My visit to the plant –
The next morning I was taken to the Akshayakalpa plant in Kodihalli, Hassan district. The 25 acre space houses the reception area, the canteen, the administrative office, the main processing plant, the real plants 😀 (a patch of vegetable garden), the store for supplies and the RnD Heifer unit.
The office is a very neat building with good washroom facilities.
The generator, the water tanks, the chimney and the Smoker for smoking the cheese, are located at the back of the plant.
The rest of the space is occupied by the coconut trees and fodder grass fields.
The canteen –
The canteen is currently housed in an old building which will be demolished after the new and more modern one is completed. This is now under construction.
The women staff do the cooking and they use all the produce from their vegetable patch, only supplementing with ingredients that are not available on the premises, which as far as possible are procured only from local and organic sources.
The staff is served breakfast, lunch and tea and only rustic and local fare is served. Everyone eats the same food and washes their own plates and cups.
I had chitranna (a flavored rice) for breakfast and though simple in appearance, it definitely packed a punch from the flavorful chillies. Of course there was ‘home made’ curd to go with it and needless to describe the satisfaction of consuming fresh, organic curds.
Lunch time is usually ragi mudde (a ball made from steamed finger millet dough) which is highly filling and nutritious and is the staple of people in villages where ragi abounds. This is dipped into its accompanying gravy and swallowed without chewing, in one gulp.
I was served mudde and saaru, a delicious curry swimming with the fresh vegetables from their garden. Steamed rice made from the local variety is also served for those who are unable to swallow the ragi balls and would have to excuse themselves with a – Mea culpa for we cannot gulpa 😀
I was game to try it out though, being ably assisted by the lubricating curry.
The cool buttermilk was a refreshing end to the meal and soothing in the April heat.
The Main Plant –
The milk from all the collection centers is brought to the plant every morning in the insulated vans.
Soon after it is deposited, a series of tests are conducted on the samples. Some of the tests are repeats of the ones already performed at the farm, in order to ensure strictest of controls. The milk is accepted only on passing every test and that which does not conform, is instantly discarded.
After being received, the milk undergoes several filtrations and then is sent into the silos where it is maintained at 2 deg c. From here it distributed to the relevant machinery, depending on what it will be used for.
Dr Syed Ameer Ahmed, the Plant Manager, holds a Masters degree in veterinary science and has also worked in the field of dairy processing. He has had an impressive 40 years of experience, dealing with all aspects of this industry including collection of milk, organizing milk routes, lab testing of milk, quality control etc, before eventually retiring as the Additional Director of the well known Karnataka Milk Federation (KMF).
Being deeply impressed with the integrity and social enterprise that Akshayakalpa stood for, he opted to join them as the Plant Manager and heads the entire dairy operations here.
His passion for his job was evident in his words and manner and he spent along time with me, giving me a tour of the entire plant and explaining the processes.
Suitably rendered contamination free by our hairnets, masks and footwear covers, we first took a ‘milk bandit’ selfie before we embarked on the milk route 😀
I was taken to the lab area where I met the all women team of 1 Microbiologist and 2 Food technologists. There are 25 tests that could be conducted to check milk quality and some of the important ones are the MBRT test (Methylene Blue Dye Reduction Test for Assessing the Raw Milk Quality), COB test (clot on boiling), CFU test (colony forming unit), Antibiotic test, Adulteration test, Gerber test etc.
Akshayakalpa’s stringent quality control processes have resulted in readings of certain tests that even surpass prescribed levels.
The MBRT test registers a laudable 4 hours and more and the CFU test indicates a count of 10,000 cfu/ml of bacteria, as against the 500,000 cfu/ml that is permitted by the FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India), which indicates a very low microbial activity in the milk and speaks volumes of the high quality.
Even the statutory requirement of fat content of full fat milk as prescribed by the FSSAI standards, is around 3.2% but Akshayakalpa provides a generous minimum of 3.5%.
In addition to all these testing measures, a sample of the day’s milk is retained everyday to facilitate tracing back, in the unlikely event of a problem.
After being tested, the milk is sent to the silos and from there it is sent to different channels, depending on the purpose.
Some of the milk is sent for fat segregation unit where the cream is separated. This cream is used for generating butter and ghee.
Some of the milk is used for producing curds.
The 1500 liter cheese making trough, produces around 180 kgs of cheese everyday.
Some of the milk is sent to the Pasteurizer, since a few customers request for pasteurized milk.
Packaging machines are used to fill the pouches with low fat milk, the regular milk and the pasteurized milk and also the butter, ghee and curds.
The products are stored in the cold rooms until dispatch.
A separate cheese room is equipped with racks, where the cheese patiently ages and awaits slicing, weighing and packaging.
Mukund Naidu is the cheese man and has had over 27 years of experience which also includes staying and working with the royal family of Jordan and making cheese for them.
This purely organic cheese that he makes, uses only Himalayan pink salt as preservative, which is organic by default and geologically dated around 800 million years old.
An entire automated cleaning system washes out the pipes and containers after every session.
The supply store –
The store at the plant houses the supplies that are needed on the farms. The 60 – 70 products cover everything right from buckets to machines. All the 160 farmers under Akshayakalpa, buy all their supplies from here, as and when required.
Acids, alkalis, mineral mixture, cleaning equipment, brushes, towels, soaps, disinfectants etc, are some of the items that are available.
The purpose of having a store is to provide an end to end solution for the farmer, so they are not inconvenienced by the lack of supplies at any point.
The store manager Mr Narayanan, a post graduate in Chemistry, is in charge of procuring and dispensing the material and products. He is also currently in charge of the canteen.
Heifer RnD unit –
The plant has its own Heifers that they buy from the farmers. These are a part of the RnD facility that will eventually become a model farm that will showcase all the features of a standard Akshayakalpa farm and be used as a one stop shop for training the farmers.
Training is currently conducted from time to time at the amphitheater near the RnD unit.
Heifers are animals that have not yet given birth and they are usually inseminated after the age of 2 years (24-25 months).
They deliver after a gestation period of 9 months and 10 days (averaging 283 days) and after they are done producing colostrum which the calf feeds on, they are sold to the farmers or retained at the RnD unit.
Research is conducted at this unit and feeds and other aspects are experimented on, to constantly improve results. for both calves and heifers
Whey is included in the feeds and silage proportions are experimented with, to obtain optimal nutritive results.
Selvi who has trained in Biodynamics, heads this unit and her task is to maintain the records of all the animals here, including their birth dates, medical data, feed information etc.
She has 3 people working with her who are responsible for the cleaning, feeding, chopping fodder and providing water. They come in early morning and work through the day with a couple of hours rest in between and leave by evening after taking care of the animals.
They currently are looking after 86 animals which include new born calves to heifers who have just delivered.
Constantly seeking to improve cattle growth and health, they have come up with their own formula for feeds. The Calf starter that is give to the calves from the age of 3 weeks, ensures a weight gain which meets even USA standards.
As in all the farms, the cows are kept in the prototype shed and feeding stalls. The stalls are constantly cleaned to maintain hygiene.
The quality of the feeds and the cleanliness that is maintained, makes for attractive looking dung 😀
I was highly entertained by the cattle egrets that fearlessly dominate the place, unfazed by human proximity. In a show of the symbiotic relationship called Commensalism, they spend most of the day strutting between the stalls and pecking off insects with a precision that is commendable, their sharp beaks sometimes coming within microns from the eyes of the cattle. They also share this familiarity with the calves who have probably seen them since birth.
I found this eMoo’tionally touching. Are you as Moo’ved as I am ? 😀
Customer care and interaction –
Efficient distribution systems ensure that the delivery at subscribers doorsteps. In addition, certain organic stores also carry their products on their shelves.
Customer tours used to be conducted earlier, where bus loads of interested people would be taken on a tour of the plant, so that they could view for themselves the extreme care that was going into the product. These tours were a big hit and resulted in even the existing customers being impressed with the level of quality control.
Unfortunately due to logistical problems, these tours have been temporarily paused but the good news is that they will probably resume once they work out a hindrance free methodology for the viewing.
There are 4 variants of milk that include the Farm fresh organic milk, Pasteurized milk, Slim organic milk and A2 milk.
A2 milk is what is obtained from indigenous, purebred cattle and are preferred by some customers for their supposedly higher nutritive benefits.
Apart from milk, they also produce curds, butter and ghee.
The cheese making unit is relatively new but the variants of Mild cheddar, Chilli cheddar, Aged cheddar, Pepper cheddar, Smoked cheddar and Pizza cheese are already very popular in the market. The home grown spices and herbs also find their way into flavoring the cheeses.
They also have a few flavors of ice cream like vanilla bean and coffee.
In addition, Mukund Naidu the Product Innovation Head, is curating a range of exciting new products for Akshayakalpa, that include more types of cheese, set curd, flavored yogurt drinks etc., that will be introduced in the market in the coming months.
Interactive customer events and activities –
Apart from the Plant and Farm visits that they used to conduct in the past (and will resume in future), they now organize frequent events in Bangalore, that include cookery sessions and other activities that showcase their products.
They also organize talks on various related topics like child nutrition, solid waste management etc.
These interesting events are announced on their Facebook page and one can attend these to learn more about them. Please subscribe to the page to stay informed. Details below.
Contact them –
The customer care and distribution systems can be contacted at – +91 9535388122
The executives will put the potential customer in touch with the relevant distributor, based on their geographical location and then they can subscribe to their milk delivery.
The products are also available in certain organic stores.
For more pictures see My Facebook – Akshayakalpa-Part 2-Main Dairy Farm
Apr 2nd-4th, 2018
Pl Note – This assignment has been carried out by me, in collaboration with Akshayakalpa. The information in my narrative is based on the inputs that I received from the team and also from my personal experience.