Is it time to make kitchen gardens mandatory, asks Hema Vijay

Flat for sale: 2BHK with covered car park, attached bathrooms and attached kitchen garden. Imagine a world where such advertisement inserts reflect the predominant reality in the realty business. Well, a group of civic activists and environmentalists are campaigning hard to make this happen, and have also caught the attention of many.

Good Governance Guards (GGG), a Chennai-based NGO working on civic and environmental issues, has already sent an appeal to the state government to make provision for kitchen-garden space a mandatory practice in the building trade, in much the same way that rain water harvesting was made mandatory which in turn went on to raise the city’s ground water table substantially. “If the government makes this obligatory for the approval of building plans, it would encourage widespread kitchen gardening, address the looming food crisis, and turn the city green - all in one stroke,” says S.S. Radhakrishnan, president, GGG.

Civic bodies are struggling to make urban spaces greener. Meanwhile, in an increasingly urbanised world, with farmers selling off farmlands and moving to the city too, urban farming is being identified world over as a way to overcome the looming food crisis. In such a backdrop, GGG’s idea comes forth as a powerful and feasible game changer.

Finding space

GGG suggests that builders allocate individual kitchen garden spaces on the terrace or land adjacent to the building. “This area can be clearly demarcated for each flat owner, with light fencing,” Radhakrishnan says.

The chief reason cited by city folks for not taking up kitchen gardening is lack of space, and the fact that they cannot keep their veggies out of reach of passersby who might pluck away the 'fruits of their labour'. Fenced areas will eliminate this problem. If you are planning on raising plants in pots on terraces you do not require separate water proofing. However, if you want to grow plants directly on soil on the terrace, water proofing can be done easily, either during the building’s construction or later.

“In a 100 sq. ft space, we can keep at least 25 pots and grow much of a family’s vegetable needs round the year including greens, okra, chillies, tomatoes, leafy vegetables and even dwarf fruit trees,” he says. Besides, there are space-saving gardening concepts too such as hanging pots that allow about eight pots to be hung at alternate directions and lengths from the branches of a single upright pole. “We can also let climbers like bottle gourd, bitter gourd and snake gourd (vegetables which grow round the year) trail along the fencing or on overhead pandals”, says Kavitha Ramakrishnan, who grows a range of vegetables on her terrace. “Even if not a 100 sq. ft, allocate 20sq. ft; a lot can be grown in that space,” Radhakrishnan says.

Making it happen

Of course, there are issues. For instance, how can we get existing buildings to comply with this rule? Also, a 20-storey building will have less terrace space that can be divided and allocated among individual owners.

“I welcome and support the idea of making kitchen-garden space provision a building norm, and we have to brainstorm and take the idea forward”, says C. R. Raju, architect and chairman of TN Chapter - Indian Institute of Architects (IIA). He adds, “Maybe, the government can consider property tax incentives to buildings that provide this option.”

R. Saravana Perumal, hybrid green home consultant for building firms like Varad Builders suggests, “Kitchen gardening spaces should be made mandatory. At least, it can be done on an incentive basis to kick-start the trend.” Incidentally, Varad Builders is creating plans for buildings in its next residential project in Pune. These will have spaces allocated for individual kitchen gardens.

While there are challenges, solutions can be worked out for every scenario. For instance, in residential skyscrapers, common areas on the ground could be allocated for kitchen gardening. Radhakrishnan says, “Kitchen gardens are more important than decorative lawns. My request to builders is to play a proactive role in making kitchen gardens a standard feature of household amenities.”

Perhaps, it is now time for us to re-think urban spaces and pave way for the allocation of individual kitchen garden space in every house a mandatory or at least a rewarding option. Meanwhile, GGG offers to assist in setting up/maintaining such kitchen gardens.

GGG can be reached at 24917821.

The benefits

Urban spaces will get a comprehensive green shield that would negate air pollution

Give access to inexpensive organic food at our doorstep

The food crisis can be addressed to some extent

The house will be cooler and this will reduce the need for artificial air conditioning

A healthy hobby for residents

A kitchen garden on every roof