At a time when buying vegetables feels almost like buying precious ornaments, how nice it would be to just step out on the balcony and pick fresh bhindi for lunch. Or tender green chillies for tadka dal.
A number of Mumbai residents have discovered the joys of growing their own vegetables, without needing the luxury of a farm. Coordinating these efforts is the group Urban Leaves, a collective of urban kitchen gardeners who are now gearing up to celebrate World Kitchen Garden Day on August 25.
Preeti Patil, who is one of the key drivers of the collective, says that Urban Leaves was formed in 2009, following the success of the terrace garden at the Mumbai Port Trust, documented on the blog natuecocityfarming. blogspot.com. She thought of replicating the experiment in other areas of Mumbai, and discussed the idea with a few friends.
“Along with my friends Devi Laxmikutty, Uday Acharya and Jyoti Bhave, we decided to form a volunteer group and start reaching out to people though workshops to share our experience of recycling waste and growing food on terraces,” says Patil.
To their delight they found support coming in through various quarters, and many more volunteers joined, prominent among them being well-known urban gardeners Purvita Kapadia, Vipul Sanghavi, Amit Malgaonkar and Julius Rego.
She adds, “Avinash Kubal, Deputy Director of the Maharashtra Nature Park, extended the MNP water tank premises for a community farm where we started meeting every Sunday to work on creating an urban farm. Volunteers could join us here and learn hands-on, and then replicate the technique in their homes.”
The group has been dedicatedly working at the MNP for the last four years, and the number of volunteers has increased manifold. With more than 40 terrace farms registered with Urban Leaves, the vision, says Patil, is to have a community farm in every suburb of Mumbai.
“This transcends to a farm on every terrace, every balcony and every open space available where one can grow food.”
The concept of kitchen gardening has taken firm root in the space-starved Mumbaikar’s mind, and a number of urban farming groups have sprouted to formalize the activity. Besides Urban Leaves (www.urban leaves.org), participants include Fresh and Local (www.freshandlocal.org) and Earthoholics (www.earthoholics.com), as well as several groups which have pages on Facebook.
While a lot of people may be growing their own curry leaves and green chillies, Patil says that ideally a kitchen garden should be created by composting kitchen waste and using it to grow food.
There have been movements to encourage city housing societies to compost household waste, but ultimately it is people who have to lead and drive the change. Patil says, “Since most of our volunteers are employed full-time in their own careers, we meet, work and teach only on Sundays and holidays and do not provide any kind of consultancy services. However, those who volunteer with us have started initiatives in their housing societies and we support them through guidance during visits and group discussions. Community support comes in the form of exchange of saplings, seeds, resource material and composting techniques.”
Patil adds that more and more housing societies are coming forward to implement this. “Decentralised solid waste management is the need of the day. When you add an urban farm to it, it helps complete the cycle of waste to food to waste in the same premises, making it a very sustainable and eco-friendly technique,” she says.
Listing the advantages of composting kitchen waste and using it to grow food, she says, “This reduces the burden on transportation of waste and food, reduces pollution, provides healthy, locally-grown food, is a good form of physical exercise, connects one to nature, increases oxygen in the city and provides bio-diversity. The advantages are limitless and go beyond what can be measured on purely monetary or financial lines.”
World Kitchen Garden Day
The event is to be held at the Maharashtra Nature Park at Sion-Dharavi, from 9am to 6pm. The day will see a series of workshops and knowledge sharing sessions - which are termed ‘un-conferences’ - in which participants can give and receive information and tips.
Participants need to register for the event at www.urbanleaves.org, and registrations close today (August 22).
Urban Leaves co-founder Preeti Patil says that the “un-format” of the event is inspired through the concept of open spaces (www. openspaceworld.org), where participants and urban farming groups like Green Souls, RURecycling and Urban Leaves have offered their experience-sharing and workshops in the spirit of giftivism.
Rather than have a single person talking, there are parallel sessions conducted on various topics such as composting, setting up terrace gardens, creating food forests, windowsill gardening, healthy cooking using home-grown produce, seed saving, trellis making, bottle gardens and grille gardens, by people who are passionate about their work and willing to share.