GreenCare: From Family Farm to the Family Store
by Marlet D. Salazar
It was a couple of advocacies that led to the founding of the family-owned GreenCare Organic store in Sri Lanka. The owners wanted to sell organic vegetables grown on their family’s farm and promote the Zero Waste principle.
Udara Rathnayake, the co-founder of GreenCare, said that the store or supermarket which is based in Colombo is like a one-stop shop of organic produce and merchandise. Initially, the store sold organic vegetables that Udara’s mother planted and harvested from their farm.
“My mother used to grow organic fruits and vegetables for our daily consumption when we were small. When we moved to Colombo for our higher studies, we missed our mother’s produce and the healthy food she served,” she said.
In 2017, the Meethotamulla garbage dump disaster happened, rocking Sri Lanka. Nineteen people, including five children, died and 40 homes were damaged when a 300-foot high pile of garbage shifted then collapsed following floods and a fire.
The tragedy compelled Udara to strengthen her drive to reduce single-use plastic.
“I was thinking: who was responsible for that tragedy?” she said. “Those people lost their lives because we threw away our plastics and garbage. I realized we need to find a solution to give justice to the people who died and also I have to make a difference.”
GreenCare as a company is four years old and the store is two years old. Initially, Udara and her family would attend fairs to sell their vegetable produce. Realizing that there is a market for organic vegetables, she and her family established the store.
But GreenCare has very strict rules that customers either should bring their own reusable bags or the store can provide paper bags.
“After setting up the store, we thought of introducing the practice of Zero Waste and from day one, we only used paper bags,” she said. “[Admittedly], we are not Zero Waste yet but this is more than 50% or more than 80% Zero Waste,” she said.
Still, GreenCare strongly encourages—and educates — its customers to be extra mindful of the waste they generate. The store buys reusable bottles and other containers that could be used for edible products. The micro-businesses that sell their goods through GreenCare are not allowed to use any type of plastic in their packaging.
“When we discuss the concept and encourage them to try it, we give them a glass bottle and encourage them to bring it back,” she explained. “We will pay a small amount if they bring the bottles back.”
While there are still some who don’t buy the idea of shifting to reusables, Udara said that the majority of their customer base is “more educated and more knowledgeable.”
She admitted, though, that the goods sold in their store can be a bit expensive because their products are organic as well as homemade and small scale.
“Our products are from our own farms. We do not source from others because we want to make sure that the products are truly organic,” Udara said.
She added that they have a different customer base. “These are those who allow you to reuse, those who can understand the concept, and those who are knowledgeable. Our target market is high-end, or those who have the buying power.”
According to Udara, the store doesn’t spend on any marketing. They rely on “a little bit of movement here or the word of mouth.”
She added that she, herself, talks to people and introduces the GreenCare concept of organic farming and goods and reducing waste.
She explained: “We cannot think of the cost because it is the mindset as well as the behavior that we need to change.”
Like other stores, the COVID-19 pandemic also affected the GreenCare store but Udara said that like everybody else, they needed to adapt and resorted to delivering their goods. The packaging is of utmost importance but they still don’t allow plastics, especially single-use plastics.
In fact, according to Udara, they are looking at opening more stores. “Besides the fact that it is a good business, having more stores will allow us to educate more people about reducing waste and the health benefits of organic farming.
Store address: No 56 A Chithra Lane Colombo 5
Photos courtesy of GreenCare.
This article is part of the book, BUSINESS UNUSUAL: Enterprises paving the way to Zero Waste, a collection of feature articles on select enterprises in Asia Pacific that practice and promote Zero Waste principles. Published by Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, the publication may be downloaded for free at www.no-burn.org/Business-Unusual.