In 2018, when Ashwin and Sanjata Kattula moved with their two kids from a 5,000-square-foot home in Cumming to a small ranch on a 10-acre plot of land in Gainesville, they had no idea how much their lives would change. Ashwin had been working as an IT consultant for 20 years, and Sanjata was a driver inspector for the Georgia Department of Driver Services. They both shared a passion for gardening, but the hobby had never developed into anything more than growing vegetables in their backyard.
But four years later, their passion has transformed their entire life. Ashwin’s hours behind a screen have been replaced by hours outside, on an expanse of land with four greenhouses, a chicken coop, and a handful of guinea fowl poking around. The family now runs Kattula Family Farms, one of just two commercial farms in Georgia devoted to growing South Asian vegetables.
The seeds were planted over two decades ago. Newly married and living in Dallas, Ashwin and Sanjata were struggling to find the fresh Indian vegetables they were used to back home in Hyderabad, the city in southeastern India where they’re from. “The grocery stores in Texas and smaller areas didn’t have a complete lineup of all we used to get, so we used to get the seed from India,” Ashwin said. They started growing Indian varieties of vegetables like chili peppers and tomatoes in their backyard, and kept at it when they moved to Georgia in 2012: “We were always in the backyard.”
When the Kattulas grew their first crop on the farm in Gainesville in 2018, they shared the harvest with old friends in Cumming. Word spread. More and more people—mostly from the burgeoning South Asian communities in Forsyth and North Fulton counties—started showing up at the farm, offering to pay for the produce. These days, Kattula Family Farms has established official supply chains with farmers in South Asia, ships seeds to home gardeners in “all 50 states, plus Canada,” and has its own farm stand in neighboring Dawsonville. Ashwin says gardeners have traveled from as far as Virginia and Florida to buy saplings of Indian vegetables from the farm, since they can’t be shipped.
The farm’s most popular vegetables are the staples of South Asian cooking: Indian green chilis (“the Indian version of the Thai chili”), eggplants (five different Indian varieties), and tomatoes (“tangy, like how we get it in India—they cook well as a curry base”). But, when I visited in early April, the greenhouse was also full of vegetables that are even harder to find in mainstream American groceries: malabar spinach, a leaf with a mild citrus flavor; gongura, a sour leafy green often used in chutneys and curries in South India; and bottle gourd or loki, a pale green vegetable in the same family as squash, cucumber, and watermelon, and used in everything from dal to meat dishes. I even saw lychee plants growing in the back.
As we walked through the farm, Ashwin pointed to a path lined with small bare-branched plants. They’re tulsi plants, expected to be ready to harvest by August, in time for the South Asian festival season. “It is used a lot in puja”—a Hindu religious ritual involving offerings of incense, flowers, or food, Ashwin said. “People buy it for different purposes like housewarming ceremonies.”
You could probably find these vegetables cheaper in large South Asian supermarkets. But, Ashwin said, his farm doesn’t use pesticides on its crops. “We grow them naturally,” he said. “And about 20 to 30 percent of what we grow is wastage, because we don’t use any pesticides or anything. So, that goes back to the bugs, back to nature.” That seemed sensible enough to me. But it wasn’t until the next morning that I realized a deeper impulse driving the demand. I was speaking to my mom, who was born in Kashmir and had grown up with a garden where her mom grew loki. She had bought a sapling from the Kattulas’ farm and was worried about finding the right spot to plant it. “I want it to survive,” she said. “It reminds me of my mom.”
But if you want somebody else to do the cooking . . .
Five great spots for regional specialties from across India:
Nalan Indian Cuisine
It’s tucked in an office park, but a meal at Nalan feels like it was cooked by someone’s grandmother. Pay particular attention to the restaurant’s South Indian delicacies, from fragrant corn and curry-leaf soup to coconut milk appam (a crepelike pancake made with rice flour) to kathirikai puli kuzhambu: spicy baby eggplant in tangy tamarind sauce. There’s also a modest selection of Indo-Chinese classics, like cauliflower manchurian. Alpharetta
This strip-mall spot serves the fiery flavors of Southeastern India: Chettinad vegetable curry, vegetable korma in coconut sauce, and an off-menu special of jackfruit biryani. For dessert, cool off with badam milk—a rich drink with almonds, cardamom, and saffron. Roswell
The lavish menu at this Decatur destination (a second location opened in Marietta in 2019) includes dishes from across India: Bombay bhel (a snacky mixture of puffed rice, chutneys, and crunchy vegetables), kolhapuri misal pav (a sprouted-bean curry from western India, served with Indian-style rolls), and a host of South Indian dishes like Kanchipuram idli—mildly spicy rice pancakes with carrots and cashews. Plus, a variety of dosas and uttapams, both traditional and fusion—check out the Hawaiian uttapam with pineapple and bell peppers. Decatur and Marietta
Rasoi opened in 2021 with a focus on decadent, easy-to-like dishes from North India. Samosas with chickpeas, veg kebabs, and mixed-vegetable pakora are great for snacking with friends, as is Kashmiri naan bejeweled with dried fruits and mixed nuts. Heartier preparations include luscious khoya kaju—basically a creamy cashew curry—and refreshing corn saag. Roswell
Shivam Chaat Corner
One weekend a month, this hidden gem serves a special meal of dal bati churma, a Rajasthani feast centered around dal bati: hand-rolled balls of flour doused in ghee and broken up over a flavorful dal. It’s served with gatte ki sabji—a vegan stew of chickpea dumplings—plus peas and cumin rice and a variety of chutneys. Apart from the monthly special, Shivam serves various regional Indian treasures, including a Punjabi dinner thali with paneer vegetables and dal makhani. Marietta —Nandita Godbole
Back to The Joy of Vegetables
This article appears in our June 2022 issue.