Our discussions were fuzzy with dreams and values we held dearly. Members who preferred a more corporate/business-oriented approach left the group. We had to and we continue to ward off enquiries and requests about exporting organics, including those from sincere friends within the community. This is because we care about creating a paradigm where consumers are connected to the sources of their food and it makes absolutely no ecological sense to burn fossil fuels for long-distance transportation.
Volunteers from the community signed up to run the show week after week. They stepped in to maintain accounts, design billing applications, weigh vegetables, bill, package, set up, clean, wrap up, etc. Gradually, we hired our first employee.
Our Saturday bazaars were an opportunity for us to tell the New Story through Wholesome Food that cared for soil, soul and society. We decided to start a vegan store and have remained so not selling meat, egg or dairy products.
Running an organic grocery store was a huge learning for us, with constant exploration and experimentation in grain cleaning, storage, processing and selling. Fumigation with Neem and Nochi leaves was one of the many things we learnt along the way.
Decisions around packaging were and have always been a big part of many of our discussions. We started with zero plastics used in our packaging. After facing heavy losses during a humid monsoon season, plastics gradually made an entry into reStore.
What started as a Saturday bazaar, extended into a one staffer half-day shop, and soon into a full-time store in a garage space offered by a well-wisher, with four staffers.
After we completed a year in action, we started receiving calls and visits by people who wanted us to either start a branch in their neighbourhood or wanted to start a store themselves. Since our model was to remain small and deepen our relationships with our already growing local community, we opted out of the former. We invited all those who wanted to start their own stores to volunteer with us for a few weeks, understand our motivation, our values and see if they resonated with them.
Five years after we started, in 2013, one of our founding members mooted the idea of a network of small stores that work collaboratively sharing similar values and policies and source reliable products collectively. Thus was born OFM (Organic Farmers Market) which became a separate entity, but more a sister-organisation.
In three years, OFM has become a collective of distributors/retailers and has grown to have about twenty stores spread across the city of Chennai. A not-for-profit Central Unit aggregates products from many sources, stores, cleans and packs for all the stores. The expenditure incurred by it is absorbed by the retail unit housed there. Thus the cost of sourcing, storing, cleaning, etc. is not passed on to other shops. Each store has its unique colour and flavour. They all meet once a month to see how to collaborate efficiently, while remaining small and engaging with their own local community. The second hub with 10 spoke stores has recently begun in another part of Chennai.
Our members are constantly asking new questions that stem from situations and information constantly flowing in. One of them is an initiative by a member in the area of 'clothing'. After researching into how unsustainable and inhumane the industry was, he set out to start Tula, a whole new way of producing clothing which is sustainable from end to end: organic, rain-fed, traditional cotton which is handspun, hand-woven, naturally dyed and tailored.
Many who walked into reStore to be conscious consumers have journeyed with us and are now ready to go deeper into their exploration and experimentation about what it means to meaningfully in today's time of global crisis. The growing community of back-to-the-landers is one such community facilitated by reStore.