Green group reaps rooftop-farming benefits

  • Badri Chatterjee, Hindutan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Jun 13, 2016 00:41 IST

As the city continues its battle to save open spaces, a group of environmentally conscious citizens has successfully converted three rooftops in the city into full-fledged food farms with a variety of fruits and vegetables.

For the past seven years, Urban Leaves India — a group of organic farmers — has been spreading awareness about urban farming in the city. Volunteers from the group meet every Sunday at the community farms for a hands-on experience to learn the techniques of growing food in urban landscapes. Workshops are regularly conducted on kitchen gardening, composting kitchen waste and developing nutrient-rich soil.

The first model project for rooftop farming was started at Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) 16 years ago by the group and it houses around 150 varieties of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Inspired by the MbPT’s success, the second garden was built atop Provincial House Terrace in Matunga’s Don Bosco School two years ago, and the third project was recently designed at the terrace of Sardar Patel Institute of Technology, Bhavans campus, in Andheri West.

“Our goal has always been to create a food forest in a concrete jungle. Since volunteers work on the farms every Sunday, we have termed these gardens as community farms,” said Preeti Patil (47), Urban Leaves founder, who works as catering officer with MbPT. “Terrace Farms can be identified as lush green spots even amidst concrete structures. Especially for a city that lacks open spaces, such farms are not only abundant with fruits but a home for birds, bees and butterflies.”

The rooftop at Don Bosco, Matunga, is home to a host of ornamental, flowering plants and has a variety of fruits with the likes of custard-apple, papaya, pomegranate, lemon, orange, pineapple, gooseberry, mango, starfruit and rose-apple. “Herbs (basil, lemon grass, tulsi, mint, etc), spices and seasonal vegetables such as ladyfinger, brinjal, drumstick and varieties of beans can be found under one roof,” said Premila Martis, a Urban Leaves member.

Martis added that the community farms aim to revive the growth and use of local and seasonal vegetables. “We have been trying to save fast disappearing vegetables from the commercial market such as ambadi (gongura), ambatchuka (green sorrel), parslene (ghol), drumstick leaves (shevga pala) and malabar spinach (mayalu),” she said.

Meanwhile, the community-farm in Andheri has been recently redesigned and also aims to be a food forest. “It currently has the same varieties of fruits as the Don Bosco terrace. The monsoon vegetables are currently being sown and planted,” said Patil.

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