The constant gardener
Smita Shirodkar's Earthoholics aims to promote community farming by educating masses about growing fresh produce with minimal resources
Till about a year ago, Smita Shirodkar had never watered a rose plant. Her life revolved around assisting her father in his consumer electronic business and travelling to Goa in her Mercedes Benz to oversee operations at his factory. But after the Dadar resident saw a plot of land lying barren near her factory and thought of cultivating it, life has never been the same. Today, the 28 year-old is the proprietor of Earthoholics, a non-government organisation set up in November 2011, which creates awareness about organic agriculture, waste management, rain harvesting, solar products and carbon footprints.
Recalling how she decided to switch tracks, she says, “I did some research on the Internet and was intrigued by organic agriculture. I learnt that the Organic Farmers Association India, which works in this field, was headquartered in Goa. I met Miguel Braganza, the additional director of the organisation and was inspired. His tale is fascinating because he was earlier a chemical engineer who moved to farming.”
Shirodkar then attended a workshop on organic kitchen gardening where she learnt the benefits of composting, water management and how to grow vegetables on terraces. She decided to tell more people about these practices and set up Earthoholics with a few friends. Quiz her about her the name and she says, “Earlier I was a workaholic. But after I got involved with environment-related activities, one of my friends jokingly said that I had turned an Earthoholic. It fit perfectly with what we were trying to do,” she laughs effervescently.
On November 5, 2011, Earthoholics organised its first workshop on urban culture, where Braganza was the guest speaker and talked about growing fresh organic food without any pesticides. The workshop got a good response and prompted her to conduct Nature Bazaar, a mobile market in different parts of the city. Held over a span of three days earlier this year at Shivaji Park, the market displayed an array of environment-friendly products like bio-degradable soaps and healthy food items, and also had free seminars on rainwater harvesting, how to make compost at home, where to recycle dry waste, and the benefits of solar products.
The idea was also to give a platform to lesser-known organisations in the environment sector to showcase their work and reach out to the public. Enthused by the response to the first Nature Bazaar, the second event was held in April at Don Bosco School where sessions on Ayurveda, naturopathy diet and the benefits of consuming raw foods were conducted. Earthoholics also conducts weekend workshops to promote the concepts of recycle, reuse and reduce. Kids and adults learn to paint old bottles and glasses with non-toxic paints and revamp and reuse them, make bags and envelopes out of newspapers and pots out of coirs.
Shirodkar has also decided to go green on a personal level by growing veggies on the terrace of her residence. She says, “My mother would consume methi water (made with fenugreek seeds) every day. One day, she added some compost and sprinkled some seeds on the cane basket. After two weeks, we had a fresh crop of methi. We gradually started growing spinach, brinjals, capsicums, tomatoes and sharing them with our neighbours.”
Though she admits that it is an ordeal to raise funds for events, Shirodkar wants to take organic farming to the masses in the long run. She explains, “Organic farming is expensive — only the elite in South Mumbai and Bandra can afford it. We want to educate people in distant suburbs about how fresh vegetables can be grown with compost. We also want to promote community farming and urge residential complexes to grow vegetables in their premises.”
That’s a tall order for someone who, by her own admission, led a very “consumerist” lifestyle before a passion for the Earth consumed her. Seated in her plush living room with a monstrous television screen, Shirodkar obviously lives a charmed life. “I travelled everywhere in the Merc my father bought me until I realised what a hypocrite I was,” she laughs. Today, the former model takes public transport, has sold off the car and collects empty plastic cups from the neighbourhood chaiwalla to plant seeds in.