While water scarcity is no longer an issue, space scrunch and lack of knowledge is still a problem for anyone looking to go organic and grow their own food. “The culture of gardening is catching on and there are various groups on Facebook (like Chennai Organic Terrace Gardeners and Grow your own veggies) that gives useful information,” says Anoop Kumar CP, a city-based farming and horticulture consultant. Also, at times like this, where water pollution is rampant, plants can help. “In the wake of rains, you will realise how growing plants like canna (its roots) can help in purifying dirty water,” says Sumithra Srikant, an interior designer and a gardener for nine years. We speak with other experts who are creating forums to mobilise knowledge on going green.
Over the phone
The former head of HR at Ansaldo Caldaie, Kalyanam Malini (52) was so passionate about pottery that she switched careers and started her own pottery school, Artistic Pottery Training Academy, in 2006. This year, her interest in gardening lead her to start a WhatsApp group, Plants…Green Vistas, where members give tips on everything from using coco peat to creating lotus ponds. “We began in October and are 31 members now. Anyone can be a part of the group provided they stick to the subject of nature,” says Malini, of the group that has members from over eight cities including Jaipur, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru. The 52-year-old, who grows tulsi, aloe vera and fenugreek, and other plants in recycled coconut shells, informs that these are available for sale at her charitable trust The Palm. They also train women from the villages of Maargral and Kaliyampoondi to grow and sell plants for a livelihood.
The Urban Farmers, comprising five college mates Kern Agrawal, Karan Maheshwary, Kenneth Lowe, Ashwin Kurisinkal and Mathews Cherickal (all under 30), was created when a class assignment got them thinking about on unused terrace spaces. Focussing mainly on growing vegetables like tomatoes and okra, and greens like spinach, they started off on Loyola Institute of Business Administration’s rooftop in 2013. Using natural fertilisers and space management, they’ve helped over 25 individual households (in places like Adyar, ECR and Padi) do the same,. They plan to conduct workshops next year—for children and adults. With vector borne diseases a serious problem now, Agrawal says, “Grow lemongrass, it helps ward off mosquitoes.” Details: facebook.com/theurbanfarmers.in
Senthil Kumar Babu believes that pesticides and chemical fertilisers rob the grains and vegetables of their nutrients. So he started Chennai Green Commune 17 years ago. “Crops treated with things like endosulfan is poison. Studies have shown that their consumption leads to non-curable diseases. CGC aims to help produce poison-free food,” says Babu. Besides helping individuals set up gardens and organising workshops on organic farming, they also promote traditional seeds. “We have a seed bank that has only traditional seeds (of rice and other grains) which we procure from farmers in Arcot, Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur and Thanjavur districts,” says the 40-year-old, adding anyone is welcome to use them. Their Pavika, Parambarya Vidaigalai Kaapom (Let’s save the traditional seeds) programme also teaches school children its importance.
Being a full-time mother and a software engineer didn’t stop Benit Amala from taking up gardening. She started with indoor plants and then decided to explore her terrace with vegetables like radish and beans. Next the 27-year-old started her blog MrsRoofGardener, where she chronicles her experience and shares tips like using coffee grounds to fertilise plants. Now she has a WhatsApp group, CTGardeners—100-member strong, it is all about gardening. Last month, she also organised the Chennai Traditional Gardeners Meet, where, “city-based experts like Alladi Mahadevan (grows organic produce) spoke and we had workshops for children”. Details: mrsroofgardener.com
Hit the roof
The joy of cooking vegetables harvested from your own garden is incomparable. Ask Sruti Harihara Subramanian, co-owner of Ashvita Bistro, who grows vegetables on the cafe’s terrace. Three years back she started her terrace farming with tips from city-based horticulturist Harish Krishnamurthy, on using the right soil to the correct way of sowing. “A few friends came over to know more. Then we realised that there were more like us who wanted to know how to grow plants,” Subramanian says. She soon started a series of workshops on gardening, that has become regular monthly sessions with 80 regulars today. Covering topics like plant diseases, pests and home composting, “Now, the regulars have become friends and have started exchanging plants. If they have a damaged plant, they bring it here to get advice,” she says. On the second or third Saturday of every month at their Alwarpet outlet. Details: facebook.com/ashvitaevents
Did you know you can make your own floor cleaner, with citronella oil (for disinfecting)? To share such simple alternatives and to promote “all things green”, Akhila Vijayaraghavan (31) and Janani Nagarajan (28), founded Greendezvous, a non-profit social forum earlier this year. It also attempts to get people interested in sustainability, “It shouldn’t be just MNCs that go green. Every individual should also take steps to preserve nature,” says Vijayaraghavan, adding that they organise monthly sessions with a guest speaker to discuss such topics. Their last event, held a couple of weeks back, saw Dr K Vijayalakshmi, one of the founders of the Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems, give tips on differentiating between chemically-treated and organic vegetables. Details: facebook.com/greendezvous
— Ranjitha G