For Hyderabad-based entrepreneur Kota Elizabeth, lockdown months and lack of activities reignited her interest in plants. The result: a terrace spread over around 1200 square feet is now a plentiful garden of leafy vegetables, brinjal, okra and bottle gourd, and fruits ranging from guava, mulberry, fig, passion fruit, miracle fruit, lemon, orange, pineapple, grapes, and even five different varieties of mangoes.
She had moved into the home only in February 2020, a month before the lockdown was imposed, and this lush green space became ‘Eli’s world’—also the name of a YouTube channel the 47-year-old started a year ago. With about 6,200 subscribers now and constant engagement with her viewers, she believes people’s interest in rooftop gardens is on the rise.
“With a zero budget, you can grow anything on your terrace. Through my channel, I share my knowledge and experience in growing vegetables and fruits. Since I am passionate about cooking, I do videos on a variety of dishes that can be cooked post the harvest,” says the B.Com graduate who lives with her family on the outskirts of Secunderabad.
A fortnightly gathering of men and women in Hyderabad, both young and old, who are curious about growing chemical-free vegetables and fruits on the balconies, kitchens, and rooftops of their urban homes, is proof enough to indicate the rising demand for urban farming practices. This growing interest among people has also resulted in the emergence of a bunch of YouTubers, and even authors and resource persons, who through their passion projects spread the message of sustainable urban farming far and wide.
A Latha is another successful YouTuber, who has a tasteful terrace garden spread over 1800 sq. ft which she has been nurturing since 2013. On her terrace, she has eight varieties of mangoes, six types of custard apples, 14 types of guava, egg fruit, miracle fruit, strawberry, pineapple, and several others including five varieties of bananas. ‘Latha’s terrace garden’, a YouTube channel she started a year ago has over 11,000 subscribers today. During the pandemic months, she was flooded with phone calls and WhatsApp messages from people interested in emulating her garden. It was difficult to answer every query, says the homemaker from Beeramguda, explaining the story behind her channel.
“Now that one’s focus is on wellness and immunity, people understand the importance of chemical-free fruits and vegetables in their diet. And many people like me have demonstrated how to grow on a terrace even fruits that are not suitable for our climate,” she adds.
M Hanumantha Rao, an ex-serviceman from Kushaiguda, also has a similar story. What kept him engaged after he retired—a passion for growing his vegetables and fruits—took a giant leap for him in 2019 when he started his YouTube channel ‘ManikondaHanumathaRaoTerraceGarden’. The channel is Rao’s medium to communicate with his 34,000 subscribers as he responds to their queries and even sends them his home-grown seeds by post, free of cost. “Earlier, too, people were interested in knowing but now they are interested and also follow up with action. Once a person sees his/her plants grow, they will be hooked on to them for life,” says the 62-year-old, who has been promoting kitchen compost as a key component for terrace gardening.
Latha, agreeing with Rao, says several software employees have approached her for guidance. “Gardening is also good for mental health even though it requires only an hour in the morning as well as in the evening,” she adds.
A proponent of terrace gardening in smaller spaces for nearly three decades, Shaik Noorjahan, 52, started a YouTube channel ‘Noorjahan terrace garden’ in 2019. With over 700 videos, she has over 53,000 subscribers to date. Like Rao, she is also someone who believes no kitchen waste should go out of one’s home. “It takes only 20 days to prepare compost from kitchen waste. With some soil and dung, healthy plants can be grown anywhere. Especially post-Covid, I am getting a lot of enquiries from smaller towns where people prefer naturally grown vegetables over what’s available in the market,” adds Noorjahan, who has vegetables and fruits growing all over her balconies and terrace.
A trainer and resource person, Nagunuri Rakesh, 29, admits that interest in terrace gardening has grown immensely in smaller towns after the pandemic. His company has of late started receiving enquiries and work assignments to set up terrace gardens in Warangal, Karimnagar, Adilabad, and Nizamabad districts, apart from Hyderabad.
“Vegetables in the market are expensive as well as contaminated. While it was primarily homemakers and retirees who took to terrace farming for healthy food before the pandemic, now people of all age groups are showing interest. From a new hobby to family activity and to inculcate the value of food to the next generation, people have multiple reasons now apart from just being health-conscious,” says Rakesh, who has held over 200 workshops in the last two years, in association with the state’s horticulture department.
According to B Manga, the horticulture officer in charge of training, the department has since 2013 trained 17,769 people through day-long sessions every second Saturday and fourth Sunday of a month. “At least 100 people join us during every session. Most are first-timers and keen enthusiasts. Apart from imparting basics and sharing relevant contacts of suppliers, we are available for guidance throughout. Through 20 WhatsApp groups for now, where we are connected to about 2,700 people. It is a community where they share their concerns, learnings, knowledge and experience,” says the officer, who feels WhatsApp groups and YouTube channels are revolutionising the concepts of urban farming.
Government data shows an approximate area of 16.05 lakh sq mt of terrace area (about 401.25 acres) is covered by urban farming in Greater Hyderabad.