A zany new book from Auroville lets you reap the benefits of your terrace
My Pumpkin Roof is more than just a catchy title. The product of Aurovillian Martin Scherfler’s extensive gardening experience, the book is both a call to action and a practical guide, which should resonate with city-dwellers concerned about the quality of their food. Growing up in rural Austria, with parents from a farming background, ‘growing your own’ is a way of life for Scherfler. “I didn’t appreciate how lucky I was when I was made to work in the garden as a chore,” he jokes, adding that he only realised the value of home-grown food when he apprenticed as a chef and began to notice the massive deficiency in the taste and smell of commercially-grown products. Since re-locating to Auroville in 2007, he’s had the space to indulge his passion and learned to adapt his skills to a tropical climate.
Trial and error
Scherfler first came to India as part of an Austrian government year-long ‘social service’ programme that saw him working with widows in Himachal Pradesh. Intrigued by Auroville, after a brief visit in 2001, he decided to spend a few months in the community before returning to Europe for his PhD. “A few months turned into a few more, and I decided to stay permanently in 2007,” he shares. Since then, he found his niche co-founding Auroville Consulting, which advises institutions on ecological sustainability. “In my day job, I preach sustainability so I also have to live it. Gardening is one of the easiest ways to do that. It requires little investment, and you learn by trial and error,” he says.
At the moment, Scherfler is enjoying the summer harvest, with a bounty of tomatoes, long beans, brinjal and okra, which he shares with his neighbours and colleagues, who are then often inspired to start a garden of their own. He hopes that the book, with illustrations inspired by Tamil pop art by illustrator Navleen Kohli, will have a broad appeal, taking that inspiration beyond his own community. There are sections on the benefits and history of the urban agriculture movement, as well as practical advice on what to plant and when, tips on containers and tools, a guide to organic pest control, and even recipe suggestions. “It’s a book that you can open up and begin at any page,” says Scherfler. And with real issues like food inflation and scarcity linked to population growth, he feels it will have wide resonance.
Rs 395 on amazon.in
— Maegan Dobson Sippy