Published On : Sun, Aug 30th, 2015

Illness, desperation and loneliness made them urban farmers

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Life sure has a way of surprising you at every turn. You make some assumptions and then reality strikes! This is what happened to us group of lady ‘Organic farmers’ when we went to visit some Nagpurians growing vegetables in their gardens/ rooftop poly-houses. Looking at their luxuriant, healthy egg plants, cabbage, beans etc in pics I had just assumed these must be affluent people, having large gardens and lots of gardeners and hired help to maintain the plants.
Or retired people with spare time on their hands indulging in this activity as a hobby. How wrong I was!

First stop Laxmi Patle – Her husband works in Indo Rama and they have a quarter there in the Butibori township of Indo Rama. But 2-3 years ago they shifted to Nagpur for the education of their children. They reside in a make shift residence carved out of a shop space… because they have the advantage of an adjacent vacant spot where they grow all the vegetables they require.

“About ten years ago our son Devesh began falling sick all the time. He had some strange ailment which turned his eyes red and puffy, his whole body got swollen and he was always very tired. He was 6- 7 years old and had just begun going to school. We were very worried naturally and took him to the best pediatrician we were referred to.

He conducted a battery of tests and all results came back normal. Then they did some more extensive tests the results of which were baffling too. His sugar levels were a little unusual, but nothing more could be told.”

Laxmi shudders even when she thinks of those horrible days. Then the pediatrician they were saying gave his final diagnosis ” something in the food he eats is causing this. Some chemical used on vegetables is causing this reaction on his body, we cannot tell which”.

“We said we were all eating the same food, why were we not suffering too?” The Doc replied that probably the son was more sensitive to this substance and unless they did something quickly his allergies would increase.

So Laxmi and her husband took one drastic decision. Even if it meant curtailing on the variety of foods they ate, they would consume only home -grown. Paddy ( rice) they could get from their parents who were farmers in M.P., also some dal…. vegetables they would grow in the space behind their quarters in Butbori. They did not quite know how, but were determinded to learn.

So they began with the easy to grow stuff. Spinach, methi, coriander etc. Then they turned to onions, potatoes, ginger etc. Bhendi, karela followed and soon they were having vines of Dhoodhi, kakadi and pumpkins also.

Within 3 months, they stopped buying vegetables from the market.

And miraculously, their son began improving. The redness of his eyes disappeared, he became more energetic, the swelling on his body went down and very soon they had a ravenously hungry and furiously growing young son in their midst! Full of mischief and great at studies too. Today Devesh is planning on doing Engg… he is addicted to the home grown stuff and can tell the difference even if his mom cooks market bought vegetables just once!

Pretty soon, everyone in Indo Rama was growing vegetables too! The whole colony became a hive of ‘urban farmers’ and became self sufficient, making the Indo Rama management very happy indeed.

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The next house to visit on our list was Rajesh’. He lives off the Ring road near Manewada. During our chats on Facebook he had shared the information that the poly house he built on his terrace costed Rs. 45,000/. We were sure this one was definitely going to be the wealthy connoisseur of home grown vegatables – anyone who could afford to spend thousands on a green house on his terrace HAD to be loaded!

We got our first shock when he came to meet us and escorted us to his ‘house’ – he was a young man who couldn’t be above 30! His house too was a humble, 3 room affair with the poly house on the terrace dominating its facade. He had invested all available funds in that structure it seems, so even the staircase going to the roof was just half built and very precarious. There was a rope that you had to hold on for dear life while climbing!

Rajesh’ story was equally fascinating as Laxmi’s had been.

“I belonged to a ‘Chourasia’ family from MP plying our traditional craft of growing betel nut leaves. This ‘crop’ has a huge market going upto Pakistan. But then the rains failed us for three consecutive years and our betelnut leaf creepers were completely destroyed. My father had saved money so I could get an MBA from Jabalpur university. I was then doing a job that had to do with Share markets and earned about Rs. 30,000 a month. I decided to quit this job to help out with the family crisis… after much deliberation, I decided to turn an agriculturist” Rajesh told us.

“Why turn to agriculture?” I asked. “Because there is no competition” he replied.

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Being a literate fellow owning his own lap top, he educated himself from scratch on the agricultural scenario of the country today. What grows where; how it is grown; what schemes Central and State governments have for farmers….he studied everything.

He then advised his father to uproot all the surviving ‘pan’ creepers too and go in for potato farming, since the soil was suitable for potatoes and this ‘veggie’ is always in demand. His decision paid off . The very first year they made a profit of Rs. 25,000 on just one acre! Who says agriculture cannot pay?

Urban-Farming-4Rajesh then got married to a Nagpur girl and decided to shift base to the city and become an Urban farmer. He moved in temporarily into his father in law’s house, where the poly house has been built on the terrace. He built it from scratch so he could learn in the process. He first grew capsicum and cucumber in the tiny area,. along with rose plants too. All for commercial sale – not as a hobby. The pics of his plants will show how successful he has been.

Now he has ventured out as an Expert Consultant on Green houses and also educates his customers about the subsidies they can avail from the government for this project.

He has involved his mother in law and sister in law into working with him in urban farming too. His father in law works in Kalamna market, doing any odd job he can get.

This was hardly the affluent family with a retired gentleman ‘playing with green houses as a hobby’ as we had envisaged!

Our third visit of the day was to the ‘urban farm’ of Supriya Deo. She was indeed a well off person living in a comfortable house in an upmarket area. But wait! Before we jump to more conclusions, let me also tell you that she is an almost seventy years old widow living alone.

Her son is settled in USA, her daughter is a global citizen traveling all over the world and her husband passed away a few years ago. She has herself worked all her life as an academician. The loneliness and creeping old age could have driven anyone to depression and loneliness, right? Not Supriya! She decided to turn to gardening and also farming on her terrace. She lives on the ground floor and her terrace is on the 3rd floor so it entails a long climb which cannot be easy for a person her age with knee problems beginning. But she does it, tending to her vegetables with love,watering them and doing everything herself.

“The gardner refuses to climb up everyday so I do everything myself” she says.

Urban-Farming-6On her terrace she grows brinjals, bitter gourds, tomatoes and a number of creepers too. Some green vegetables as well. She does not need to buy any vegetables except onions and potatoes. She keeps her whole lane supplied with the extra vegetables that she cannot eat.

“This activity not just keeps me occupied but also connected to my neighbors and friends too” she says. When she visits her son in the US her terrace garden is left untended and most plants die.

“I begin again from scratch because I do not want anyone to ‘help me out’; I refuse to take favours, even from my tenants” she says firmly.

Supriya and all the others belong to a Nagpur group called Nagpur Organic farmers, which is active on facebook. They help each other out and hold outings to farms and collaborate on making organic fertilizers and pesticides also.