It is impossible to miss the interesting array of green roofs that rise to your left just past the Kottaikadu village, when you drive down the East Coast Road. Located on the roadside at about 110 km from Chennai, this green getaway is an altogether different kind of ‘happening place’ on the ECR.
A kitchen garden resource centre that combines a massive greenhouse, open farms, restaurant, lawns to unwind upon and informal discussion lounges un-walled from nature, Surabhi is the initiative of Good Governance Guards (GGG).
Inside Surabhi, on some days, you might hear the amazed chatter of bus loads of school children -- the wonder in seeing anything from cabbage and corn to guava and mango trees growing in pots. On other days, you might see corporate folk in discussion, or families who drive down the road and take a pit stop here. Then, of course, there are the people who walk in to learn all they wanted to know about kitchen gardening, or get material such as seeds, saplings, manure, pesticides and space saving props for urban farming, and observe eco-sensitive practices such as power generation from solar plants and making cooking gas from green wastes, with guides showing the visitors around.
When these folks step out, more often than not, they are left with the thought that urban farming is not only feasible and necessary, but also fun.
“We wanted to set up a model farm to prove that one can grow all sorts of vegetables and fruits in pots”, says 64-year-old S.S. Radhakrishnan, president of GGG, who incidentally gave up his flourishing Customs Tax consultancy to live in and run this farm. “If you aren’t personally around to direct a farm, it doesn’t work,” he says.
Of late, villagers in the vicinity have taken to bringing the fruit and vegetable produce from their backyards to this centre, and have found a new source of income. Meanwhile, people who drive down the highway like Sumana and Ashok, buy their weekly supply of organic vegetables here, at nearly half its price compared to the city. That is because, at Surabhi, the transportation cost of vegetables has not been factored in, which amounts to a few thousand rupees per truckload of vegetables transported to the city.
This gave Radhakrishnan the idea of tying up with cab services plying along the route to stop for a minute at the farm and load in a few cartons of vegetables into their car boots, and drop them at vegetable shops in the city en route their destinations, which would halve vegetable procurement costs at city shops too. He goes on to advocate that the Government lease out its land along highways to people willing to do agriculture there.
“Thousands of acres lie vacant along highways. On the other hand, we are witnessing escalating food prices, not to mention a looming food crisis. If there are many such farms along highways, fresh and less expensive vegetables can be made available to cities,” says Radhakrishnan.
Surabhi can be reached at 9841023448 or e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org