Taking Urban Farming to the Urban Poor

Awareness Drive on Organic Urban Farming
Awareness Drive on Organic Urban Farming

For those of us living in cities we enjoy service of a lot of people in our everyday lives. The services range from newspaper delivery, cleaning services to home maintenance and home cooking. And these people who make our lives easier don’t lead a easy life themselves. They live in the same cities as us where the cost of living is substantially higher than the countryside and their meager income does not help their cause. As a result their access to fresh and nutritious food is quite limited. Urban farming can be one of the solutions to this problem. To assess whether the urban poor can grow a part of their own food, I visited a slum in Tulasipur, Cuttack back in June and carried out an awareness campaign on Urban farming. The entire program was carried out by an NGO called IIEC which works in the area of inclusive development of the underprivileged.

Answering Questions during Awareness Drive on Organic Urban Farming
Answering Questions during Awareness Drive on Organic Urban Farming

What I realized during the awareness campaign is that, though people live in cramped spaces, they do not live vertically. In other words they do not stay in apartments. Everyone stays in an individual house with limited space. But almost everyone has access to some space where they can grow a few vegetables. Some of them even have a concrete roof which is unused. On the bright side, I was very happy to see some of the residents already growing a few vegetables and green leafs.

After the awareness campaign was over a lot of the residents came forward and showed interest in learning techniques of organic urban farming . Their only caveat was that the input cost of this activity has to be near zero. I promised them to be back soon and share my experience with them.

Organic Urban Farming Training – Day 1

07 Sept 2017

Day 1 of Training - Talking about Amrut Jal preparation
Day 1 of Training – Talking about Amrut Jal preparation

I had only 2 days for the training. So for day 1 I focused on hands on training that would get everyone going. For day 2 of training which was supposed to be held with at least 2 weeks gap, I decided to focus on class room training and discussions. Day 2 of the training was also for doing a review of what people would have done till then.

Everybody chipping in for preparing a lasagna garden bed
Everybody chipping in for preparing a lasagna garden bed

Training was arranged at the home of one of the participants. In the pre -lunch session I talked about garden bed preparation, potting mix features and preparation. The participants were very happy to learn how they can use organic waste like dry leaves, grass clippings and egg shell etc to build their garden soil. As I talked about using very cheap inputs like cow dung manure, compost, coco peat and oil seed cakes to prepare potting soil, it became clear to them that with very little input cost they can easily grow a few vegetables for their own consumption. I also stressed on mulching and its usefulness. The participants were really surprised to hear the benefits and importance of the same.

Participants were busy mulching a freshly prepared garden bed until camera was pointed at them
Participants were busy mulching a freshly prepared garden bed until camera was pointed at them

After a couple of hours of class room session we moved outside and I showed a demo of how to prepare a garden bed for growing vegetables. I got everyone to get their hands dirty and participate in making the bed. The layering of organic material, manure and soil was a lot of fun and everyone enjoyed making the lasagna garden bed and also coined a new term for it. They called it Biriyani bed. As biriyani is also a dish that is made by layering rice and meat alternatively I couldn’t have agreed more with the new name given to layered garden bed.

In the post lunch session we mixed potting soil and planted few seeds in a couple of pots. I also taught them how to prepare an organic fertilizer called Amrut jal using cow dung, cow urine, jaggery and water. And again the participants were pleasantly surprised to learn that they can easily make an excellent organic soil conditioner and fertilizer using animal waste which is easily available to them.

Participants learning how to make inexpensive potting soil
Participants learning how to make inexpensive potting soil

Day One of the training program ended with a question answer round. I was being bombarded with questions and had to really keep pace with them and answer each of them. I was very happy to see the usually shy people open up and get their questions answered. We came back after distributing a few tomato, beans, eggplant and bitter gourd seeds. The next training session was planned to be held after a couple of weeks, so that everyone can start on growing a few plants in the mean time. I really could not wait to come back and see the progress.

Organic Urban Farming Training – Day 2

24 Sept 2017

Participants listening attentively on day 2 of urban farming training
Participants listening attentively on day 2 of urban farming training

Couple of weeks and a few days later we were back in Tulsipur for the second and concluding part of organic urban farming training. This time the training was going to be mostly indoors and hence was held in the community hall of the locality. As a start we did a review of experience of the participants who had planted a few seeds in their backyards and containers. Most of them had positive news and were very happy to see success in germination and growth of the plants. Some people also had faced a few issues which we discussed and I suggested a few solutions. The next part of the training was pest management using organic methods. This is the session in which the participants had a lot of questions. I tried to answer as many as possible and suggested a few home made organic pesticides like neem spray, giger garlic spray and chilli spray as solution.

Pest management was the most interesting session for the participants
Pest management was the most interesting session for the participants

Post lunch I talked about composting kitchen waste and showed the participants how to do it in the correct way. Waste disposal in cities, especially in the slum area is a huge issue. Organic waste dumped near their locality creates a lot of problems for the residents. As they learnt how to compost kitchen waste it became clear to them that not only they can reduce the garbage problem, they get good quality compost for their plants by composting their organic waste.

In the end after the final question answer session the participants looked a little concerned. As the training program had ended they were not sure whether they could get solutions to their gardening problems in future. I promised the participants to support them further on their farming journey through phone and bid farewell.


Few participants taking notes on preparation of Panchagavya
Few participants taking notes on preparation of Panchagavya

I believe that to be able to grow a few fruits and vegetables is a basic life skill everyone must possess. Organic gardening not only helps to get fresh and nutritious vegetables in our diets, it also helps people to grow as human beings by working with nature. About six months earlier I had taken a proposal of organic urban farming training for the urban poor to IIEC. And this day I feel very happy and content to have been able to impart some of my experience to them.

Update on Urban Farming Training

In April this month we announced our Summer Course on Urban Farming on facebook and got a overwhelming response. And our first course on Organic Urban Farming Training commenced in May 20017. Our course was designed with the following objectives.

Participants preparing their pots
Participants preparing their pots
  1. Sensitize participants on the problems with the food we eat today and the food and nutrition gap we are facing now.
  2. Make participants aware of all major aspects of Organic Urban Farming which are
    • Choosing Containers and preparing them
    • Preparing potting soil
    • Choosing appropriate vegetables
    • Preparation of organic fertilizer and soil conditioners
    • Composting and recycling techniques
    • Water management
    • Soil management
    • Crop rotation and companion planting
    • Pest Management
  3. Impart hands on training on most of the above subjects
  4. Motivate and inspire participants to use the gained knowledge to start their own gardens
Potting Soil Mixing by participants
Potting Soil Mixing by participants
Amrut Jal Preparation Demo
Amrut Jal Preparation Demo

With all the above in mind we created a course of a 5 hour workshop and nine training programs (2-3 hours each) which were spread over 20 days. The participants had to do hands on gardening work in the training to really get a grip of things. And we also had them come over to visit our model Organic Terrace Garden to really connect with what they learn.

Urban Farming Course

A lot of notes were taken too
A lot of notes were taken too

After the facebook announcement and a help from one of our participants finally we got our first batch which consisted of people from various walks of life and the age of the participant ranged from 20 years to 60 years. One thing was common in all the participants. They were all very passionate about growing their own food and they were eager to learn. And that motivated us further to do better.

The course took off on May 8, 2017 with the workshop and ended on 27th May. In the process of imparting knowledge we also learnt a lot. I am sure it was equally if not more beneficial for all the participants. Though the course has ended our engagement with the participants has not. All of them have been given  a deadline of 4  months to create a functional food garden and we have promised to help them with it.

Thats all for now. Signing Off.

Participants got a chance to visit our model garden
Participants got a chance to visit our model garden
Entire batch in our Organic Terrace Garden
Entire batch in our Organic Terrace Garden
A Group Selfie with Mangoes
A Group Selfie with Mangoes

p.s. If you want to organise workshops or training programs on Organic Urban Farming in your company, community, school do drop us a mail at [email protected]