A D O W N T O E A R T H S U P P L E M E N T
MARCH 15, 2004
A P O N D E R I N G PA N D I T J I
Dear Gobar Times Readers,
Is your city a dead end in terms of what you consume or is it a living urban landscape that reuses and
recycles all materials in a productive and efficient fashion — just like an healthy ecosystem? Imagine
‘edible cities’, with vast areas of agricultural plots, rooftop and terrace farms,
parkland that grows fruits and vegetables in every available space.
Urban Agriculture (UA) is a growing international movement. In a sense people
are rediscovering what the ‘poor’ farmers of traditional rural and urban societies
have always been practicing. And its not just a romantic idea of ‘beautifying’ cities
with exotic plants. It’s dead serious business of providing food and jobs to poor
people and managing the enormous waste generated in cities across the
developing world. No wonder successful city farmers refer to their line of work as
“political horticulture”! UA makes ecological sense, does it make economic sense
in a country like India — where farmers, buffeted by global economic forces, are committing suicide
and dumping tomatoes on the road to protest against falling prices of their produce? GT takes a look
at the role of the modern ‘city farmers’.
– Pandit Gobar Ganesh
Dear Cityfolk, here's why you need to grow food at home
e cityfolk consider ourselves to be very supermarkets of employment, technology and
smart. Not so, discovers Gobar Times. processors of agriculture produce. Precious farm-
The modern city has a garangutan lands are being lost all over the world to these ever
appetite and is frightfully wasteful. It takes more expanding cities. Who will feed these millions of
than it gives. It ingests tonnes and tonnes of cereals, cityfolk?
meat, vegetables and fruits grown in rural areas far
and wide; chomps, chews and digests all that food- City as an ecosystem
stuff; converts some of it into human energy; burps, In a healthy ecosystem, nutrients are largely recy-
and then spews the remaining all out as organic cled. The urban ecosystem, however, is a dead end.
garbage and sewage. Nutrients in That means depletion of resources in
this waste that should have been Before the railroads, areas outside the city and poisoning
recycled back to the land that pro- the internal of places within it. Writes Toni
duced the food, is instead dumped
combustion engine, Nelson, a researcher at the World
into and sealed in landfills or leaked Watch Institute in Washington, "This
into rivers. Smart idea? cold storage, massive shifting of nutrients from
perishable foods rural to urban areas has already
Vanishing croplands had to be produced diminished the vitality of many of the
With more and more people heading within the planet's most productive croplands,
towards urban areas and the number grazing lands, and fisheries, and the
of cities increasing dramatically,
city limits itself.
process could accelerate as more and
something will have to be done more of the human population
about these wasteful consumption habits. concentrates in cities in the coming decades. It is
It is estimated that by 2030, 60 per cent of the also creating a dilemma: how to feed the growing
world's population will live in cities. During the number of people who are far removed form
rural-urban population shift the cities have become their main sources of food, without unbalancing
66 Gobar Times, March 15, 2004, Down To Earth supplement
and collapsing the ecosystems on which those majority of people who arrive in the city become part of
people ultimately depend." large squatter settlements within the city limits, it is
That’s where Urban Agriculture (UA) helps. UA challenging city managers to assist the newcomers with
puts vacant unused urban land to good productive jobs, shelter, social services, and proper environment.
use. All the rubbish like discarded containers, empty That’s why urban cultivation has been rediscovered in
tins, plastic bags, styrofoam boxes along with developing world cities, in recent years.
unutilised terraces, rooftops and bal- Toni Nelson in the World Watch
conies become the 'fields' on which For the rich, Magazine again, "Political leaders have
crops can be grown. Biodegradable growing your own been slow to recognise and respond to
waste becomes organic fertiliser after food is in part a this dilemma. But in many cities resi-
composting. That means less garbage, dents are not waiting. Both with and
luxury and a
less pollution and more food. Besides without official sanction, millions of
producing affordable nutritious food- people are now producing food right
stuff for the urban poor in developing where they live–in empty lots, on
countries, UA also generates more
shopping. But for the rooftops, and in their own backyards."
employment within the city. Smart idea! poor, it is often a Estimates say that as many as 200 mil-
necessity. lion people are engaged in UA the
Agriculture, an urban invention? world over. Half of Latin American
Cities and farming have an ancient cities and 40 per cent of African ones
relationship. The idea of farming in are involved in urban agriculture. In
cities might seem strange initially to our Russia, 72% of all urban households
urban ears. In the classic The Economy raise food and in China, the 14 largest
of Cities, Jane Jacobs argues that agri- cities produce around 85 per cent of
culture is actually an urban invention, their vegetables.
developed in cities which were first
founded as centres of trade. As the Want to be a city farmer?
GREATER FOOD SECURITY: City
Why farm the city? q
produce supplements rural agriculture and
To mitigate the two most intractable problems helps avoid food shortages. A step towards
facing Third World cities — poverty and waste
sustainable food management.
qLESS WASTE: Cities produce a lot of solid
q LESS FOOD MILES: Cities import food and liquid organic waste. This resource can
products at great distances, thereby increas- be recycled to grow food, thus reducing
ing energy use and decreasing nutrition. garbage and pollution in the city.
Growing food in the city reduces the food
miles from the land to the mouth. q MORE INCOME: Poor families can sup-
plement their income by practising urban
agriculture and middle class families can look
to it as a form of business.
q GOOD FOR THE SOUL: Believe it or not,
but gardening at home has been known to
strengthen family ties. Thanks to community
farming in the city, neighbourhoods have
become socially cohesive and crime has
Gobar Times, March 15, 2004 Down To Earth supplement 67
"The main task of the revolution
should be to produce food." Cuban general Sio Wong
Pushed to a corner,
resort to urban
"Let's sow our
ill 1989, the USSR
powered the Cuban cities with organic,
economy. The Russians hydroponic
sold Cuba oil at a discount and mini-gardens!"
bought sugar from it at five
times the market rate. In fact Hugo Chavez,
president of Venezuela
from 1959, when communist
Fidel Castro came to power to
1989, when the communist to several hectares, which
regime collapsed in Moscow, are cultivated by individuals
85 per cent of Cuba's trade or community groups.
was with the USSR. The city now aims at
Then in 1992, America feeding itself entirely —with-
slapped a trade embargo. out imports from either rural
By conventional economics, Cuba or anywhere else in the
Cuba should have just world. Today, Havana rightly
collapsed. But it responded to Organoponic gardening claims to be the leader of
the crisis by restructuring it's is taking root in central Caracas urban agriculture in the
agriculture in the country. amid the piles of garbage, world.
Pesticides and fertiliser bands of homeless beggars.
stocks dwindled. Oil was in The gardens of Peru
short supply. Transportation, With 7 million citizens, capi-
refrigeration and storage costs had to be reduced and tal Lima houses 30 per cent of Peru. The city was
2.5 million strong Havana had to be fed. groaning thanks to rapid growth. UA was used as an
The Cubans found answers to these problems in instrument to improve the living conditions of the
urban agriculture. The people took the situation into urban poor.
their own hands and started gardening in their homes Slums started growing food in a bid to feed them-
on a massive scale. The Urban Agriculture Ministry selves and generate income by sell extra produce.
decided to back the urban farmers and made it a poli- After that, gardens were established in household
cy of putting all the city's open land into production. plots, schools, hospitals and public spaces.
The gardens of Havana are small parcels of No chemicals were used as fertiliser and solid
state-owned land, ranging from a few square meters waste was used to produce compost, pests were
68 Gobar Times, March 15, 2004, Down To Earth supplement
controlled using domestic methods. The women con-
Hydroponics: The cultivation of plants by placing the verted household leftovers, chicken and guinea pig
roots in liquid nutrient solutions rather than in soil; dung to manure. Wastewater was used where there
soil-less growth of plants. were water shortages.
Aeroponics: A technique for growing plants without Venezuela's choice
soil or hydroponic media. The plants are held above Venezuela is relatively well-off and rich in resources.
a system that constantly mists the roots with nutrient- But it decided to take inspiration from Cuba and prac-
laden water. Also called aeroculture. (See diagram below) tice UA in a bid to prevent food shortages and be less
dependent on imports. Traditionally, more than half of
Organoponics: A term peculiar to Latin America. It the country's food needs are imported.
was originally the hydroponic systems converted to Organoponic gardening (See box) is taking root in
organic cultivation by replacing the inert medium with central Caracas amid piles of garbage, bands of home-
compost made from sugar waste. less beggars, and tens of thousands of vehicles belch-
ing out polluting gas fumes.
Inside Fuerte Tiuna military headquarters, soldiers
of the crack Ayala armoured battalion supervised by
Cuban instructors have swapped their rifles for shovels
and hoes to tend neat rows of lettuce, tomatoes,
PUMP carrots, coriander, and parsley.
AIR LINE AIRSTONE
A Cuban revolution
If it was the socialist revolution of the fifties that
changed the face of Cuba, it was the UA
revolution of the nineties that transformed Cuba’s
with it, it’s own In 1999, urban Cuba produced
vocabulary. 65% OF ITS RICE
Before 1989, 46% OF ITS FRESH VEGETABLES
UA was virtually
unheard of in
38% OF ITS NON-CITRUS FRUITS, of compost to soil and run either through a
Havana, which is 13% OF ITS ROOTS, TUBERS & state institution or by private individuals.
home to 20 per PLANTAINS
cent of Cuba’s 6% OF ITS EGGS Autoconsumos: Gardens and small
population. But farms belonging to and producing food
today ‘organoponics’ and ‘hydroponics’ are for workers, usually supplying cafeterias of
buzzwords and the mushrooming farms and particular workplaces.
gardens of the capital are divided into five main
categories: Campesinos particulars: Individual small plots
cultivated by farmers, largely working in the
Huertos populares (popular gardens): greenbelt around the city.
Gardens privately cultivated by urban residents in
small areas throughout Havana. Empresas estatales: Large farms run as state
enterprises, many with increasing decentralisa-
Huertos intensivos (intensive gardens): tion, autonomy, and degrees of profit sharing with
Gardens cultivated in raised beds with a high ratio workers.
Gobar Times, March 15, 2004 Down To Earth supplement 69
Food in the United States travels an average of 2000 kms and changes hands half a dozen times before it is consumed (The Packer, 1992)
How much distance does your food travel from the
land where it was produced, into the marketplace, to
the corner store, before it reaches your plate?
FOOD SHED FOOD CIRCLE
To describe sustainable food systems, defining the The Food Circle is a production-consumption-recycle
If food products must travel 2000 kms, they must be origins and destinations of food within a particular model. A celebration of cycles, this model mirrors all
sufficiently durable to withstand shipping. That, at the bioregion — the food shed — helps one to visualise natural systems and is based on the fact that all stable, WHERE ON EARTH DID THIS COME FROM?
cost of palatability and nutritional content. The the actual ecological impact of what we eat. biological and other systems function as closed cycles
denatured, deflavored, industrial tomato is but the or circles, carefully preserving energy, nutrients,
best known exemplar of a process that has affected The foodshed concept uses the analogy of a resources and the integrity of the whole.
many fruits and vegetables. These processed foods watershed to describe the area that is defined by a
depend on artificial colours, flavours, stabilizers, structure of supply. Food comes to most of us now It links the many people involved in food production
emulsifiers, sweeteners and preservatives. through a global food system, which is destructive together in interdependent, holistic ways. When we
of both natural and social communities. While conceive of our food system as a circle, we acknowl-
RUHANI KAUR / CSE
Let’s get closer to our food chain by growing within corporations which are the principal beneficiaries of edge that we are connected with every other person in
the city itself. Urban agriculture gives the city a chance a global food system now dominate the production, that circle through the act of food production.
to close the ecosystem loop and move towards processing, distribution, and consumption of food, Practically, a Food Circle is concerned with promoting
sustainable cities. And let’s also consume fresher and alternatives are emerging which together could the consumption of safe, regionally grown food that
more nutritious food.
form the basis for foodshed development.
For example In a New York supermarket, you can
will encourage sustainable agriculture and help to
maintain farmers, who will sustain rural areas. Dependence on a
The distance from find tomatoes from Mexico, grapes from Chile,
lettuce from California, apples from New Zealand.
The goal of a Food Circle is to develop a community-
based, sustainable food system by reshaping the
which their food comes But the chances of finding city-grown tomatoes, relationships that surround food. Our dominant food
economy is also
grapes, lettuce, strawberries, or apples in the same system is globalized and industrialized, while Food
represents their separation supermarket is pretty dim, even when those crops Circles seek to create a personalized and sustainable
from the knowledge of how are in season locally. What is eaten by the great
majority of North Americans comes from a
food system. The Food Circle philosophy is built on four
fundamental principles borrowed from Green thinking
and by whom what they
consume is produced,
global everywhere! And metropolitan India is fast
and systems theory. In sum, a Food Circle is about
knowing the person who grows our food or who eats
the food we grow.
processed, and Source: Food Circle Networking Project: http://foodcircles.missouri.edu
MADE IN INDIA!
London city’s ecological
footprint is 125 times its
surface area, requiring the
equivalent of the entire
AMIT SHANKER / CSE
productive area of Britain
to sustain itself each year
70 Gobar Times, March 15, 2004 Down To Earth supplement Gobar Times, March 15, 2004 Down To Earth supplement 71
Waste of ducks,
chickens, pigs, cows,
humans, have all been
traditionally used in
Asian towns and cities
to grow food. Asians
are learning from
their past for food
Young city farmers hard
security in the future. at work at a organic farm
HONG KONG Aeroponics has been tipped as one of the most
Regarded as one of the densest large cities in the appropriate technologies for urban agriculture and
world, it produces within its boundaries two-thirds of microfarming in warm climates.
the poultry and close to half of the vegetables eaten
by its citizens and visitors. All the nutrients taken to PHILIPPINES
produce the food are returned back to the city food The early people of Manila were self-reliant in food.
ecosystem as the duck and chicken waste are used as They used to fish and grow food crops along banks of
fertilisers for the growing of vegetables. the river, evidence of the earliest forms of urban
agriculture. Today, nearly one-third of children in
SINGAPORE Metro Manila are underweight and one-fifth have
The city farms between the high rise buildings, in its stunted growth and are suffering due to undernutri-
suburban areas and the surrounding seas. Citizens of tion. Growing vegetable crops in recycled tin or plastic
Singapore consuming 70 kg per capita per year are containers placed in the yard, on windowsills, and on
self-reliant in the meat supply. Since 1974, mush- rooftops is helping address undernutrition.
rooms have been grown on multistory stacking shelves
using composts from agricultural waste such as INDONESIA
banana leaves and straw. Currently only 5 per cent of Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia houses almost 10
the 1,000 tonnes of vegetables eaten here daily are million people. Unable to feed the city, most of the
grown locally. Malaysia supplies 45 per cent of the food consumed is imported from the satellite cities.
demand, while the rest comes from Thailand, Urban farming spread quickly as a result of this crisis.
Indonesia, Australia and even far away Europe. Urban agriculture provides workers, landowners and
What does the city need to grow its own food? other people involved, with a small but significant
Just a little water, no soil. Singapore's first commercial income to support families at home, daily expenses as
aeroponics farm has arrived. Pioneers in this this farm well as expenses like school fees. Vegetables like
use aeroponics technology to grow vegetables. spinach, lettuce and cabbage are sown and all crops
72 Gobar Times, March 15, 2004 Down To Earth supplement
are harvested. Homegardens (kitchen, dooryard or
backyard gardens) are commonly found in many parts Kolkata Catch!
of Indonesia. It typically has a very high diversity of In India, human waste and wastewater reuse in
useful plants and animals. These multi crop household agriculture is an age-old tradition. West Bengal
gardens produce three times the money value per unit has 279 wastewater fed farms on an area of
of land as three-crop rice farming. 4000 hectares, supplying more than 13,000
tonnes of fish per year. It is perhaps one of the
largest wastewater fed fish farming systems in
Mumbai city farmer, Dr R T Doshi, began experiment-
ing with food production on the terrace of his bunga- the world. This form of farming was started way
low in Mumbai after retiring at the age of 61. He has back during Second World War and even today
perfected a method of growing fruits and vegetables supplies a city with more than 14 million people
for domestic consumption, which involves relatively their daily demand for fish at the same time
low labour input, organic production methods and supports the livelihoods of more than 30,000
very high yields. Today he grows vegetables, pulses, people. The pond farms different species of fish
fruits and cereals and has raised mango, fig and guava
from local species rohu, catla to exotic fishes
plants and also harvested bananas and sugarcane on
and freshwater prawns as well. The city sewage
his terrace farm. The method involves planting in
is first treated through
RANU GHOSH / CSE
different methods devel-
oped by the fishermen
over the years. Fish
yields from wastewater
ponds are 2-4 times
higher than those from
ordinary fish. The city
gets its fish supply, the
city sewage gets solved,
recovery of nutrients that
would otherwise have
been lost in wastewater.
Dr R T Doshi at his terrace farm Fish produced from city sewage in Kolkata
polyethylene bags or 45 gallon drums with the floating gardens that carry out vegetable farming. The
bottoms stuffed with biomass, such as sugarcane gardens have been believed to have existed over several
stocks from sugarcane juice vendors (something that generations and have been the source of food for the
normally goes to waste). One quarter of the bag is city and source of livelihood for the urban farmers.
then filled with compost and the remainder with soil. It is a type of water culture where weed rafts of
The system is suitable for any scale of operation in any different lengths floating on the lake are covered
open space. His methods have been adopted through- with thick layers of soil. The weed, over a period of
out Mumbai and also in neighbouring cities, gardens, time, decomposes to function as the fertiliser for the
and improving local environments, family nutrition vegetables to be grown in the floating gardens
and public health overall. including tomato, pumpkin, cucumber,
Srinagar’s Dal lake houses acres of UA gives the city a radish and lots of other vegetables.
lotus plants in full bloom across its wet- chance to close the Although the practice has been there
land ecosystem. It is not just a beautiful for many years, today when there is
flower but also food. Lotus is harvested for
ecosystem loop and high militancy in the area, vegetable or
its stems called nadru which are eaten all move towards lotus farming is the only choice of
round the year. The lake is famous for its sustainable cities income for many in the city.
Gobar Times, March 15, 2004 Down To Earth supplement 73
Modern colonial cities were planned and managed to have food production on the outskirts of the city
using "modern" agriculture and producing "European" crops. The great Scottish urban thinker, Patrick
Geddes, condemned these when he visited the city of Indore in India during the First World War: "from
the callous, contemptuous city bureaucrat at Delhi, I have now to tackle here the well-intentioned
fanatic of sanitation-perhaps an even tougher proposition. Instead of the 19th century European
panacea of "Everything to the sewer!"…the right maxim for India is the traditional rural one of
"Everything to the soil!"
rban agriculture (UA) gained importance farming systems. The Javanese aqua-terra system
in the 1980s throughout the world with combining multi-crop water system and soil farming
almost a three-fold increase in Moscow, systems have still survived in some areas.
Russia and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Like the Aztec aqua-terra chinampas in Mexico. At
other cities of Africa as massive shifts of Tenochititlan, the site of Mexico city today, the Spanish
urban land from open space, institutional and invaders in the 15th century found the largest city they
transportation was used for agricultural production. In had known at the time. A principal source of food pro-
the poorest of poor countries such as Kenya and duction was a form of aqua-terra farming known as
Tanzania, three of every five families in towns and chinampas. Irrigation systems helped farmers to pro-
cities are engaged in urban agriculture. The trend also duce three crops a year in areas that today give only
spread to cities such as Bangkok where 60% of the two crops. These city farmers also had sophisticated
land was farmed. Throughout the world there is a methods of soil improvement and insect control.
long tradition of farming intensively in the cities. In all Manula describe the use of human and animal waste in
parts of the world, ancient civilisations developed mixture with other waste materials to be used as inputs
urban agricultural systems to feed the cities. Examples in agriculture. Cities' wastewater flowed into tanks
include Ghana, India, China, Iraq, Java, Pakistan, and from tanks to irrigate fields.
Guatemala, Mexico and Peru. The inten- Machu Picchu, the lost city of the
sive production of perishables, small Inca appears to have been self-sufficient
livestock, fish and poultry within the city in food within walking distance. The
was essential to city life. Grains, fruits main city also had a suburban area that
and vegetables were shipped from the carried out intensive agriculture.
nearby countryside. In certain In the ancient systems various
cultures crops such as mushrooms and techniques such as sun reflectors in
medicinal and culinary herbs were Tigris and Euphrates were used to heat
specially developed in urban areas. In the soil. At Machu Picchu standing
Latin America, Aztec, Mayan and Incan water of aqua-terra systems held off
cities were self-reliant in perishable mountain frost. In Bolivia today the
fruits and vegetables but also raised sun’s heat is stored in the adobe walls
some grains within the confined hinter- of the greenhouse even today.
land. Similarly towns and cities of early Cultures throughout history have
civilisations of Java and Indus valley used their dwellings, workplaces, and
show traces of high-intensity irrigated communal spaces to produce food and
74 Gobar Times, March 15, 2004 Down To Earth supplement
other basic needs. In Yemen, for example, some towns by straw mats used to cover the crops during severe
and cities have integrated high-rise architecture with winter. 50 kg of per capita of fresh salads, vegetables
organic urban gardens over the last two thousand and fruits were produced annually which exceeded
years. These gardens use traditional techniques of the levels of consumption of these foods. Products
stacking layers of shrubs, vegetables, herbs and root were exported to as far as London. The system
crops under a canopy of date palms —mimicking the reached its maximum peak in the plate 19th century,
ecological structure of natural forests. its rapid decline can be explained by three factors:
In Europe compost using horse manure has been the virtual replacement of the horse by the motor
used over the years to heat raised vegetable beds. car, competition for land within the city and
Before modern urban sanitation systems were devel- competition from areas with more favourable
oped in the late 19th century, urban agriculture was climate outside the city-facilitated by the improvement
the main treatment and disposal of urban waste. Food in the transport system. This system of cultivation
was delivered by donkey carts to the markets and the remains one of the most productive ones ever
>> The struggle to sanitise the cities has been waged for more than a decade now. But the
systems are unsustainable because they shift increasing volumes of waste from one location to
another within the urban ecosystem >>
ARVIND YADAV / CSE
PRADIP SAHA / CSE
city wastes in turn were delivered to the fields — both documented. The productive biological recycling of
rural and urban. waste products of the city's transport system contrasts
For example, the Marais farming system of 19th with requirements and consequences of the present
century Paris. 100 years ago a sixth of the area of Paris day urban ecosystems. But today the accepted idea
was used to produce annually more than 100,000 has become the “the city beautiful” or the “city
tonnes of high-value of of season salad crops. A clean”. Modern agricultural ways have replaced the
sustainable cropping pattern as it used approximately traditional ones in many developing cities. But there is
1 million tones of stable manure produced each year quite revolution coming about as there are many cities
by horses, which provided power for the city's who are in a process to adopt the biointensive marai
transport system. This system became famous in system.
Europe in the late 19th century that very intensive The struggle to sanitise the cities has been waged
horticulture using heavy inputs of biological origin is for more than a decade now. But the systems are
still called French gardening today. In energy, mass unsustainable because they shift increasing volumes of
and money terms the inputs and output of the Parisian waste from one location to another within the urban
urban agro-ecosystem exceed those of present ecosystem. With multiplication of urban populations
day fully industrialised crop production. In this system and the food systems becoming more unreliable urban
3-6 harvests a year were obtained through inter-crop- hunger multiplied with urban growth. In response
ping. Year round production was made possible by UA became the solution to the city.
the heat and carbon dioxide released through the
manure fermentation, shelter by two-metre high (Taken from the book, Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs
walls, glass-covered frames and bell-shaped glass and and Sustainable Cities, UNDP)
Gobar Times, March 15, 2004 Down To Earth supplement 75
City farms provide children
an opportunity to learn about ecology
and create their own
ommunity gardens and
school gardens. Recre- Also, many such gardens are
ation and education. environmentally sound. That's
Food for the soul and food for because community gardeners
thought. At the start of the last are often immigrants from devel-
century, almost 80 percent of oping countries or rural areas. In
the population were raised on some cases, they can't afford
farms. What a reality teacher! commercial fertilisers and pesti-
Now cityfolk in both the devel- cides. So, they practice sustain-
oped and developing world are able ways of adding nutrients
recognising the values and (composting and intercropping),
ethics of an agrarian lifestyle. conserving water (mulching,
City gardens can aid both urban mounds and furrows), and con-
planners and educators. trolling pests (like the use of
marigolds to repel nematodes,
LEARNING FROM SCHOOL GARDENS
We do it together use of soap solutions in place of
In community gardens people SCIENCE: ecological literacy commercial pesticides).
share land to grow plants, Rural gardeners retain
ECONOMICS: rural and urban traditional practices that were
exchange resources, socialise
and cultivate a sense of "com- POLITICS: rich vs poor developed before industrial
munity". Empty lots, apartment agriculture.
HEALTH: nutritious food
complexes ground or land next
to social centres, land near tem- ART: aesthetics We all learn together
ples, mosques and churches can Growing children and growing
be converted to community gar- plants gel well together. It helps
dens. These gardens become valuable green spaces in them understand the connection between their
densely populated neighborhoods. health, the food they eat, and where it comes from. In
Such gardens are mushrooming even in the addition to that they learn plant science and ecology.
US. Local residents, tired of vacant land, trash, and School gardens have been known to increase their
crime are transforming vacant lots into community confidence levels too. Through simple science experi-
green spaces with vegetables, flowers, sitting ments and hands-on activities, schoolchildren are able
areas and playgrounds. It is estimated that there are to see, smell, taste and touch plants.
15000 organised community gardens in the US. A Many of our schools offer students cold, concrete
reason for their growing popularity is that school yards with chain link fences that make schools
they address the unique needs of the particular look more like prisons. By transforming the school
neighborhood. ground to include nature, the learning opportunities
76 Gobar Times, March 15, 2004 Down To Earth supplement
literally come alive. Schools need to redesign their
play space to provide students with a healthy and Animation playgrounds
safe place to play, learn, and develop a genuine
respect for nature and each other. Extracts from a report based on research done by Oliver
School gardens can become mini-farms and a Ginsberg, Chairperson of the Association of Adventure
source of healthy, nutritious food, an opportunity for Playgrounds and Cityfarms (AKiB) in Berlin, on ninety such
projects across six countries in Europe — what they
environmental restoration and a well of inspiration
contribute to sustainable urban development:
for children, teachers and parents. School yards are
an amazing land resource but, often neglected. It was the Danish landscape architect C. Th. Sorensen who
Also, educators say that outdoor classrooms are a first recognized the importance of "skrammellegepladsen"
priority. Students use outdoor classrooms to explore (rubbish playgrounds), which should give children access to
various outdoor themes like the weather. various construction play materials and the possibility to
Stepping outside the classroom to answer a create their own play environment rather then provide them
question, plant seeds, or observe insects on flowers with already furnished, neat play sites.
not only adds variety to the curriculum, but also In the official programmes of sustainable development
motivates many students who are less engaged in the children and young people are obviously neglected. Within
usual class routines. Students who strain to sit still in the 500 pages of the "Agenda 21" the world "child" or
class may be captivated — and stimulated — watch- "children" appears just about 60 times, while the word
ing a beetle make its way through a just-turned pile "government" is used more than 1000 times! They are usu-
of dirt. When students have the opportunity to ask ally just mentioned in connection with social infrastructure
like schools or day care centers. Their specific (play) needs
their own questions about things that interest them
are hardly mentioned, neither their need for open space
and discover the answers, they are taking vital steps
within the city. The fact that adequate play space tends to
to becoming lifelong learners.
"For more than ten thousand years, cultivation of land and the rearing of farm animals was a
"natural" part of civilization. Farming is the root of the urbanisation process, the dynamics of
which in turn has driven farming out of our daily experiences."
Teaching sustainability disappear from the cities even within the frame of "vitaliza-
Children are also introduced directly to the impacts of tion" and "interior development" simply has no impact on
our present global food production and delivery the minds of many political decision makers. This kind of
systems. They'll understand depletion of ecologically- play deprivation however is a very important part of the
productive lands for the purpose of growing cash reason for increasing health problems and juvenile violence
as has paradoxically been acknowledged most strongly
crops, pesticide, energy and water use, transporta-
in the US lately.
tion, climate change, international trade routes,
The fact, that the contributions of adventure playgrounds
nutrition, global economics and social justice issues
and city farms to sustainable development are still underesti-
mated in the public perhaps coincides with the fact, that
School gardens saves urban children from being children and their way of life which is inevitably playful are
detached from the food chain. For example in 2003, themselves restricted to the parts of "extras" in the debate
the Japan Slow Food Association asked 100,000 kids on sustainability. They are often reduced to some anony-
to paint pictures to decorate the dinner table. Few of mous upgrowing or future generations and their specific
them drew real vegetables and fish. Most drew (play) needs and rights are hardly ever adequately addressed
pictures of the plastic containers that line the shelves or, if their needs are articulated, it is usually done in such a
of grocery stores. general way that hardly any definite conclusions can be
Now that wouldn’t happen if you had a small drawn therefrom as far as urban planning is concerned,
garden with vegetables in your school yard. which should adjust to these needs.
Gobar Times, March 15, 2004 Down To Earth supplement 77
MYTHS & REALITY
Myth 1: Urban agriculture means kitchen gardening. Myth 5: Urban agriculture is unhygienic.
Household and community gardening are an Health problems are undoubtedly the most
important and a very easy individual based serious consequence of inappropriately practiced
contribution towards farming. urban farming. Pesticides, fertilisers and untreated
But urban agriculture is not limited to the indi- sewage can pollute the urban environment.
vidual houses.It goes beyond that and looks at the Farming along the roadsides, where crops are
food system that feeds millions that live in the city. susceptible to automobile exhaust, can lead to
food contamination. However, appropriate urban
Myth 2: Urban agriculture is a marginal activity or agriculture is not harmful, but has the potential to
means of survival. improve hygiene in the city because it uses polluting
Urban agriculture means good access to food for waste as a production input.
the poorest, a source of income and good food for
the stable poor, savings, nutritious and safe food for Myth 6: Urban agriculture causes pollution and
the middle class and profits for entrepreneurs. For damages the environment.
the poorest, it cuts expenses on fuel and foods Urban farming can cause pollution
that are by far the maximum of the soil, water and air and affect urban
income spent areas by areas adversely. The solution is to provide
this group. Also urban guidance and assistance to make it a safer
agriculture is central to industry for farmers, consumers and the
the city’s economy and environment.
generates incomes and
jobs within the city. Myth 7: Urban agricul-
ture is unsightly and aes-
Myth 3: Urban agriculture thetically inappropriate
grabs land that could have in the city.
been given higher price value Urban agriculture
as rent. It is a bad investment. creates green spaces in the
Urban agriculture usually utilises land that is city, replacing vacant or unproductive spaces within
either lying idle or unsuitable for other purposes. the city into green and productive spaces, while at
Or, it uses land that is allocated for other uses, thus the same time providing livelihood to the urban
giving back higher values. Most cities have many poor. If the fields in the rural villages are considered
unused spaces in the city that can be made green beautiful, why are plots of vegetables considered an
spaces. In Delhi, vast tracts of land are devoted to eyesore?
lawns. These can be used for urban agriculture.
Lawns are aesthetic, but have no productive value, Myth 8: Urban agriculture is an archaic, utopian
consume enormous amounts of water and are concept and cannot be created today.
mainly for the rich. This passion for lawns has its In the past, western thought nurtured the con-
origins in British colonial tradition. cept of garden cities or farming in the city. Of late,
"modernity" is equated to concrete cities. “Urban”
Myth 4: Urban agriculture competes with and is less is associated with "industrial" and “rural” with
efficient than rural farming. “agricultural”. This paradigm shapes the world of
The truth is that urban agriculture thrives on today. That is why urban agriculture has been omit-
products that are less suited for rural farming and ted from urban planning requirements. Farming has
that might be too costly for the urban poor. been positioned as an outdated and backward
Mushroom and broccoli are two such examples. activity, not fit for the modern city by planners.
78 Gobar Times, March 15, 2004 Down To Earth supplement
Make Your Own
Micro-garden at Home!
You don’t need land. Making a small farm at home is quite simple and can be
done so with things lying around the house and some waste material and water
on a rooftop, terrace or balcony.
You need a container to grow the plants.
Earthen or cement pots are the best. Wooden crates lined on the inside with plastic, old
tires, egg trays,any plastic containers can also be used. You can even take an old
wooden bed and cover it with thick black plastic.
You need to put a substrate in the container.
Rice hull, sawdust, volcanic scoria, sand, gravel, coconut fibre, perlite, peat, peanut
husks etc. You will also require a nutrient solution which can be obtained from the
fermentation of organic waste material.
You need a suitable location.
Basically, you need 1 to 10 square metres of free space, a minimum of six hours of
daily sunlight and a clean water source. So the options could be your rooftop, balcony,
backyard or any place else that meets the requirements.
You have to select what you have to grow.
Tomato, beans, onion, garlic, gourds, potato, celery, pepper, chilly, carrot, lettuce,
basil, cucumber, radish, cabbage, red beet, spinach, eggplant, medicinal plants...
People have even grown mangoes and maize on a terrace garden.
Go organic: Be a chemical free farmer. Buy readymade, or compost your own
organic kitchen, garden, left over food, household waste. You can create a vermi-
compost bin even on a balcony in a flat. It really works.
Be Waterwise: Wastewater from kitchen and bathrooms can be treated, recycled and
Be chemical free: make use of bio-pesticides using neem, turmeric, lemons, tobacco,
garlic, onions. Soap solution helps. Plant 'plant traps' like marigold or chrysanthemums
to mitigate bugs. Remember pests cannot be controlled, only managed.
Now you’re ready to be a City farmer!
To know more about organic kitchen and terrace gardens or school or community gardens, write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Gobar Times, March 15, 2004 Down To Earth supplement 79
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