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Choosing Life
April 08, 2022 COMMENT comment
Choosing Life
By Jamuna Rangachari
Going back to the nature is what will ensure our well-being and good health in the long term. Let us go green without much delay. There is a growing tribe of a urban farmers who grow their own food in every nook and cranny available to them in space-starved cities. There are a few but not insurmountable challenges in urban organic farming.
Jayashree Joshi Easwaran firmly believes in going the organic way to lead a complete and healthy life. And it is for this reason that she founded Dubdengreen in Delhi along with her husband, Ganesh Easwaran. "I wanted to provide real food as well as an alternative both to consumers as well as the farmers," she says explaining why she got into organic farming.
"When you buy from your local vendor," she elaborates, "you sometimes get goods in your basket that are practically organic but without the label 'organic', because some farmers still grow it the old fashioned way without the chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They simply can't afford them. Then, since they don't know about the market for organic, they sell it to the main mandi or market."
Organic farming has thrived in India since ancient times. But the Green Revolution many decades back changed farming in India forever. Pesticides, ultra-high usage of water, and all the talk of GMO (genetically modified organism) more recently... you name it, India has it, "but without some of the stricter policies to protect the end product that some, especially European, countries have," informs Easwaran.
So can one trust the organic labels in India? "A lot of the organic market for Indian goods is in Europe or the US. So most of the verification agencies are from there," she explains. "Even the Indian brands have to meet that standard. Also, many of them export to those countries," she adds. The whole process of verification costs the farmers money. Then, for the seller, the transport costs more for smaller quantities of organic goods ordered and brought in. This explains the slightly higher prices for the consumer.
At home the organic way
If you find organic products expensive, it wouldn't be a preposterous idea to become a farmer yourself. And no, you don't have to leave the city for that. Meet the growing tribe of urban farmers who grow their own food in every nook and cranny available to them in space-starved cities.
"My husband and I started our own organic farm 20 years ago near Bangalore and we know the joys of it. Now we have personal connections to all our suppliers. That just gives us the security that these guys are really into it and only supply high-quality organic produce," shares Easwaran. "But you have to love this in order to deliver the best quality. Those people who are just into it for the money, grow sour quickly because the market is not offering riches yet," she warns.
Sudha Pai from Pune, with whom I organised a workshop on organic farming in our naval base in Lonavala, is another example. The sprightly 78-year-old has a beautiful flourishing garden on the roof of her home. She stunned us all with the pictures of guavas, seetaphal and other vegetables from her terrace garden. Her home is now visited by gardeners and environmentalists in Pune and elsewhere, and is an example for many. She also works to spread awareness among the inhabitants of Magarpatta City and has taken strong steps towards 'Managing the Garbage' generated by the city.
She professes that household garbage should be considered by us as our own personal problem and managed efficiently to not only preserve the environment but in turn bear fruits for us. "All one has to do is separate out the garbage into wet (example, kitchen waste and garden waste) and dry (plastic and other stuff ) and then make constructive use of this wet garbage," she says. Further, she urges everyone to spend some amount of time every day to keep the planet clean and healthy. This is actually not very difficult and does not require too much money; only the investment of a little time and care, she says.
Preeti Patil of Mumbai echoes similar sentiments. "If everyone took to terrace farming, Mumbai would have acres of farmland, enough to make the city partially self-sustainable," says Patil, one of the founders of Urban Leaves, an organisation whose philosophy is "Reap what you sow, eat what you grow".
Samprati Gada who is also part of Urban Leaves, Mumbai, shares his experience: "I always had a fascination for growing a kitchen garden despite living in apartment blocks in a city. I read articles in newspapers and saw video clips about people in the city who have experimented and are growing vegetables. It was way back in 1991 when I started with regular plants such as lemon grass, curry leaf plant, chillies and a lime. There were other flowering plants as well. At that point of time, I would deal with pest attacks by spraying the regular insecticides and pesticides – not realising how harmful they can be to us and the environment. Then I started looking for alternative bio-safe pest management systems such as neem leaf spray, chilly garlic solution, dilute cow urine and so on."
Upon joining Urban Leaves, he also learned that pests are an indicator of poor health of the plant. Pests are always present in nature and so are their natural predators. So the action should be to create an environment as close to the nature as possible. This will attract the predators into your kitchen garden and keep the pests in natural control.
Apart from this, another important lesson Gada took home was that it is a misconception that one needs large tracts of land to grow vegetables. In truth, one can easily grow vegetables at home in pots, tubs and containers kept on a window sill or in balconies. What one needs to remember is providing the plants with ample sunlight, a good potting medium and sufficient container size for a good growth of roots.
Can we see an organic India soon?
In the last three years there has been a palpable increase in interest and an annual increase of about 20–25 per cent in organic farming. However, it is still early yet in terms of sales, marketing as well as understanding across the country or even in the metros and mini-metros and large cities.
Easwaran avers though there has been increased awareness and interest, there still are some barriers we need to overcome like:
Where to buy; will you get a full range; what is the cost – is it too much – if so, how much more? Information on the specifics is not too readily available as most organic stores or farmers cannot afford the communication.
There are myths about organic products being unaffordable. I say "myths" because if middle class people can spend on designer labels and have coffee for ` 100, they can afford the extra costs involved. Also, mind you, not each and every item of organic produce is expensive. Most people in cities eat out at least once a week. If they were to cut out one outing, they can absorb the cost of organic produce for the whole month.
Another barrier is lack of easy accessibility. Organic goods are available in select places, not always nearby. This prevents a lot of people from buying organic.
On the supplier side, the organic farmer does not quite have the network to get his produce to reach the organic consumer or market. In the case of fresh produce or perishables, there is no cold chain and this makes it even worse.
As far as the challenges in urban farming at home are concerned, the prime concern is of the correct location with sufficient sunlight. Often cities are so overcrowded that neighbouring buildings cast shadows and not sufficient sunlight is available. In such case, one is restricted to growing plants which have tolerance for less sunlight.
The second issue is space. More space definitely helps as one can have a greater variety of food plants and also re-create natural surroundings to integrate predators for keeping check on the pests if any.
The biggest challenge is people's inertia and lethargy towards growing one's food at home – even if for partial self sustenance. Many people have a strong inhibitive mindset that this is not possible and not worthwhile.
However, the sheer joy of seeing the fruits of one's labour is something that needs to be experienced and no words can be enough to describe it.
In sum
Considering the benefits of going organic and the hazards of not going organic, shouldn't we all take this crucial step? Whether it is buying organic produce or growing food at home, I for one, have vowed to go the organic way. I hope you will join me as well.
Sudha Pai
www. garbagetogardens.
Urban Leaves
253 Shahpur Jat Market New Delhi 110049 Phone: 32905310, 9810302466
www.organicbounty. com/
If everyone took to terrace farming, Mumbai would have acres of farmland, enough to make the city partially selfsustainable.

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