With rapid urbanisation increasing urban poverty and food insecurity, city dwellers have begun to sow seeds in windowsills, rooftops and community gardens. Vertical farming, a popular method among urban farmers, allows people to grow food—including fish and poultry—in buildings. Relying on hydroponics would eliminate the need for land. The problem of water shortage can be met by relying on recycled water.
Urban agriculture has come to be understood as a much more sustainable way to produce locally-grown fresh produce. It allows people to grow pesticide-free vegetables in a limited space and encourages recycling, specially that of kitchen waste. To help people in this venture of growing and maintaining the plants, various services have come up.
Heaven On My Earth (HOME)
Started by Ann Vinaya Thomas, HOME is an urban farming initiative from where you can source your vegetables and herbs. The brand relies on hydroponics to grow leafy greens such as lettuce, as well as herbs such as oregano, thyme and sage.
She is also experimenting with bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and other seasonal vegetables. For a Rs 1,500 monthly subscription fee, fresh produce will be delivered to customers on a weekly basis. Workshops on hydroponics, as well as growing on terrace and balconies is another aspect the organisation focuses on. “My students are doctors, scientists, chemists and retired people who are looking for a hobby,” says Ann. She also ties up with schools to help students grow edible gardens. Visit www.heavenonmyearth.com for more details.
Farmizen is an app that allows people to rent out space on a farm for Rs 2,500, to grow fresh, naturally grown, chemical-free vegetables. It was started by Shameek Chakravarty, Sudaakeran Balasubramanian and Gitanjali Rajamani. Customers can rent out a 600 square foot mini farm that is divided into 12 raised beds, where vegetables of their choice can be planted.
Over the course of a month, the customers are notified about the growth of their crops. “At the end of four weeks, the vegetables will be ready to harvest. We deliver the produce to your homes, or you can plan a visit to the farm and harvest the produce with your family.
Since it takes four weeks for the vegetables to be ready, one should subscribe for a minimum of three months,” says Shrinidhi K, customer service officer.
They partner with farmers around Bengaluru and Hyderabad for this. “Each farm we have tied up with is assigned a set of pin codes to allow ease of delivery,” he shares.
They rely on organic forms of farming, using techniques such as multi-cropping, introducing microbes such as earthworms in the soil with natural mixtures such as jeevamruta, neem oil or ginger-garlic spray as pest repellents.
At the moment they have about 1,500 subscribers. People can choose to pre-order fruits and vegetables, without renting farm space. For details, visit farmizen.com.
A Green Venture
Founded in 2015 by Kavya Chandra, A Green Venture is an enterprise that curates experiences to make sustainable living more accessible. Farm visits, nature camps, workshops on home gardening and nature walks, for both children and adults, are some of the methods used. Her mission is to work with as many schools, groups and people across the country to bridge the gap between the outdoors and people. For more details, visit www.agreenventure.in
Garden City Farmers
The NGO was founded in 2011 to help people grow food, from herbs to fruits and vegetables, at their homes. To this end, Dr D N Vishwanath, entomologist and founder of Garden City Farmers organises workshop every month.
Apart from food security, the organisation also attempts to create awareness about safe and nutritious food. The group believes that the process of growing food at home can encourage green cover, which has slowly been erased due to urbanisation. They also hope that these workshops will help people empathise with the condition of the farmers. Many people find it difficult to grow a single plant, which makes you more aware of the struggles of farmers, says Rajendra Hegde, a trustee.
They also organise monthly events called ‘Oota from your Thota’, which means ‘food from your garden’. It’s a bazaar for gardening, where you can get everything from seeds and saplings to compost. Visit www.gardencityfarmers.org for more information.
Founded by Mayank Agarwal, Apoorva Jaiswal and Friederike Fokuhl, Grow2Share is an initiative that aims to bring together first-time and seasoned gardeners on a single platform. They hope that this would help encourage people to grow their own vegetables and help them with whatever queries they might have. Apart from giving a step-by-step guide on how to grow and harvest fruits and vegetables, the app also shares information on organic waste composting and allows networking with different vendors supporting natural-grown seeds, soil and manure.
Suresh Kumar, who is also known as Samuha Suresh within the art circles, started this initiative in the village Volagerekallahalli that aims to promote local, nutritious and organic greens. With the aim of repopularising seasonal food, a 500 square foot community garden has been set up. He began identifying local greens with the help of women in the village, and have started growing them in the garden. ‘Kakkesoppu’, ‘Nela basale’ and ‘Harive soppu’, as well as brinjal and bottle gourd are grown here.
Is urban farming the way forward?
Ann Vinaya Thomas of Heaven On My Earth believes that urban farming is more sustainable than traditional forms of farming. “The focus of urban farming is not on quantity, which reduces the pressure to use pesticides and insecticides,” she shares. She also adds that vegetables and fruits need to be consumed within three to four hours of harvesting. The time involved in transporting the vegetables from villages makes these produce harmful, she suggests.
However, Vishwas Makam of Squarefoot Farmers disagrees. His company shut down last year because of loss. “People were interested but didn’t want to spend time or money. You need to be committed to making this work.
When the initial excitement wore off, people would not make the effort,” he says. He says that commercial urban farming, where people grow vegetables and fruits in balconies and terrace to sell it, would be a more viable option than growing individually.
However, he disagrees with the idea that urban farming is more sustainable. “Hydroponics has its perks, but ultimately you have to treat water to make it a replacement for soil. There is a lot of chemicals involved,” he says.
The problem with traditional farmers, he says, is that there is a lack of planning and technology. While bigger players are entering the industry to make it more viable, he says, it would be a while before a visible difference can be made.