ markets in Kathmandu offering organic produce, fresh baked/prepared items, a variety of meats and cheese and cow urine offered as a therapy for a variety of ailments including cancer, diabetes, asthma, etc. One can also find a number of other items including information about social service agencies, clothes, local made products, jewelry.
Summit Market Sundays/Wednesdays 10-12:30. The organic market was the first of its kind in Nepal. Very small market for organic vegetables and other eco-friendly and/or homemade produce. Some gift items, fresh bakery items, coffee, tea and something special for the kids are also available.
Trisara, Saturdays, 11 AM-2 PM. The newest of the markets has eight total vendors, half of whom sell produce.
Flavor’s Restaurant and Café, Saturdays 8 AM-1 PM. Another new market featuring organic produce (beets, salad greens, parsley, celery, kiwi, tomatoes, ground apple, dried mushrooms), baked goods (cookies-oatmeal chocolate chip walnut, strawberry white chips, chocolate chip, breads); corn flower, jams, pickles, honey, pasta, buff. sausage Pokhara (feta) and goat cheese.
 Michael Rosenkrantz is a VSO volunteer, living in Nepal since June 2012 and prior to that in New Delhi for three years. He has visited numerous farmers’ market throughout the US, has been Manager of the Oakland, California Housewives Market , coordinator (volunteer) for the New London, Connecticut Farmers’ Market, Manager of the Lancaster, Pennsylvania Central Market and also a farmers’ market researcher for Market Umbrella in Los Angeles, California