BENGALURU: Priya Gopalen always grew up with a garden around her. “We are the kind of family that would stop even when we were driving, just to admire the trees! All through my life, I have had to have some kind of natural green around me all the time,” says the co- founder of The Magic Bean, an organisation promoting environmental sustainability through urban organic gardens.
An urban planner by training with a focus on housing, she also delved into urban food security, but her foray into urban organic gardening in her own house started when she once asked her young son where strawberries came from. “He and several of his friends replied - from the supermarket! That completely freaked me out!” she exclaims. That made her decide to grow vegetables in her house as a personal choice. “I wanted my son to know where his food comes from.”
This was also partly because she felt that children form a certain socio-economic background and above were disconnected from the earth. “ In fact, we tell children not to play in the soil! That was the impetus for me to do this on a certain scale in my house and introduce my friends to it too! And once you’ve tasted something you’ ve grown, nothing ever tastes the same,”she adds.
Today in her own garden both in her courtyard and on the terrace, she experiments with the same using waste produce such as coconut shells and sugarcane waste. “It so happens that my professional life and personal life became intertwined!”
In her courtyard she has a mix of ornamental as well as fruit-bearing plants including banana, papaya, nochi (which is a mosquito repellant).
“Because I have so many trees, I even have varieties of birds coming - including a sun bird couple - and lots of butterflies!” In her first floor balcony are quaint additions like saunf, lemon grass, chicken spinach, basil and such. But her real harvest is on the terrace where she had cultivated her own rooftop farm. She proudly plucks a few pink radishes and displays them.. “Salad leaves, pasala keerai, chillies, red ladies fingers, tomatoes of several varieties, carrots....at my son’s school(where she has introduced the programme) the tomatoes are as big as a pomegranate!” she exclaims. She also does a lot of seed- saving to obtain seeds from plants.
“If I am told something will not grow in Chennai , I absolutely have to try it. But most importantly I want everyone in my family and others to know how easy it is to do it. For example, I now make my own Bokashi bran (used in composting) on my own,” she laughs. "Kids especially, when they are taught to value the hard work behind growing their own greens, will automatically take care of the plants themselves."