After returning from Austin, Texas, Kapil Mandawewala began tilling his family’s 22 acre land just outside Jamnagar in Gujarat. Mono-cropping of tomatoes paved the way for a farm designed on the principles of permaculture and mixed cropping that yielded seasonal and local produce along with herbs that were grown in a shade-net house. Mandawewala established a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) system that facilitated the exchange of the produce between neighbouring districts in 2008. Six years later, he would set up Edible Routes, an organisation that provides step-by-step guidance on how to design and build urban organic landscapes in confined city-spaces such as balconies and terraces. School programmes and workshops that focus on kitchen gardening, composting, soil management, environmental conservation and regenerative eco-systems are the other intiatives by them.
“The idea is to not just create an ornamental garden but one that the family can truly make use of. We follow nature and try to design landscapes using locally available resources. By focussing on seasonal farming, we have been able to grow lauki, tori, squash, cholai, bhindi and broccoli in people’s homes,” says Madawewala. They also set up herb gardens for those with limited space or reduced access to direct sunlight. An edible landscape costs between Rs 2,000 for 30 sqft to Rs 3 lakh for 1,000 sqft.
Edible Routes and startups such as Khetify are building momentum for a shift back to traditional agrarian practices. “It is imperative to start a system where edibles can be grown at home,” says Shabnam Kapoor of Khetify. They charge Rs 20,000 for five boxes along with seeds, drip irrigation and a year’s maintenance
Another start-up, Greenopia, aims to “put a little bit of nature on an urban desk” by designing smart, self-watering pots that allow plants to be monitored from anywhere in the world through a mobile app. “This self-watering system mimics how plants water themselves by creating a water table. Through the capillary action, they soak in as much water as they need so you never over-water your plants,” says co-founder Mayukhini Pande. She adds, “We are trying to bring gardening back into the lives of urban professionals.” A smart pot is priced at priced at Rs 2,250.
Organic urban farming needs to be uncomplicated, undemanding as well sustainable for organisations such as Edible Routes, Khetify and Greenopia to actualise their mission. “Along with providing year-long maintenance services and workshops, we also encourage families to take an interest in gardening, teach them sophisticated practices such as drip irrigation, mud management and compost creation,” says Kapoor who envisions a “hyperlocal, crowdsourced micro-economy where everyone is a producer and a consumer.”
Sharing her vision, Mandawewala says, “What if our food was grown within walking distance of where we live? Or, if we knew everyone who grew our food? This would not only give us access to fresh produce but also inculcate a strong sense of community.”