Liria Mendonca who grows organic vegetables and plants in her organic home garden. Photo: Nivedita Ganguly
A growing tribe of health-savvy food lovers are popularising the concept of organic gardening in their own way
It’s a quaint happy garden at Liria Mendonca’s home at Dolphin Hills in Vizag. Amidst rows of radiant flowers and well-manicured plants are bright bunches of papayas, different shades of chillies, pots of fresh herbs and a variety of vegetables neatly snuggling the trees and plants dotting her home garden.
She is one of the growing tribe of health-savvy food lovers who are pushing the concept of organic gardening in their own way with vegetable backyards and terraces fast replacing ornamental gardens. So popular has the concept become that even e-retailing giant Amazon has jumped into the fray with a separate section of organic gardening products while other niche e-commerce firms have come up to cater to the needs of this segment.
Liria spends considerable time tending to her garden and cooks only from her organic home-grown produce. “All this knowledge of the soil is not new. It is known to farmers. They just have to be educated and supported in growing organic produce where the concept of artificial fertilizers and pesticides do not exist,” says Liria, who was born and brought up close to nature in Goa where understanding the soil and its needs was a way of life. In her garden, everything is environment-friendly. She makes organic fertilizers like mixing fish meal or bone meal with crushed neem seeds and natural pest control remedies like a mix of stored fish and jaggery in a jar. “The natural methods of using pesticides are many. For instance, you can use tulsi hedge which acts as an excellent deterrent for pests,” she says. “I garden organically because I don’t know how to garden any other way. Why would I spend time trying to figure out which chemical fertilizers and pesticides to buy when I can do what is best for my plants myself? Healthy soil, sunlight, and water are all your plants need to flourish,” she adds.
Vizag-based food blogger Sailaja Gudivada documents her organic kitchen garden produce through regular updates on her Facebook page ‘Sailu’s Kitchen’ and her popular website sailusfood.com. So popping up regularly on her page, you see pictures of a bunch of juicy home grown ivy gourd ready to be freshly prepared, spicy varieties of organic green chillies, sapota plants, bitter gourd, capsicums, ridge gourds - shared from her home garden in the Facebook page.
For food blogger and photographer Sangeeta Khanna, gardening has been a great stress reliever that turned into an addiction over the past 16 years. “We find ourselves more grounded and in tune with the seasons when we grow plants. Luckily my parents had a kitchen garden whenever and wherever they could afford to do in their transferable jobs. And when I had my own home and a patch for gardening I planted as many vegetables and flowers as I could. Even in my top floor apartment I had a terrace garden,” she says. Her idea of an organic home garden is a self sufficient unit that can fight with pests and pathogens. For example, she explains, a drumstick tree usually attracts pollinator insects useful for the other vegetable and fruit plants and birds that feed on the harmful insects. Drumstick trees keep providing leaves, flowers and legumes all through the year and all of these are edible and highly nutritious. “Growing marigold, basil of different types, fenugreek and some mustard family plants also helps in creating an ecosystem that supports each other in a garden. Vines like broad beans, long beans, gourds help create diversity in a garden,” adds Sangeeta.
Gardens to farms
Taking the concept of organic gardens to another level is Madhu Reddy, who has a deep connection with her farm ‘Aiyor Bai’, located at a distance of 55 kms from Hyderabad. “My journey comes from an environmental side. I have been very involved and informed of environmental crisis from the time I was in college in the US. I became a more aware customer there and did my part to live a sustainable life, understanding the importance of organic food. For me it’s more of living a sustainable life where my choices include not having bottled water, not using much plastic, thinking about my consumption, reduce, reuse, refuse, recycle being some of the R’s that I follow,” says Madhu, who does organic farming on her ancestral land. Her farm has a mango orchard, but now she is trying to diversify by planting guava trees and papaya. At Aiyor Bai, vegetables like tomatoes, brinjals, beans and gourds apart from millets like jowar, bajra are also grown. “This season we will put a lot more custard apple and drumsticks,” she says.
There’s a rise in the number of people growing their own food. And many are keen to convert the traditional garden into food yard. “In the last year or so there has been a growing awareness about eating healthy and the ‘grow your own food’ culture. It’s imperative that we have greens produced organically as pesticide residues are the highest on green leafy vegetables. Greens can be easily grown in home gardens. I find this happening in not only cities but there is also a movement in the villages. There are NGOs who are urging women to grow some food in their home garden. With cash crops dominating fields the need to be food sufficient is rising in villages as well. There used to be a culture of growing your own food. And I think we are slowly seeing a revival of that,” adds Madhu.