This Week on the Farm: Reflections from Bangalore, India
Last winter, I had the pleasure of working wih Lavanya Keshavamurthy, a York University student visiting from India. She spent a lot of time at the farm, volunteering to help pack boxes and always eager to learn more about our field. She went back to India in early spring to continue her education and partake in her own farming journey. She write to us from Bangalore, India.
Not very long ago, like about 15 years ago, houses in Bangalore were generally small, the sizes restricted by the economic conditions of the household. A kitchen garden with curry leaves, banana, sapota, nugge, tomato plants, etc. along with some flowering plants was an automatic extension of having a small home in a large plot. And because of large open spaces, ground water recharge happened without anyone noticing it. However, with recent increases in income, homes have seen many 'improvements'' leading to bigger homes and smaller or non-existant gardens; the reasons ranging from Vaastu corrections to rental incomes to peer pressure to flaunt new found wealth. There is nothing wrong in living comfortably, however, the questions that need to be asked are 'At cost?' and 'Where do we stop?'.Enough has been said and written about decentralization of waste handling/disposal and there are many groups working very hard in tackling this problem. At the same time, we need a decentralization in food production as well. All the better if both these can be linked together.The very reasons for rapid urbanization of Bangalore, i.e., IT, BT and medical facilities which in turn attracts migrants consisting of students and job seekers (part-time/full-time) could provide an answer to the problem of providing good local food to the people of Bangalore.During my student days in Toronto, Canada, I had the opportunity to meet the founders of an urban farming enterprise called Fresh City Farms, where I volunteered regularly. The farm is a perfect example of a social enterprise as it achieves the twin objectives of growing food locally and providing employment to students and part-time job seekers. Fresh City Farms encourages and supports its member farmers to grow food in unused balconies and front/backyards in Toronto. The produce from these little green spaces, along with salad greens from a greenhouse are then delivered to subscribers within a limited area. Some vegetables and fruits are imported from organic farms around the place, with the food traveling by road or sea, covering as few miles as possible.This is just one example of how a strong will to eat healthy and locally can lead to simple and effective solutions. Of course, this idea needs to be adapted for its suitability to the Indian context.Decentralization is not new to us. We have had door-step and street-side vegetable vendors for ages. I do not see why these vendors cannot undergo a role-reversal and start growing and harvesting food from our own little green spaces while still managing to do their traditional role of selling vegetables at our door-steps.I am reminded of a story that I read many years ago in Tinkle magazine, about a smart king and an even smarter citizen. The king, in an urge to find out how smart his citizens are, challenges the people of a particular village to bring the freshest vegetables possible, to his palace which is a journey of many days from the village. One smart farmer plants vegetables in a cart and plans his journey such that the vegetables are ready for harvesting the day he reaches the palace. Now, that is the kind of smart ideas we need today.