Preeti Patil, a catering officer with the Mumbai Port Trust (MBPT), had a unique solution to the large amount of waste that was generated in the MBPT kitchen – terrace farming. Patil, who later founded ‘Urban Leaves’, converted 3,000 sq ft of terrace space, into an urban garden.
The MBPT’s central kitchen caters to departmental canteens in the docks. In 2000, it generated 30 kgs of vegetable waste daily. As Patil faced issues regarding its disposal, she researched ways to recycle it. Inspired by the works of SA Dabholkar and the Prayog Pariwar Natueco Farming methodology, she began experimenting on the rooftop of the kitchen, with the canteen’s staff happily volunteering, in their spare time.
The focus was on imitating nature, says Patil, who holds a BTech in Food Science and Catering Technology. “We made soil using leaves. Once the soil was made, a variety of fruit trees, vegetables, medicinal and ornamental plants, were planted in recycled drums and raised beds and a daily dose of pulverised kitchen waste was added,” she explains.
Soon, the terrace evolved into a highly productive food forest, creating a lush green cover amidst the concrete, with beneficial bugs, birds, bees and butterflies.
A new beginning
The enterprising lady then started Urban Leaves in 2009, a volunteer-driven organisation, to create awareness on how to grow food organically, in urban landscapes, by recycling organic material and kitchen waste. Now, it manages and maintains two rooftop community farms, which also serve as learning centres, for volunteers from diverse age groups and professional backgrounds.
Urban farming, when implemented by individuals, housing complexes and corporates, can go a long way in protecting our environment, maintains Patil.
“With rapid urbanisation, the problems that cities face today, are diminishing green spaces, loss of bio-diversity and waste management. Much of the pollution, today, is due to the increasing size of landfills and the burning of organic as well as inorganic substances. Approximately 60% of the waste that is sent to the landfill, is biodegradable, can be dealt with at source and can be recycled back to earth,” opines Patil.
Urban Leaves recently launched its ‘Save a Leaf’ campaign. “Our campaign hopes to build awareness about the value of these leaves and offers solutions on how to use them. These are low-cost solutions, aimed at resolving the problems that cities face today,” elaborates Patil, who feels that it is about time builders and architects incorporate rooftop/vertical/balcony urban farms, in the designs of their buildings.
Window sills can be used to plants that are rich in nutrients. Balconies can be used to grow herbs and seasonal vegetables, such as basil, lemongrass, chilly, curry leaves, spinach, fenugreek, lettuce, ginger, brinjal and tomatoes. “For terraces, which receive ample sunlight, mango, banana, custard apple, pomegranate, pineapple, chikoo, papaya, cabbage, gourd, okra, etc., can be grown,” she advises.
Tips, to create a vegetable garden at home
- Compost your kitchen waste and use it to enrich the soil.
- Opt for an area that receives four to six hours of sunlight.
- Plant/sow seasonal crops and as per your need/use in the kitchen regularly.
- Use organic/open pollinated seeds.
- Water the plants sparingly.
- Mulch the soil with dry crushed leaves/biomass.
- Regularly check for pests under leaves and on stems/nodes, and prune off the affected parts.