To make terrace gardening a citizens’ movement

That's why the national seminar on organic terrace gardening was held at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Hebbal, which was attended by over 100 participants.

The recently concluded two-day national seminar on Organic Terrace Gardening at the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) Alumni Association Convention Centre, Hebbal was in all respects a great meeting point and a good start to a process that seeks to become a nation-wide movement.

One of the primary objectives of organising such a seminar was to ensure that organic terrace gardening spreads as a movement across the country, rather than merely as a hobby or passion for a select few. There was also a need felt to bring together like-minded practitioners, individuals and institutions on a common platform and use the momentum to take the process forward.

(From left to right) Dr B N Vishwanath, Dr K Narayana Gowda, Dr R Dwarakinath, Dr S B Dandin and Dr G K Veeresh. Pic courtesy: AME Foundation

Dr B N Vishwanath (an independent consultant on terrace gardening and city farming and Vice President, Association for Promotion of Organic Farming – APOF), the person behind the entire initiative, says the seminar saw a total of 140 registered participants (though they had kept a target of 100 initially! In fact they were unable to accommodate another 100 last minute requests). There were another 25 participants that included advertisers, stalls and sponsors.

And it was truly a national seminar as participants came from Chandigarh, Dehradun, Hardal (Madhya Pradesh), Mumbai, Chennai, Coimbatore, Hyderabad, Delhi and various parts of Karnataka. The organisers of the event were AME (Agriculture Man Ecology) Foundation, APOF, Indian Institute of Horticultural Research, UAS Alumni Association, all based in Bangalore, and Bagalkot-based University of Horticultural Sciences (UHS).

The Chief Guest for the seminar, Dr Prabhjot Sodhi (National Coordinator of Centre for Environment Education ) was unable to attend but other key persons who attended the seminar and shared their experience and views included Dr Prem Nath (Chairman of the Prem Nath Agriculture Sciences Foundation, Bengaluru; also known as the vegetable man of India due to the various vegetable varieties developed by him ), Dr R Dwarakinath (former Chairman of Karnataka Agricultural Commission and Vice Chancellor, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore) , Dr S B Dandin (Vice Chancellor UHS, Bagalkot), Dr G K Veeresh (founder-chairman APOF and agriculture scientist and former vice chancellor of UAS) and Dr K Narayana Gowda (Vice-Chancellor of UAS Bangalore).

Grow what you eat, eat what you grow

After the initial formalities of inauguration and welcome on Day 1, the actual seminar kicked off around midday on Thursday September 9th 2010, with the first presentation on Why and How Organic Terrace Gardens by Vishwanath, the key person behind the idea and the seminar.

Some of the highlights of his presentation was the positive impact of organic terrace gardening: in reducing our carbon footprint, maintaining bio-diversity, promoting local varieties, reducing food mileage; even creating ‘oxygen clubs’ in our own terrace/balcony! Perhaps one of the key messages Vishwanath emphasised was the need to recognise and respect insects and other living beings in our garden – treating them as co-inhabitants rather than as pests.

Vishwanath cited the example of Kasargod (the border town of Kerala and Karnataka) where the use of endosulfan (a highly controversial substance used as an agrichemical/insecticide with harmful effects) had led to high incidence of hydrocephaly (a condition with abnormally rapid growth of the head and bulging fontanelles and a small face); thus reinforcing the fact that using pesticides to kill so called pests, ultimately had a negative fallout for humans.

Using the example of Bangalore, he mentioned the creation of green jobs (where individuals had been trained and supported to start businesses to create organic terrace gardens) as an encouraging and positive result of organic terrace gardening. He also cited the various initiatives of schools and communities in addition to many individuals in the city who have taken up organic terrace gardening in a spirited manner.

Stressing on the imperative to start with no further delay, Vishwanath concluded on a rather scary note, cautioning the participants that if we did not do so, it was quite likely that by 2020 our regular food would just be a mix of pills, tonics and supplements.

Plenty for all

Preeti Patil of Urban Leaves, Mumbai made the next presentation on Water and Nutrient Management in Terrace Gardening. Sharing her experience of city farming for the last ten years, Preeti said that as the person in-charge of catering for the Bombay Port Trust – BPT – canteen since 1992, she had been troubled by the amount of waste generated at the canteen (that caters to almost 4000 people). In her search for a solution, she came across the work of Dr R T Doshi (who pioneered City Farming) and Prof Shripad Dabholkar and Deepak Suchde of the Prayog Pariwar. She shared the science and simplicity behind Dabholkar’s Natueco farming approach, also telling the audience one could get more information from their blog

Participants at the national seminar on organic terrace gardening. Pic Courtesy: AME Foundation

A short film took the participants on a mini tour of the 3000 sq ft terrace garden of the BPT. What came across was truly remarkable. A coconut tree, areca palm, sharing space with a variety of vegetables and fruits- almost like a mini forest on the terrace. The film also demonstrated how the roots had not penetrated the floor nor caused any seepage or cracks. As Preeti said quite definitively, terrace gardening will not cause cracks; if the cracks already exist, they will continue to do so! Using examples from her garden, Preeti then spoke of water and nutrient management based on the Amrut Mitti approach of Natueco Farming (described in detail on their blog).

Natural remedies for pest control

The first presentation post-lunch was by Malathi A M, a terrace gardening practitioner from EXNORA (a non profit committed to community service, civic involvement and the environment), Chennai, on Pest and Disease Management in Terrace Gardening. In this inspiring session, Malathi shared useful tips and suggestions for natural remedies for pest control.

Following this, Deepak Suchde, who was moderating the session, initiated a brief but interesting and thought-provoking discussion. He told the participants that in our terrace gardens, there was actually no need for pesticides at all. The arrival of pests on the plant was actually an indicator that it was not fit for human consumption; it required no other action on our part, he said, other than to leave it alone. He went on to add that the most important inputs needed by plants are care and attention.

The last presentation for the day was by K V S Prasad, Executive Director, AME Foundation on Promoting Urban Home Gardens on rooftops. Highlighting AME Foundation’s involvement in Urban Terrace Gardens, Prasad shared the Foundation’s work with farmers in and around Bangalore since 2006 and subsequently two pilot initiatives (one in Jayanagar and one in Basavangudi) in 2008.

Experts and speakers of the seminar visit the stalls. Pic courtesy: AME Foundation

The last session of the day was a call for ideas and suggestions to take forward the momentum as a network/movement across the country. This was a conscious effort by both Vishwanath and Veeresh so that the participants felt a sense of belonging and ownership with the process; rather than just having attended the seminar.

What was decided was that the existing email groups of Bangalore Terrace Gardens and City Farmers Mumbai would continue to respond to individuals and groups with representatives from other cities/states also joining in. Vishwanath would continue to anchor the group from Bangalore. The next seminar is to be hosted by Urban Leaves Mumbai in 2011.

Not to forget the various stalls by Varsha Enterprises, VMSRF, Era Organic, Janodaya, Bhoomi Network, Ojas Organics that ensured that the participants were able to buy their various gardening tools & accessories, seeds, manure, cocopeat as well as organic vegetables and groceries.

It was a day well-spent.

Field visit

Day 2 was what a lot of us had been keenly looking forward to. This was open to those who had registered separately for visits to a few organic terrace gardens in the city. About 50 of us were split into two groups.

Participants visit the various stalls at the organic terrace gardening seminar. Pic: Sangeetha Kadur

Group 1 (that I was a part of) visited the terraces of Anusuya Sharma, Vivek Halbe (both in Sanjay Nagar) and the AME Foundation (Banashankari).

Group 2 visited AME Foundation, Sowbhagya (Jayanagar) and Vittal Mallya Scientific Research Foundation in BTM 2nd Stage.

It was a treat to be able to interact with persons like Anusuya who have been doing this for the last 25 years and are so willing to share their experience and learning. Each garden was unique in its own way and there was a lot to learn from it. More details of each of these gardens will be featured in the coming weeks, so watch this space.

As with any seminar/workshop, the discussions and conversations that took place outside the auditorium were just as interesting and engaging as those that took place within.

Be it about seeds, pest management, preparation of soil, seepage and waterproofing of terraces, type of vegetables to grow, the containers, etc. Just walking around the place there was a perceptible buzz that bore the promise of many more organic terrace gardens and many more ‘converts’!

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