It all started with curiosity that turned into a passion and eventually, a business. Which is an irony – “I could not even take care of a simple plant bought from a nursery,” says Balan.
But that changed when Balan became a new parent. “I was concerned about the use of dangerous chemicals on vegetables, paired with news and disturbing videos on how farmers use banned pesticides on their crops,” he says. “This really shook me, and I wanted to do something about it.”
Balan began growing vegetables in containers and storage boxes at the back of his house. “I slowly expanded my home farm over the years. Now, almost 70% of the organic vegetables my family consume come from my back lane – available fresh anytime of the day.”
He never thought of starting a business but Balan began getting requests to give private lessons on how to start a home farm. He thought, “Why not conduct a public programme?” And so Balan began offering home-farming training sessions, coining it Fifteen Minutes Farmer (FMF) where Balan teaches others how to grow organic vegetables with limited space and time. “FMF is all about teaching you the right techniques and how to farm like a pro, based on all the challenges and failures I faced when I started, power packed into a three-hour fun-learning,” shares Balan. So far, he’s trained almost 500 people. “I’m happy to say that most of them are happily growing their organic vegetables,” shares Balan.
But to get to where he is, Balan had to conduct many experiments and encounter many moments of failure to eventually find success in his farming. While there are uncountable sites and information about farming and gardening on the internet, they’re not all applicable to our environment. Balan had to keep creating new and innovative techniques for every process and improvising on them. He says, as someone who comes from a process-oriented background, “I believe that with the correct process and techniques, vegetables can be easily grown within limited space and time.”
His business has expanded since then; Balan launched BIOFERT in January of this year, a brand involved in pure organic fertiliser technology, and in November, The Urban Farmer will also be launching ECO RACK, a planting rack that can house planter boxes for home farming in limited spaces. He hopes his products are affordable for everyone, “so that more people will be motivated to grow their own organic vegetables.”
His advice on how to turn a passion into a business? “Completely understand what it is all about,” he says. “And ask the big questions. Is this something you want to do every day in your life? Are you passionate about what you are going to do and have the willpower to face the challenges, rejections and failures, and strive to improvise?”
Even if you don’t have the answers to all that yet, Balan says not to give up on the idea! Instead, develop it as a side gig and improvise until you’re confident to take it further. Who knows where you might end up – like Balan!