How to raise a farm in an urban nook

An opportunity may be allowed to tip-toe away, simply because it seems too big to be processed in the mind, let alone executed on the ground.

When this happens, it is usually a case of the expertise required to tap into the opportunity appearing so vast that it is overwhelming.

That explains sustainable farming in urban spaces. There is so much information about it and also a constant chatter around it, that it is often not clear where to begin.

The sure-fire way to end up not eating a 24-inches diameter pizza is to try to eat it in just one clasp of the jaws. Bit-by-bit always does it. And, of course, that goes for urban farms.

Regenerative agriculturist Maya Ganesh says closed-loop farming should be the concept one should begin with. It is easy on resources and does not force its practitioners to reach for something outside their environment. Though basic, this concept is however central to regenerative farming. It forms the base of the pizza, so to speak.

In farming terms, closing the loop is realising that one can be self-sufficient, amidst what looks like paucity of resources.

Closed-loop farming is about knowing that all the resources one needs for farming is found in one’s own environment and then acting on this knowledge, says Maya.

Space factor

Now, let us imagine an enthusiast parked at ground zero, and at a loss about how they can do sustainable and regenerative farming in their 300 sq.ft studio apartment, with no earth, especially when they have learnt that biodiversity is a key element regenerative farming.

“The farming space at your disposal may just be a balcony, or worse still, just a window sill, but that should not matter. Irrespective of the size of the space, you should have biodiversity, and the good news is you can. Let us assume you can have only four potted plants, and you may be tempted to grow only the vegetable that you like in all the pots. If you did so, you would be promoting monoculture. Instead, ensure every two pots are companion pots, having two plants that are different but contribute to the each other’s growth. With polyculture, greater diversity would enter the equation, and this includes the diversity of insects the plants attract. Only in monoculture would you encounter the problem of pests, as all the plants together are likely to draw a horde of the same insect or insects, and this can amount to a problem,” says Maya.

Nutrition factor

High output-low input is another striking feature of regenerative farming. How is this achieved?

“Closing the loop is nothing but ensuring that all the waste generated in the ecosystem, which includes your home, goes back into the ecosystem as resource. In farming-gardening terms, it is about waste being recycled as nutrition for the plants. In the average Indian household, around 70 percent of the waste that is generated is kitchen waste, the reason being that we are not yet a people who live out of tins that contain processed food. So, there is an abundant opportunity to generate compost for your urban farm. When you think of compost, smell and space spring to mind. With the availability of compost bins that factor in various dynamics of a home environment, such considerations are more easily taken care of now. One just has to pick the bin that would work for their home,” says Maya.

Soil factor

She says that in regenerative farming, protecting the soil is of great importance; the soil should not exposed. Even this process should be allowed to be carried out by nature.

“Chennai is a city of avenue trees. Though there are seasons when the trees shed more leaves, there will be leaf fall through the year. One just has to collect these leaves and have them spread around the the plant in the pot. The thicker the layer, the better. The mulch will keep breaking down, and you re-mulching it as it gets thinner. The mulch is nutrition to the plants. We talk about balanced diet, suggesting a variety of foods. Similarly, the mulch as well as the compost from kitchen waste constitute a balanced diet for the plants. And the mulch retains water, which means you can conserve much water.”

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