With space constraints, creating a garden in Mumbai to grow pesticide-free vegetables and fruits may seem like a far-fetched idea. But one group of organic farming enthusiasts has shown how growing an organic kitchen garden in the city is quite an achievable feat.
For the past five years, Urban Leaves India – a group of amateur organic farmers – has been spreading awareness about urban farming in Mumbai. The group conducts workshops every Sunday to teach people how to prepare organically rich soil and become ‘urban farmers’.
These gardening enthusiasts do not need a plot of land to exercise their green thumbs; the terrace on their buildings serves as their backyard garden.
“In 2000, we developed a terrace farm at Ghadiyal Godi (Victoria Dock) of MbPT. The farm has around 100 varieties including spinach, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables,” said Preeti Patil, founder, Urban Leaves India, who has been a catering officer with Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) since 1992.
“Over the years, as the soil improved and the garden grew, urban farming enthusiasts and others began to visit the site. With security restrictions increasing at MBPT, I felt the need to share the knowledge and experience to a wider forum,” said Patil.
Patil and her group of 500 volunteers decided to replicate the idea in other parts of the city as well. In 2009, the volunteers decided to name the project ‘Urban Leaves India’. The group started their second project in 2010 with the establishment of a garden at Nana Nani Park, Girgaum Chowpatty.
Volunteers also have created their own terrace gardens besides initiating garden projects at schools and colleges such as Don Bosco School, Matunga and Sardar Patel Institute of Technology, Andheri, among others.
Every day, for many years, as Patil oversaw the catering for thousands of employees at MbPT, she thought about the impact of the waste generated and decided to do something useful with it – make soil. “Soil created using organic waste is not inert. It is full of microbial life, which can be used to grow organic food without having to use synthetic fertilisers. The concept is, food should be grown where waste is generated and being decomposed; this cycle should continue,” said Patil.
Avinash Kubal, deputy director, Maharashtra Nature Park, Mahim, which partnered with Urban Leaves India, realised the potential of community farms and offered the group space within the park. “The group is spreading the idea of utilising biodegradable kitchen waste instead of sending it to landfills. Of the total garbage sent to landfills – around 8,000 metric tonnes – in Mumbai, 40% is organic and can be used as manure. Terrace farming has set up a model for young citizens for developing environment friendly technology,” said Kubal. “The process is cost-effective and low-maintenance. The only requirements are a lot of patience and perseverance.”
Sessions on growing greens
Urban Leaves India organises workshops on urban community gardens for students, housing societies, businessmen, professionals and housewives. It teaches:
* Building and using Amrut Mitti (a nutrient-rich soil)
* Seed sowing and transplanting of seedlings
* Pruning for fruits and vegetable plants to create a better canopy and make them more productive
* Building trellises for creepers
* Designing principles for your urban farm like techniques to harvest maximum light and maintain high biodiversity in farms
Urban children get a taste of organic foods
In May 2014, Urban Leaves India organised terrace farming workshops for children from around 100 schools across the city at the Maharashtra Nature Park. At the workshop, children were served breakfast that included seasonal organic food.
“Children need to be educated about ‘whatever mother earth gives us, it should be returned to her’. Working in kitchen gardens also provides them with recreation. It will help them understand the importance of organic food in our life. Being able to smell fresh fruits and vegetables is an added incentive for children.”
- Premila Perera, coordinator of children’s workshop, Urban Leaves India
Steps for terrace farming
Recycle and reuse: Use plastic bottles, buckets and disused bathtubs to grow vegetables. The containers can be filled with soil and home compost to grow cabbages, cauliflowers, capsicums, radishes and onions
Prepare your own soil: Produce Amrut Mitti (nutrient-rich soil) by mixing kitchen waste with soil
Mulch your soil: Keep the soil in containers covered with a layer of dry leaves or sugarcane bagasse to conserve moisture
Add a dose of amrut jal – a liquid solution comprising cow urine, fresh cow dung, organic black jaggery and water
Organic seeds are sown instead of hybrid varieties. For fruits, grafted saplings are used