How this mother-daughter duo built a farm-to-table startup in the Himalayas

Indira and Divya Chowfin started Himalayan Haat in Pauri in 2015 as the fresh produce from their jungle farm didn’t get the right market prices. The food startup now sells handmade preserves, coolers and other items across India and empowers local women

Rashmi Pratap
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Indira and Divya Chowfin at their farm and their products (right)

Indira and Divya Chowfin at their farm (left) and Himalayan Haat's products (right)

When Divya Chowfin was studying at St. Stephen's College in Delhi (2003-08), she struggled to find jams, squashes and condiments made from real fruit as her mother, Indira, prepared back home in Pauri, Uttarakhand. She made them with fruits harvested from their jungle farm in the Himalayas without any preservatives or food additives.

In contrast, the products in retail stores were full of artificial flavours and colours and nowhere close to the taste Divya had grown up with. “So every time I visited my parents during those 10 years when I was studying and then working in Delhi, I always lugged back jams and condiments for my friends and colleagues,” she recollects.

Today, Divya and Indira are shipping preserves, sauces, coolers, chutneys, herbs, seasoned salts and herbal teas across India for food connoisseurs who value handmade products straight from farm to their tables. 

The duo works with local women, who have traditionally run their households by rearing cattle or working as farm labour with little or no support from their husbands.

The 40-acre farm, named Marrora (the local word for a place with abundant water) was set up in the 1960s by Divya’s father the late Ronnie Chowfin, an agriculture graduate. He passed away in December 2014, leaving behind a lush green jungle farm, orchard and forest. He was instrumental in forest conservation, putting out the annual forest fires and practising regenerative natural farming without using any chemical inputs.

fruit himalayan haat
Himalayan Haat sources naturally grown fruits and herbs from its jungle farm Marrora. Pic: Himalayan Haat

“About 30 acres is the forest and the rest is used for farming,” says Divya. Marrora is home to strawberries, citrus fruit, walnuts, pears, peaches, plums, and apricots, herbs like rosemary, chamomile, lemongrass, bay leaf, and seasonal vegetables like peas, tomatoes, chillis and garlic. The natural springs in Marrora supply water to 14 nearby villages before merging into the Alaknanda River.

Setting up a startup

After her father’s demise, Divya and her mother, a retired school teacher, realised they were struggling with fresh, naturally-grown produce which did not have buyers due to a lack of market linkages. “I had got married in 2013 and I and my husband, moved back from Delhi to Pauri in 2015 to look after the farm. There was no market for this produce. My mother would just distribute fruits and her preserves among friends, who loved them,” says Divya, a mother of two.

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“We realised that as a farmer, market linkages were challenging due to lack of transport and infrastructure facilities in the mountains,” she says.

“The rate for our produce we got in the local market did not cover even the transport cost. So we could either let the fruits rot or distribute or make jams,” the woman entrepreneur says.

The duo decided to address this challenge through food processing. “We thought of converting the fresh produce into handmade preservative-free products with a good shelf life that can be transported everywhere,” Divya says.

work in the kitchen
Women working in the farm kitchen of Himalayan Haat. Pic: Himalayan Haat

Indira, who had inherited some family recipes, also developed her own formulas to create a wide range of products for the food business. They hired two women to help them with cutting and chopping in their farm kitchen in 2015. That was the beginning of Himalayan Haat – their Pauri-based social enterprise that brings farm produce to urban households while empowering women.

Their first batch comprised 50 bottles of pear cinnamon preserve, which Divya put in her car and took to her friends and former colleagues in Delhi. 

“I would take the bottles of preserves and coolers in my car to Delhi and soon the brand name spread through word of mouth. We then started with one retailer in Delhi in 2016 and another one in 2017,” Divya says.

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Taking artisanal products from farm to tables

The food startup sells directly through its website, via marketplace Amazon and about 40 retailers across India. “When we started, we couldn’t ship from Pauri due to logistics issues. I also had to buy glass bottles from Delhi for packaging and drive back to the hills. Now, we can ship from the farm to across India and the bottles are also available easily,” Divya says. The social enterprise had revenues of Rs33 lakh last year.

“Everything at Himalayan Haat is made using mountain produce.”

The enterprise also procures produce from other marginal natural farmers in nearby villages. Himalayan Haat products are made using organic khand (unrefined sugar with natural molasses) from a farmer group near Hardwar, Divya points out.

Indira Chowfin working in the kitchen with her staff. Pic: Himalayan Haat

They make fruit preserves (with fruit chunks) in various flavours like strawberry, spiced peach, and pear cinnamon, malta marmalade etc. Himalayan Haat’s coolers, made with plum, apricot, buransh (deep vermillion Rhododendron flower) and other fresh produce are high in fruit content. They are made using only fruit, lemon juice, and khand. The other products include herbs, apple cider vinegar, and condiments like plum chutney and chilli sauce.

“All the products are free of preservatives, colours and agents. We continue to focus on environment and sustainability just as my father did,” she says. 

Himalayan Haat uses pine needles and leaves for packaging its products instead of thermocol. “Ours is a sustainable and manageable farm brand where every product is handmade. We are growing our online presence to cater to our fast-growing customer base,” Divya says.

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Women empowerment

Divya recollects that when the business picked up and they needed to hire more people, 12 women turned up, but they had work available for only two. “A fight broke out among them as they all needed work. With a lack of employment opportunities in the hills, high levels of migration and rampant alcoholism, women run the households and need a stable income,” she says.

products himalayan haat
All the products are free of preservatives and additives. Pic: Himalayan Haat

That’s when Divya and Indira decided to create jobs for women. Himalayan Haat now works with a core team of 25 women and more are hired for extra work seasonally. The women work for four hours a day and earn Rs5,000 to Rs7,000 per month, depending on the work. “We give them flexibility in terms of time and aim to empower as many women as possible,” she says.

Sonam, who has been working with Himalayan Haat for some years, says: “I don’t have to go far into the forest anymore for grass as I can collect it from the farm. I am in charge of the sterilizing, filling and canning the bottles.”

Babita started working at Himalayan Haat when there were many financial problems at her home. “Today, things are stable and I can give my daughters a good education. I take care of the drying, mixing and filling of the different herbal teas,” she says.

Divya and Indira are glad that they can sustainably grow a handcrafted food brand while empowering women in the Himalayas.

(Rashmi Pratap is a Mumbai-based journalist specialising in business, financial, and socio-economic reporting)

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