Meet the Bengaluru farmers who set up a farm in a mall 

How Bengaluru’s urban farmers teamed up to create Urban Raitharu to design farms atop the city’s malls

Updated - February 23, 2024 10:33 am IST

Published - February 22, 2024 09:14 pm IST

Visitors at a farmers’ market at Nexus malls

Visitors at a farmers’ market at Nexus malls | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

You can shop at a mall, watch a movie, and enjoy a meal but now, courtesy of an initiative by the city’s urban farmers, Naveen Kumar and Thankachan Chempotty, you can learn how an urban farm works and buy fresh produce. 

In December 2023, Naveen collaborated with Thankachan (of the 23-acre certified organic Chempotty Estate in Karnataka), to launch the Urban Raitharu project, aimed at greening the city’s urban landscape. “A green revolution is taking root amidst the concrete jungle, and we are championing urban gardening, supporting local farmers, and nurturing a culture of sustainability,” adds Naveen, who launched BaKaHu aka Bale Kai Hudi, meaning raw banana powder in 2021, a brand specialising in raw banana powder, ready-to-cook millet products, vegetable and fruit chips, to name a few.

The urban farm at Nexus Shantiniketan

The urban farm at Nexus Shantiniketan | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

With a strong focus on urban gardening, Naveen and Thankachan have tied up with Nexus Malls across the State to host farmer’s markets and even set up community gardens. “Recognising the vital role of farmers in our food system, the project is committed to supporting local agriculture through the establishment of  markets that serve as platforms for farmers, agribusinesses, sustainability ventures, and artisans,” says Naveen, explaining how the creation of direct pathways between producers and consumers leads to an equitable and sustainable food system. As part of the project, workshops, education campaigns, etc are also conducted.

(L-R) Shweta BS from University of Horticultural Sciences, Mohammed Paravej Banthanal from KAPPEC, Thankachan Chempotty, Touseef Khan of Nexus Shantiniketan Mall, and Naveen Kumar

(L-R) Shweta BS from University of Horticultural Sciences, Mohammed Paravej Banthanal from KAPPEC, Thankachan Chempotty, Touseef Khan of Nexus Shantiniketan Mall, and Naveen Kumar | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The latest in their kitty is the launch of the Urban Raitharu Farm, BaKaHu Millet Adda, Huraco Chocolate Creation from Chempotty Estate, and the Urban Raitharu monthly farmer’s market at Nexus Shantiniketan mall. “This innovative venture brings the essence of rural agriculture to the heart of the city. The farm serves as a living showcase of urban gardening and sustainable food production. Visitors can explore lush green spaces, learn about organic farming practices, and engage in hands-on gardening activities,” explains Naveen, adding that the Millet Adda will offer a range of millet-based products, and raise awareness about the nutritional benefits of bananas and millets. “The monthly farmers market will be held on the last Sunday of every month, and it will bring together farmers, producers, and consumers,” says the farmer who, along with wife Veena Bhat, bought six acres of barren land in Kudineeru Muddenahalli village a decade ago. Inspired by the teachings of noted organic farming expert Nadoja Dr Narayana Reddy, the couple set out to transform the region’s arid landscape into a lush fruit forest, Abhay Natural Farm. Over time, their efforts bore fruit, quite literally, and their farm now spans over 12 acres. 

With plans to expand the mall-farm model across other localities, Naveen says Indian cities can greatly benefit from such projects. “Urban gardens contribute to increasing green space within cities, which helps improve air quality, regulate temperatures, and provide habitat for wildlife.  They also enable city dwellers to grow their own food, reducing their reliance on commercially produced, often imported, goods.” Through strategic partnerships, outreach efforts, and resource mobilisation, he believes the project could expand its reach to other cities too.

A cocoa harvest at Chempotty Estate

A cocoa harvest at Chempotty Estate | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Also on their priority list is providing resources and support to individuals and communities interested in starting their own gardens. “This may include access to seeds, soil, gardening tools, and educational materials,” says Naveen, who also helps setting up gardens in community centres, schools, parks, and rooftops. “These gardens may take different forms, including vegetable plots, fruit orchards, herb gardens, and flower beds,” he concludes.

For details, visit urbanraitharu.com

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