Maliks make business out of affinity of exotic fruit popular in Japan
WEST WINDSOR — From Vivek Malik and his wife Seema, the couple who launched Bhumi Growers did so after an all-too-common realization: Life is short. You might as well be happy in your chosen work.
By tapping into a demand for “local citrus” the West Windsor couple are now both involved full-time managing their fruit and herbal business.
Their farm is in northern Burlington County and Vivek stressed they are looking for other hoop house and greenhouse spaces closer to home in West Windsor, so they can more closely maintain their inventory of several hundred exotic citrus trees.
After Seema was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and Vivek’s mother passed away at home in India in 2017, they decided to leave their previous jobs in financial services and jump into raising exotic fruit, part-time at first, and in the last two years, Seema has been at it full-time. They both freely admitted the learning curve in trying to grow cold-hardy citrus fruits in New Jersey was huge.
They work seven days a week in the respective growing seasons tending to their potted trees and said their daughter, Simran, now entering 8th grade, is an expert when it comes to grafting the trees they raise for six varieties of kumquat and a host of other citrus.
“We wanted to grow yuzu fruit for ourselves,” Seema said in the couple’s orchard in northern Burlington County. “That began in our backyard and moved the trees inside to the family room during fall and winter.
“Taking it to the next level, and starting to explore commercial opportunities, that all happened after my first brush with breast cancer,” she said.
“We realized life is short, we really don’t know how much time we have. Instead of just waiting around and thinking about it, why don’t we take the next step and actually figure out if anybody else is interested in us growing yuzu for them, and would they buy it from us?”
The couple loved the flavor of yuzu fruit, began growing it in their backyard out of a curiosity.
Interestingly, they are both from India and they have no farmers among their distant relatives nor is there much yuzu fruit to be found there.
“There is nothing Indian about this, there is no citrus here from India,” she said, gesturing out at their several hundred potted trees behind a large greenhouse, “and the only thing Indian about this place is us.”
The business, Bhumi Growers, is named in honor of Vivek’s mother, Kamla, who always encouraged both of them to see about launching their own businesses and working for themselves. Bhumi means “mother earth” in the dialect they spoke in India.
After Seema’s second brush with breast cancer in 2020, “we said, okay one of us has got to be doing this full-time. So I jumped into this in the middle of the pandemic full-time,” she said.
While their business continued to expand and orders poured in from restaurants in other states, they credited Mercer County Ag Extension Agent Meredith Melendez for her support, thorough answers to questions, and helpful connections to get them the greenhouse space they currently occupy near Columbus.
“We had a few trees inside our home in West Windsor, so the first place we went to was Elements in Princeton,” Vivek said.
They started to show a lot of interest and other area restaurants were giving them good feedback as well.
Once they were ready to move their trees out of their family room and backyard, he said Melendez was invaluable in helping them to grow their local citrus business.
In 2019 they took over the whole section of the greenhouse they currently use for Bhumi Growers. In the spring, using carts, they move several hundred potted trees out into a field covered with black permeable material so the trees can enjoy native pollinators, fresh air, sunshine, natural heat and humidity and area birds enjoy nesting in their trees, all of which are surrounded by deer fencing.
Since they began raising yuzu fruit in their backyard 10 years ago, their educational journey has taken them on one trip to Japan, one to Switzerland and several trips to get root stocks of trees at the University of California in Riverside.
As to the future for Bhumi Growers, they said they are committed to organic practices but not yet certified.
“That’s going to take time, it’s a long process,” Vivek said.
The Bhumi Growers website describes 16 varieties of citrus, six varieties of kumquats, limequats, a variety of finger limes, makrut leaves, citrus blossoms, sudachi, calamansi, turmeric, and galangal, a Thai spice. They are also working to develop more value-added products to their product line, like kumquat simple syrup.
The yuzu fruit aren’t harvested until August and September, yet, every year they said they sell a lot and have a lot leftover. The flavor of yuzu fruit is hard to describe, the Maliks said. What sets it apart is the fruit is prized more for its rind than it is for its juice. It’s a very seed-filled fruit and all the essential oils are in the rind, they said.
“The yuzu fruit is known to have very good health benefits. In Japan, they use the seeds of the fruit for medicinal and cosmetic purposes” he added. “Once you get the fragrance of a yuzu, you never go back to any other citrus.”