To live a cosmopolitan life with all its ease and amenities has become a complicated experience. The ‘cities of future’ with their billowing toxic fumes, alarming energy usage and levels of pollution are increasingly becoming a metaphor for disaster. Just in time, a new crop of environment lovers is going back to the traditional and simpler ways of life, to survive the beleaguered city life, and are taking up to homesteading. The new urban trend is about using techniques popular generations ago, to lessen the link between industries and the individuals.
Homesteading includes everything where people resort to natural ways of life, ranging from harvesting rain water to using solar energy to turning kitchen waste into manure. Or even finding rustic solutions to restrict usage of ACs, microwaves and refrigerators. It’s a way for many city dwellers to re-connect with the environment and to minimise their carbon footprints. Sociologist Pranav Shekhar says, “The inward journey to cultivate and reproduce utility of earlier generation is therapeutic in our hurried modern life.”
That this urban lifestyle of self-sufficiency may grow big, can be predicted from the fact that at the 2013 International Home + Housewares Show — one of the biggest household events worldwide held in Chicago, US, last month — homesteading was dubbed as the major trend for the coming years. Sakshi Dasgupta, deputy program manager, Green Building Program, CSE, says, “In our country there are state fights over water and electricity consumption. The educated section now understands the importance of preserving natural resources.”
According to Euromonitor International’s Consumer Expenditure data 2011, recession and rising unemployment have also prompted more consumers to go back to basics. The survey reveals that 55% of the respondents preferred preparing their own raw material for cooking and ratio of ‘per capita spend’ on eating in was much higher than eating out at 71:29, in major metros.
An exclusive report conducted by Market Xcel on understanding the consumers’ mindset on environment consciousness and resorting to homesteading, across metros Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore on a sample size of 1000 respondents reveals that 56% of respondents in Delhi thought the concept of energy efficient house was very relevant followed by 39% in Bangalore and 37% in Mumbai. A large chunk of respondents, 51% in Mumbai and 46% in Delhi cited lowering the electricity bill as the major concern for thinking of green houses.
Energy expert, Arth Aggarwal, who provides solutions to lower energy consumption says, “During the peak of recession in 2008-09 the requests to provide solar energy-based solutions in industries suddenly doubled. So yes, recession elevated the urgency to look at alternate, easier and cheaper resources.”
Another reason for homesteading gaining popularity is that educated masses are also getting disenchanted with the faulty raw material growth and supply chain. According to health expert Pallavi Jha, “Fresh crops lose as much as 50% of their nutritive value and flavour during the handling and packaging time. By the time they are available to consumers the sugar in them degrades to starch, because of the time gap. Homegrown vegetables also help surpass the pesticide laden, hybridised varieties.”
Looking at the growing awareness some corporate too are doing their bit to spread awareness. Recently, Indus Towers, in collaboration with Vikram Sarabhai Community Science Centre re-flagged a biodiversity train — Science Express from Delhi that will halt at 62 locations for an eco-awareness exhibition. First launched in 2007, with over 87 lakh visitors till date, it is the most visited mobile science exhibition in the country. Bimal Dayal, COO, Indus Towers Ltd, says, “It is imperative to enlighten the youth about sustainability as they influence the future of energy consumption.”
Monica Chawla, principal designer, Essentia Environments that provides green household solutions says, “Homesteading is an answer to the current environmental issues because now it’s the end user who has become conscious.” So while the new enthusiasts may make you feel that the 21st century has just turned into 19th, many sustainable benefits cannot be surpassed.
How to Homestead
Geeta Bector, 46, Entrepreneur
I grew up in Ludhiana in Punjab where we lived close to the farms and got a fresh supply of organic fruits, vegetables, even milk and dairy products, sourced directly from Jersey cows. When I shifted to Delhi a few years ago I felt that air quality here was much inferior than that of Ludhiana. I have always been environmentally aware and while growing up, have seen my parents grow their own veggies. I began thinking of ways in which I can replicate the simple pleasure of country while living here in the metro. I got solar panels installed in our house so the need of geyser doesn’t arise, except on a few days in the year when the sun is not strong. We use the traditional clay matkas and surahis to store boiled drinking water during summers. The water stored in matkas is cooled to 14 degrees, which is the ideal temperature we should have water at. I apply the same principle of reducing carbon footprints in my work also. Since I have chips processing units, we only use bio-fuel for generation of steam in the plant. For packaging food at home and at my workplace too we use smaller and thinner materials so the usage of plastic is less.”
Seema Jindal Jajodia, 42, Deli owner
I have always believed in green living because that’s the way to future. I believe in the concept of urban farming and grow all my herbs in my terrace garden. From rosemary to thyme to lemongrass everything that we use in our kitchen comes from the household potted plants. The magic of adding that freshly plucked twig in your soup or salad cannot be replicated by any market made, exotic canned ingredient. Also that way we are reducing the risk of consuming pesticide laden veggies available in the market. To do my bid for the environment I have used my backyard at my Delhi home, to set up a compost pit. We put all our kitchen waste there to turn it into manure and also encourage my neighbours to do the same. I also rely on my homegrown herbs for a lot of spices that we use at home. I make my own butter, ghee, dahi at home using pure ingredients to avoid any preservative usage. To save carbon miles, most of the things in my house, from consumables to durables, are sourced locally. I believe organic living is not just about buying organic stuff but also a way of life. I try to implement that in my life, by waking up at the crack of dawn. According to ancient science it’s best to wake up with the sun and go back to bed a little after the sun has set as melatonin, the hormone that maintains body’s circadian rhythm, is produced when its dark and your body is at rest.”
Anisha Singh, 35, Entrepreneur
I believe in an ashram way of life where every time you take something from nature you try and give back something too. Though I have lived in US for many years and enjoyed the cosmopolitan life, but a conscious effort to save energy has always been imbued in my mind. Keeping the philosophy in mind, back here in our Delhi home we harvest rainwater. Though we maintain a big garden with both ornamental and kitchen plants, the water used for gardening is always recycled. The small fountain in the house also is operated with harvested and recycled water. We have also set up a sunroof in the house so that we can use solar energy to conserve energy. Apart from those, minor changes in the house such as installing showers that use less water and storing homegrown organic herbs in sachets for the season ahead, helps us reconnect with nature in many ways.”
Inderpal Singh Kochhar, 30, Restaurateur
During my childhood years I led a very outdoorsy life which did connect me to nature, but honestly till a few years ago I was a regular city guy who wouldn’t spare much time thinking about conserving resources. Around 4-5 years ago when I began work on a zero km design concept resort in Rajasthan, it opened up my eyes towards the urgent need to save resources and think locally. I set up an organic garden on my terrace. Since it’s not possible to grow every vegetable in Delhi, we try to grow whatever we can. On weekends its fun to fill the food basket from my terrace garden for my entire extended family. After a trip to Israel last year I was inspired to take up urban farming, as a CSR initiative in my company. We also take care of little things like using recycled paper at work.”