From window farms to dream catchersa new way of life

From window farms to dream catchersa new way of life

“Crisis creates new spaces,” the adage goes. When physical space shrinks amid a feverish urban spread in many Indian cities, creative solutions from the “mental space” to mitigate its challenges is no longer a rhetoric.

As some of the largest cities in the World-- from Tokyo, Mexico City, New York, Seoul, Moscow to Mumbai-- already bursting at  seams, added by new emerging mega cities – whether it is Shanghai, Jakarta, New Delhi or Bangalore--infrastructure for growing urban populations will make or mar their modernity.

Living in a cramped apartment in New York, Ms Britta Riley was even more bothered about having to go to the supermarket often. But inspired by an article in the New York Times Magazine, she built what is now acknowledged as the “first window-farm – a vertical hydroponic system” to grow one’s own vegetables at home all round the year.

In a unique way of transposing agriculture and horticulture to shrinking urban spaces from every household point of view, “this is a vertical food-growing garden that uses a dirt-free technique called hydroponics,” explains a young volunteer in one of the 14 artistically designed pavilions in the “Indo-German
Urban Mela” held in Chennai recently.

The “Mela” is part of an ambitious programme being organised across India to simultaneously celebrate 60 years of India-Germany Diplomatic Relationship, says Jens Stuhr, a German official of the Organising Committee. At dusk, as the amazingly designed pavilions in the “shape of gemstones” to reflect India’s colours and vibrancy, are brilliantly lit up to lift the curtains on the evening cultural programmes and the accompanying “food Mela”, the focus is clearly on attracting the youth to this mobile “Mela” that concludes in Pune in January 2013.

Scores of youngsters excitedly crowd around this simple, yet novel model of
Ms Britta’s “window-farm”, cultivating lettuce or mini-tomatoes. The window-farms are made using locally recyclable materials and a small motor used in fish-tanks is also used to circulate the water which “trickles down from bottle to bottle, bathing the roots along the way,” explains the volunteer. “We don’t use soil per se, but clay pellets which retain the moisture and nutrients.” The nutrients used include magnesium; phosphorous, nitrogen and worm decompost.

Growing vegetables at home has now turned a virtual rage with thousands of others in different countries nurturing such gardens on their house windows with slight variations. There is now a global “online community” of nearly 36,500 window-farmers from around the world, she says with a chuckle. In Indian currency, the cost of putting up one such farm on  window ranges from Rs 2,500 to 5,000, depending on the “other accessories you want,” she says. “Someday we may have to use this to grow our own food when water and land are getting scarcer due to massive scooping of river beds by
illegal sand miners.”

With two-thirds of the world’s projected nine billion population by the year 2050 expected to live in large urban agglomerations, the Deutsche Bank pavilion was devoted to showcasing some outstanding out-of-the-box solutions for sustainable urbanisation. They included a 300 US Dollar middle class dream “Housing Project” – a futuristic idea which will not use cement but recycling unused things like straw, bamboo fibre and pebbles.

Titled “Living with Dignity”, it was the duo of Vijay Govindarajan, a Professor of International Business at Dartmouth University’s Tuck School of Business, and Christian Sarkar, a marketing consultant, who, addressing the challenges of global housing, came up with a worldwide design in 2010 that would be “affordable and sustainable”.

And not to be left behind was Ms Sonia Manchanda, founder of a Bangalore-based Social Welfare Organisation who envisioned the concept of a “dream tree”. These “Dream-catchers” will collect from the youth across India ideas of what their “dreams” are for tackling issues like econ­omic growth, health, education and environment. The “Dream-catchers” will help make those “dreams turn into reality” through consultations with business leaders, entrepreneurs and policy makers.

In the “Dream Tree” displayed at the “Mela”, conceptualised by the Bangalore-based company ‘Idiom Design’, some 8,930 “dreams” have been collected from Mumbai and Bangalore alone. “Our amb­ition for 2012 (including in Chennai) is to collect 15,000 dreams of the youth of emerging India, with the help of over 400 volunteers and covering 35,000 km,” said a spokesperson for the outfit. The idea is to create sustainable solutions involving the youth rather than imposing it upon them from above. If you have a “dream”,  just write it on a piece of paper and pin it on the “Dream Tree”, from where the “Dream-catchers” will “harvest” them!

Planning for The “Indo-German Mela” project started in 2009, says Stuhr, expla­i­n­ing that the philosophy behind it was to expose more youth in India as to what Indo-German collaboration could do to make a city more worthwhile to live in. “It is also to present Germany as a future-oriented modern country for Indian students to come and study there and also do business with Germany,” he told Deccan Herald.

Different facets of urbanisation have been explored through this “Mela”, while German corporate houses involved in those specialised areas are part of the fair. For instance, with many Indian cities – latest being Chennai- going in for a most modern Metro Rail after Bangalore-- “Herrenknecht”, a leader in mechanised tunneling systems, displayed their expertise in tunnel boring machines.

“Germany at present is using up 40 per cent of its electricity produced for energising houses and buildings, which is quite a lot,” says Ms Susanne of the German
Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development, at a unique pavilion put up by them at the “Mela”. To reduce this, the University of Darmstadt has done research on most energy effici­ent buildings and energy surplus house, using a lot of solar energy. They want to share this with India.

“Germany has many solutions in urba­nisation and city-planning and India is an ideal ground to try out some of these solutions as it has a number of cities with a growing population,” opined renowned architect and installation artist Markus Heinsdorff who built the pavilions, each shaped like Indian gemstones. The ‘Mela’ next goes to New Delhi.