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From the terrace of Mohamedi Manzil building on Mohammed Ali Road, the vista of blackened rooftops with their clutter of antennae and low-slung wires, looks much like a typical Mumbai view. If all goes according to plan, however, Mohamedi Manzil’s roughly 5,000 square feet terrace will become a green patch, a “flyover farm” that will serve as a model for unused terraces all over the city. It’s here that 24-year-old Adrienne Thadani and her team of five are attempting to populate the mosaic tiled floor with 20 to 40 varieties of fruit trees, five types of vegetables and ten kinds of herbs, ranging from lemon grass and turmeric to garlic and mint. It’s sustainable farming that intends to bring organic veggies and fruits literally from roof to flat, feeding the 75 tenants in the 70-year-old building. “The goal is to create a model rooftop urban farm,” says the half-Indian, half-American Thadani, who moved from the US to Mumbai in 2009. “We want to show that’s possible within certain budget constraints and create a source for organic produce locally.”
Thadani’s company Fresh & Local, founded in 2010, has turned over many an urban patch in Mumbai, helping organisations, buildings and private residents plant rooftop gardens and window grow boxes. The Manzil project, however, is their most ambitious in scope and scale, and when completed will convert roughly half the terrace into a fruit and herb garden and nursery and the other half into a rooftop grocery with workshop tables, a community dining space and a composting area. Eventually, 16 square feet of optimum yield will be able to feed one adult one vegetable dish per day for six to eight months of the year, accounting of course for the four months of monsoon. Instead of distributing it for free, Fresh & Local will sell the produce to the building residents, mostly low and lower-to-middle income tenanted families, at market rate, with the hope that the garden eventually sustains itself and possibly a gardener. “Right now, I’m the mali,” says Thadani, who relies on her own expertise picked up from an internship at a horticulture centre in Powai and a network of people who advise the group on dealing with thorny issues like unwanted pests.
The building’s owner, Naheed Carrimjee, 44, a solicitor who lives in Breach Candy, is the group’s biggest supporter. “I met Adrienne through a friend who started Under The Mango Tree,” says Carrimjee who also sits on the board of the organic honey company. “We’ve already been holding free yoga classes there for the building residents…so when I heard what Adrienne was doing, I offered her my terrace.” Work is already underway to create a brick sheltered space in one corner of the terrace, which has thus far proven sturdy enough to sustain a small garden of mango and chikoo trees, bushes of bhindi and lemon grass plants, without either leakage to the flats below or structural damage to the building. Currently, all produce from the 20 square feet of existing plants is distributed for free to the tenants. Rather than asking the building’s tenants to contribute financially, Thadani and her cohorts are raising money through Kickstarter, the online crowd-sourced funding platform for start-ups, where the goal is to raise $5,500 by Monday, May 7. “It’s nice to put it out there and see if people think it’s a nice idea too,” says Thadani, who estimates that it’ll cost roughly $2 a square foot to achieve everything planned for phase I. Phase II will require additional funds to create a soil making and composting station, using kitchen waste from the building’s tenants. “We’re acknowledging it’s an experiment, although an educated experiment,” she says.
If they’re unable to hit their monetary goal, Kickstarter won’t dole out the money, but Thadani and her team are confident. So far they’ve already had $1,882 pledged, mostly by friends, and users of Kickstarter. If not, they’ve got a back-up plan to raise money through other routes. Either way, their target is to get the flyover farm, so named for the J. J. flyover that snakes in front of the building, up and running by September. “The hope is that it’ll spread, because you can see terraces all around from here,” says Carrimjee. “The opportunity is endless.”