Mumbai, India ranks among the largest cities in the world, with a total metropolitan population of 21 million people. As one of the most densely populated cities in the world, Mumbai does not have much room to spare for agriculture. Undeterred by this challenge, Mumbai-based organization Fresh & Local is growing food on the flat rooftops of city buildings to provide fresh produce to the city’s residents.
Fresh & Local was established in 2010 by Adrienne Thadani, an organic food advocate and activist. The vision that drives the project is “an urban India where city residents have the resources and knowledge to use urban farming to transform the spaces around them.” According to Fresh & Local, urban gardens address many aspects of wellbeing in the city by “empowering city residents with the ability to grow their own food and medicine, creating active outdoor urban places, greening the city, improving air and water quality, increasing urban biodiversity and building community.”
With this vision in mind, in 2010, Thadani and her partners created their first rooftop garden atop a middle-income apartment building which produces food for residents while creating a green space where they socialize and work together. Since then, Fresh & Local has expanded to work with more than 2,000 individuals in Mumbai, Alibaug, Jaipur, and North Goa.
According to Aditi Punj, a Fresh & Local team member, “in space stressed Mumbai, terraces end up being a great option for developing community spaces without having to make any structural changes.” However, this opportunity comes with plenty of constraints, including a lack of government support, additional maintenance concerns, and problems of seepage in older buildings. Punj views these additional variables as an opportunity for creative problem solving; rooftop gardening ”makes you think on your feet and come up with new ways of doing things.”
In addition to setting up urban gardens, Fresh & Local offers a variety of workshops and programs to educate city dwellers about food production and sustainable agriculture. Volunteers can visit Flyover Farm, Fresh & Local’s urban agriculture teaching center, to learn about the project and help manage the garden. Currently, Fresh & Local is developing a Nomadic Garden, a travelling demonstration garden that will be used to teach Mumbai’s middle school students about ecology and farming. Additionally, the organization is developing Amazing Garden Shops that will supply residents with all the materials needed to farm in the city, thus overcoming barriers that might stop new gardeners from practicing urban agriculture.
Fresh & Local is also addressing barriers through their hybrid model that reaches out to people of different socio-economic statuses. Punj explains “what has made us successful is that we are able cater to higher end clients through our consultancy services and at the same time are inclusive through our events and volunteer days, as these run on the concept of gift economy, where participants pay however much they like, or don’t pay at all.”
According to Punj, “from four years ago, the scene has definitely picked up. Still, there are so many underutilized terraces and gardens, with a few people and groups making it happen, which means huge scope for growth. That’s what’s exciting. Interest is definitely picking up and people are thinking about where their food comes from and how it affects them, their family and their environment.”
Punj says that “in a metropolis like Mumbai, where people are on the go, constantly moving and hardly stopping to reflect on their surroundings, it’s great to be able to create places where this is possible. What is most inspiring is working with people and kids and being part of the realization that growing food is ‘doable’. It’s the moment when they make the connection between what is being grown, themselves and the larger cycle of life that makes this work worthwhile. “