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Urban Farming, a Critical Need for Growing Cities

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It seems that “WHEN THE LAST PLANT DIES, WHEN THE LAST RIVER IS POISONED, WE REALISE THAT WE CANNOT EAT MONEY”. Industrialization, especially boom in information technology and biotechnologies, has led to people concentrating around cities.  It is time for all of us including the law makers, nutritionists, civil engineers, architects, industrialists, businessmen, farming scientists, to realize that just industrialization is not the progress. Something beyond that is required to lead a healthy and peaceful life in cities. Concerted efforts are to be planned and implemented in and around cities to grow healthy food, to nurture our nature and environment and so to keep the place livable for our children and future generations.

Urban farming or city farming is gaining momentum all round the globe. Though the concept is not new, there is enhanced emphasis in recent years to ‘grow your own food’. A couple of decades back most of the urban houses had kitchen gardens at the back of their houses. Due to increase in population and migration of people to urban areas, fertile agricultural land has been converted into houses and other infrastructures, reducing the land for crop cultivation. By 2030, people living in cities will reach nearly 60 per cent. It is estimated that, 26 cities in the World will have more than 10 million populations by 2015. With the pressure building on land and its cost in the urban areas, there is hardly any space to have a garden.

It is well documented that consumption of food grown using synthetic chemicals continuously can lead to severe health hazards. The book ‘Silent Spring’ by Rachel Carson gives details about the ill effects of chemical agriculture as early as 1960′s. The difficulties of parents of the handicapped children in group of villages around Padre in Kasargod, Kerala due to continuous exposure to endosulfan through contaminated water bodies, food and environment is just in front of our eyes.  Today, consumers are more aware and realizing the health hazards due to the food they consume, due to higher levels of toxic pesticide residues, which affect not only health but also the subsoil water and environment.

The high demand and pull for perishable fruits and vegetables in cities has led to malpractices, toxic agriculture and processing interventions, unexpectedly high costs and many related problems. City dwellers who are completely dependent on produce from villages and peri-urban areas are facing the heat and have to look for alternatives.  The only way and the best way to counter the health hazards of these chemical poisons in food are to follow safe practices of crop production. This is practical and possible when we start ‘growing our own food’.

On one side, we look at safe and functional food, on the other side there is hardly any cultivable land in urban and peri-urban areas, mostly compromised for developmental activities.  It’s not just in India, but all over the world. The best bet alternative is to plan, design and devise ways to grow vegetables, fruits and other food crops domestically through terrace gardening. The small country Cuba has become a model and example to emulate as the cities there produce more daily need vegetables and fruits, reducing the food miles and saving the energy significantly.

The urban farming undoubtedly has the potential. The importance of urban farming in general and terrace gardening in particular has been recognized and support systems are being planned to encourage and to explore the practices further. Many organizations and individuals are joining hands in promoting the concept and practices of organic terrace gardening among city dwellers through training events, workshops, popular articles, online sharing, blogs, and so on.

The terrace gardens in particular and urban farming in general, has the basis/principle of ‘Grow what you Eat and Eat what you Grow’. While the commercial viability of crop

production is expected, the major targets seem to be fresh, safe and functional (organic) food (vegetables and fruits) required for a family or for local needs, to develop greenery and to reduce pollution in urban areas. It is also to have a space and place for physical exercise, to relax from pressures of urban living and to get the extraordinary pleasure of growing crops and having green natural ambience and surroundings to the dwelling place.
The pleasure of growing plants will be multifold when the crops are healthy. Plant health is the function of many growth factors and is the key for better yields. It is difficult to have the optimum situation even on the ground, as many factors are beyond our control. Providing a real near condition for plant growth will be a challenge and if succeeded, then crops perform well. Crops on terrace gardens are always raised on limited situations where light, water and nutrients may not be plenty for the crop growth unlike ideal field situations. Among many factors that contribute to the performance of crops on terraces, water, nutrients and pests have significant influence on crop growth and yields. Correct understanding and management of these factors is very important.
Both adoption and adaption of good organic practices are required to have a successful terrace garden. Plenty literature and knowledge are available online today and practiced. The process has to happen in the movement phase to make many urbanites to start practicing terrace gardening or urban farming. Training events, workshops, demonstrations and exhibitions on urban farming and terrace gardening are the need of the hour to promote the cause effectively. Few examples of successful terrace gardening experiences or case studies in Bengaluru are here.

1. Crop diversity on the terrace garden of Smt. Anasuya Sharma 

Bengaluru is Mrs. Anasuya Sharma’s home since 1981. Like many of us, growing plants was her fascination. From 1957, she is involved in growing different crops. The basic concept she visualized, realized and practiced on her terrace garden is growing different types of plants to meet diverse needs of in the household. Her terrace garden has vegetables, flowers, fruits, herbs, spices, medicinal and aromatic plants along with ornamentals. Growing plants in Thermocol boxes, Old car tire, Gunny bags, used plastic covers, baskets etc using homemade compost and herbal sprays.

Today she is an active member of many organizations to promote organic farming. Apart from sharing her experiences with the visitors often, she is writing articles in daily, Weekly and monthly magazines to promote the cause of organic terrace gardening.

2. Mini-Lalbagh of Smt.Soubagya Sadashiva 

Mrs. Soubhagya Sadashiva is the resident of lively Jayanagar, Bengaluru. She was awestruck to terrace gardening since she attended a workshop in 2005.
The first thing which came to her mind when she began terrace gardening activities was to create a mini Lalbagh on her terrace.  She remembers the support given b y her husband, other family members and relatives in her efforts.
There were only few croton and tomato plants to begin with, and then a compost unit was organized. Monkeys started distuing the plants, so the terrace got barricade of iron grills. Now there are lawns at the front, different vegetable, medicinal, fruit, and ornamental plants on the terrace.  Today it is a diverse system, a true mini
Lalbagh on the terrace. There are many birds with their chirping sounds all round the garden, and of course specially taken care.

Mrs. Soubhagya Sadashiva has the commitment to the purpose. The best part is the time given to all the visitors, to share the experiences and encourage them to practice terrace gardening. She has become a model for many who want to practice terrace gardening in Bengaluru today.

3. Sustainability focus on the terrace garden of Mr. S.Laxminarayan

For software engineer Mr. S. Laxminarayan, working for a multinational IT company may not be really sustainable.  After visiting many places in the World, he believes that the rural module is the best where the food mileage is the minimum.  He wants to go back to nature to relish his needs.  Though he is not against flowers and floriculture, he thinks it is better to have only vegetables, fruits, and medicinal plants are the best choices where it is possible to ‘grow what you eat and eat what you grow’.

He came in to the movement of urban farming and terrace gardening two years back and quickly adopted to the practices of terrace gardening.  He thought of designing his terrace in his own way. He started sourcing for materials in the junk yards and designed raised beds and boxes with iron bars and used wood pieces.  The raised beds that he designed with different sizes became a hit quickly among many terrace gardeners in the city.

He wanted to develop his terrace of about 400 square foot in to a model garden with more sustainable systems, growing different types of vegetables. His terrace has about 50 species of plants which have various uses. He could able to meet around 40 per cent of his vegetable requirements from his terrace in the first year itself and very much convinced.  Today he is the active member of Garden City Farmers Trust, taking active role in sharing and spreading the experiences through the Organic Terrace Gardening Group on Face Book and other networks. He is actively involved in promoting the concept through School children and considering developing a useful syllabus for practical teaching of terrace gardening.  Many interested u
rban farmers in Bengaluru and outside visit his terrace garden today to discuss with him and to have the first hand idea about setting their own terrace gardens. He enjoys doing that sharing work continuously.

4.  Oota from your Thota for organizing terrace gardening materials

When it comes to real practice of Terrace gardening or urban farming, all those who are interested in growing vegetables following safe crop production practices, look for different types materials and inputs in one place. Sourcing and organizing necessary inputs and materials from different places in Bengaluru or from outside is a major disadvantage and delaying adoption of terrace gardening. Garden City Farmers started organizing the event ‘Oota from your Thota’ from 2011 at different parts of Bengaluru with a purpose to promote Organic Urban Farming/Organic Terrace Gardening among urban dwellers, making available all gardening related materials in one place along with knowhow.  The event is also to expose the urbanites to different enterprises related to organic urban farming. The event will have demonstrations/discussions and exhibitions on organic urban farming, inputs and products/foods. The film  shows on urban farming and terrace gardening during the event have incited very good response.

Going forward, Terrace garden/ing is a simple but definite step towards increasing our green cover and is a more sustainable urban farming option for our food needs, irrespective of space restrictio
n. This is an option achievable for many urban dwellers to cultivate the food crops of their choice and for their own use. This felt need can be a real movement by sharing and spreading know-how amongst us. However, the learning has to happen experientially because of diverse needs and other growth situations.

Originally written by  Dr. B.N. Vishwanathand Dr. Rajendra Hegde


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