Prateek Tiwari, left his well settled job in the United States of America, and started ‘The Living Greens’, which is improving the organic farming scenario, not just in Rajasthan, but across India.
Prateek Tiwari quit his Walmart job in America to grow vegetables on a rooftop in Jaipur. The story is just as remarkable as the advent of urban farming itself. An agricultural engineer, Tiwari was predisposed to dip his feet into a career in Farming. After working on an organic farm in America, he began to realise that organic didn’t always mean produce that's free of chemicals. In a real-life adaptation of Swades, Tiwari found his calling and went back home to Jaipur where he founded The Living Greens in 2013.
Prateek Tiwari (Image credit: Ethico India)
The urban farm model
Gone are the days when agriculture is considered a rural activity. Aiming towards becoming completely ‘atma nirbhar’ or self-sufficient, urban farming is among the emerging trends in India.
Urbanites have learnt from the COVID-19 outbreak, which not just paralysed human lives, but also plagued the Indian food industry through consumer hoarding, disrupted transportation and low production.
While the trend of urban farming is still picking up across India, cities like Havana in Cuba and Berlin in Germany are prominent global examples to look up to in this regard.
Urban farming examples in Havana, Cuba (Image credit: Fotodocument)
Agriculture occupies 46 percent of the land area in Havana and the produce received from it is distributed in schools, hospitals and universities at subsidized prices. Even families grow their own fruits and vegetables in their backyards, balconies and rooftops for direct consumption. Berlin on the other hand boasts of over 80,000 household organic vegetable gardens.
If more and more individuals begin cultivating their own produce, India too can secure its food production. This is where the efforts of Prateek Tiwari’s The Living Greens can be pivotal.
Rooftop farming at The Living Greens (Image Credit: Prateek Tiwari)
Tiwari aims to encourage millions of people to go organic by growing organic food on their unused rooftops and land spaces. Through this initiative people can grow vegetables, fruits, spices and herbs without having to venture out from the comfort of their houses.
Apart from getting more people to practice urban farming and make it a prominent force in our country, Tiwari elucidates the reason he started The Living Greens.
“Firstly, there are people dying of cancer due to toxic pesticides in their foods, particularly seasonal vegetables. Secondly, cities are becoming ‘concrete jungles’ which are getting heated up, thus creating a low pressure area, where all the air borne pollutants are getting sucked in, and creating gas chambers like our nation’s capital, New Delhi. Lastly, there was an opportunity to offer a highly innovative yet precisely standardised product along with real-time knowledge support”, says Tiwari.
Prateek Tiwari with the cultivated cauliflowers at The Living Greens (Image Credit: The Living Greens Organic Facebook)
Be your own Farmer
When M.S. Swaminathan envisioned the green revolution, he saw a famine-free nation by equipping farmers with High-Yielding Variety of crops. While we’re still on the path of development, the green revolution has been the single most important enabler of food security & self sufficiency of India’s agricultural sector. It didn’t, however, envision large-scale use of pesticides.
For city-dwellers with a certain level of upward mobility, growing their own produce can be empowering; and Living Greens was cleverly designed for exactly that purpose - “ This unique organic input kit not only aids in the organic management of pests and diseases, but also promotes growth and enhances disease-resistance of vegetables and plants”.
Clients examining the vegetables and plants at The Living Greens (Image credit: Prateek Tiwari)
According to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), “Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems, and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity, and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects.”
A little over a decade ago, urban farming seemed like a distant dream - vertical farms, hydroponics, soil-less plants were only researched on paper. Today, a portable farm can be ordered online.
“We have created a portable farming system that can be shipped to any location in the world in a CKD form (Complete knock-down form, which means is a kit containing unassembled parts of a product) and then self-assembled (by following instructions on a self-installation video) by anyone at the destination. In addition, this portable farming system comes with a unique soilless organic medium which is not only three times lighter than soil but also becomes more fertile with the passage of time. This means that the rooftop farm produces more with time”, adds Tiwari.
Environmental damage control
Alongside providing fresh produce with minimal chemical contamination and portability, there are multiple environmental benefits of their services -
Firstly, a lot of fresh oxygen is produced. As plants absorb carbon dioxide and convert it to oxygen, this can help improve the air quality in cities, especially in North India, where many cities are currently facing extremely severe air quality issues.
In addition, the vertical gardens can significantly reduce the decibels of ambient noises, thereby reducing noise pollution.
From a cooling perspective, the vertical gardens create a natural green cover on the exposed exterior walls, thus creating a cool micro-climate in interiors. A similar kind of activity is done by the plantations on the rooftops. To reduce the “urban heat island effect”, the plants absorb some of the sunlight and provide shade for the buildings, which also reduces cooling bills in the long run.
Vertical gardens reduce noise pollution and also create a natural green cover on the exposed exterior walls, thus creating a cool micro-climate in interiors. Representation image (Image credit: UDesign)
In addition, plantations on the rooftops and vertical gardens play a key role in enhancing the property value. Since most of the highrise buildings, due to their height and narrow size and similar features look plain and boring, old buildings. Creating a rooftop garden or vertical gardens, can increase the building’s aesthetic value and efficiency, which in turn could potentially increase its property value. A green wall directly offers LEED credits, directly 2 points and an additional 30 credits, for green building certification.
Urban Farming in a pandemic
This year the United Nations’ central theme for world environment day this year was ‘ecosystem restoration’ - an important starting point in the conversation around urban agriculture and its potential to use urban resources to revive & restore the environment. Having your own little garden was a luxury only people with a backyard had. Overtime, growing your own produce was a hobby only people with the time & a ‘green thumb’ possessed; Today, as urban dwellers are evolving as more environment & climate-conscious citizens, it's safe to say there’s a spike of interest in agriculture.
The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have spurred this interest.
Seen as a way to relieve mental stress and address local food shortages, Tiwari agrees to the positives adding “One of the positive impacts after COVID-19, is that people have started realizing that ‘dawaai se jyada important hai dincharya’ (living a healthy life is a more effective way of beating the virus than just popping pills). With more time on their hands, particularly for senior citizens, people want to grow fresh organic vegetables on their rooftops.”
That being said, the pandemic came with its own set of challenges for Living Greens.
“People now, are now not willing to invest quickly in a new concept. They want to hold on to their money”, says Tiwari.
The pandemic-induced supply chain bottlenecks didn’t spare Tiwari and his team. The long distance raw material supplies get affected, when the states, which are on the route between origin and destination, go under lockdown.
The way ahead
The Living Greens has covered over 100,000 square feet of rooftop space (spread over 15 cities) under urban organic farming.
Talking about the company’s expansion plans, Tiwari says “Firstly, there will be a city franchisee, in each city, which will serve two purposes - stockist and a training centre. Adding to it, The Living Greens Urban Farming Stores will mushroom in various neighbourhoods of the city. These stores will be supported with material, training and services by the city franchisee. These stores shall not only spread awareness about growing your own food but will also support urban growers with training and on-site services.”
It has already developed city franchisees outside Rajasthan and NCR, in Pune, Bhopal, Pondicherry, Jalandhar, Haridwar and Lucknow and is in the process of signing up more franchisees across the country and establishing partnerships with local vendors.
Clients examining the vegetables and plants at The Living Greens (Image credit: Prateek Tiwari)
The Living Greens aims to create ‘organic communities’ around each store in various neighbourhoods, in at least 50 cities across India. Currently, with so many young people currently enthusiastic about urban farming, and giving up job offers at big companies to work for the betterment of the environment, this field is up for innovations and is a sustainable business for the future.
Edited by Aparna Chandrashekhar
Some resources and links to help you learn more about organic farming: