Story By 
Salma Rehman

“I had a huge space on the terrace of my flat and I was clueless how to use it but now I am happy after I see it flourish before my eyes. The greenery is really soothing,” says Charul Chaudhary, an urban gardener from Gurgaon.

After all the hue and cry raised on the use of pesticides and fertilizers in farming, ‘Urban Gardening’ could be a safer and  more convenient option to ensure that whatever one eats is at least healthier and free of toxins.

Urban gardens have started blooming in the cities like Bengaluru and Mumbai and the concept has recently picked up pace in Delhi where a lot of people out of awareness are practising Urban gardening.

“The concept in itself is not very nascent but the focus of the cultivation has shifted more towards organic farming as people are becoming more and more aware about the presence of harmful toxins in the food that ultimately results from the excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers,” says Ritu Malhotra, head, Upvaan; a group of urban gardeners in Delhi who work for promoting urban organic farming.

“People have started with small cultivations in their gardens, backyards, balconies and terraces and such practices have been extended to ‘community gardens’ where people from various localities have started maintaining such organic gardens on a larger scale,” says Ritu. One such garden is in Bengaluru where a section from the park for senior citizen has been converted into an Urban garden by the local residents.

“Pestcides- free cultivation is a significant aspect which is associated with Urban gardening and we are trying to promote it as it is ecologically very important for cities,” says Kavitha Kunnayati, convenor, Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA). Recently ASHA organised organic food melas in Delhi and Bengaluru where the major focus was on bringing people’s attention towards safer farming techniques.“We placed demonstrations for promoting urban farming where we had demos of cultivation techniques and organic manure usage,” says Kavitha.“Interested people got themselves registered with us and were provided with seeds and manure samples.”

Kiran from Lajpatnagar has been an urban gardener for the past five years and she explains how difficult was it in the beginning.“When I planned to go the organic way, the availability of vermin-compost was a major problem. The local agricultural outlets generally sold the chemical farming products but now organic manure is available at such outlets,” says Kiran. She also says that one needs to be really patient when starting up with an Urban garden as the results are not visible in the beginning. It takes a long time to obtain adequate yield but then it’s worth waiting as the food is free of harmful elements, she says.

Following the increasing trend of Urban gardening many initiatives have been launched by Non-government organisations(NGO’s) across the cities in the past few years which  have been promoting the idea of urban gardening by providing adequate knowledge and inputs to the people. One such intiative was launched by Vividhara, a Delhi-based NGO for promoting urban gardening in the winters of 2011. The derive called “Winter spring”, encouraged people to grow winter vegetables in the available spaces at their homes.

“We provided carefully chosen range of winter vegetable, crops, herbs and condiments seeds are mostly from the Himalayas and some from the flood banks of the Ganga near Allahabad. They are high in natural nutrients and many have medicinal attributes as well,” says Ajay Mahajan, head, Vividhara.

Ajay says that through their blogs and frequent exhibitions they have been trying to highlight the need for organic food cultivation under which a lot of people have shown keen interest in Urban gardening specially in Delhi.“Around 1000 people including schools and educational institutions have registered themselves under the ‘winter spring’ initiative till now and after looking at the overwhelming response we plan to organise more exhibitions across Delhi in the coming
months,” informs Ajay.

After all the reports on the use of hazardous fertilizers and pesticides which are there in the public domain, ‘Urban gardening’ seems like a relief for the people in urban areas where they can ensure that whatever they are growing is free of toxins. Also with the concept strengthening its roots in metros there is a great possibility that it can produce a significant effect on the ecological balance and safer food intake.