The Joy of Community Gardening and Building

By Desneige Hallbert on June 1, 2014

Written specially for Vikalp Sangam

Participants of this workshop had wanted to know how to transform unused apartment surroundings into thriving urban micro-ecosystems and how to use village knowledge to that end. Workshops like this one are not only an ecological necessity but also a community-strengthening tool that besides strengthening social bonds, also strengthen people-nature bonds.

Urban Green Spaces

On March 25-26, 2014, I attended a workshop on terrace gardening in Kothrud, Pune. Vaibhavi Agrawal organized the event because she wanted to know more about transforming unused apartment surroundings into thriving urban micro-ecosystems and how to use village knowledge to that end-- she also had a space to experiment with for the workshop! I was lucky to be invited when fate had us run into each other on the street! Tushar Kelkar, who had just graduated from Swaraj University in Udaipur came and led the 10-day workshop event.  I could only attend the first two days and had no idea what to expect from it. 

I was pleasantly surprised when after just one day I’d learned how to mix mud for cob construction, make adobe sun-dried bricks, and create plaster from cow-dung (see below for resource website on how to make cob and adobe).  We made an extremely large (10 x 7ft) compost pit from the discarded veggies and coconut shells from corner vendors nearby, did some soil testing, and finished the day off with following a recipe for amrutpani (also called amrutjal: see recipe resource website below). My two days were largely hands-on and “feet–on” experiences since on the second day, we all had to mash the cob construction mixture with our feet! 

 Fig. 1 Cob mixing with our feet!      Fig. 2 The super huge compost!       Fig. 3 Building with brick adobes               

Fig. 4 Cob ball throwing          Fig. 5 Step 2: Press in sand-filled bottles; Fig. 6 Step 3:Upend glass bottles and sit!

                                                                                                                        Photo by Vaibhavi Agrawal  

Figure 7 The site before                                       Figure 8 The site after with cob and bottle constructed benches

A workshop that should happen everywhere!

I’m not sure if other workshops like this have been Figure 7 The site before organized before or not, but I do see a future for such greening if Pune apartment complexes and societies take such matters into their own hands (and feet) and host such events.Workshops like this one are not only an ecological necessity but also a community-strengthening tool that besides strengthening social bonds, also strengthen people-nature bonds. I sincerely hope that workshops like this one continue to happen and grow in number.  Perhaps even a group of concerned citizens could take on such a project and help speed its proliferation.

Suggestions for similar events in the future are to actively involve more of the apartment dwellers in the event, conduct a group site analysis by which I mean taking an inventory of what existed prior to the workshop. For example the site had cherry tomatoes growing wild - lovely ! And such observances could help the participants plan what to plant.  The wild-growing tomatoes were a good indicator that the soil was pretty fertile. This should have been discussed further.  Also the excess soil from the site was discarded into the un-used lot near-by rather than saved or given away.  There was no discussion about the un-used lot and the ways in which simply moving the trash from our site into that site really didn’t help address the situation of dumping…to be truly sustainable, we should have re-used the soil rather than buy “new” or “fresh” soil, and instead of dumping most of the trash we should have found a way to use all of the trash rather than just some of it for only the bottom layer for the cob-constructed bench.

Photo No. 6 is by Vaibhavi Agrawal, all other photos by the author

To see more photos go to: https://www.facebook.com/events/607002072721071/?notif_t=plan_user_joined

Workshop Contact: Vaibhavi Agrawal

Websites: http://www.swarajuniversity.org/about-us.html

Resources: http://bopdesigner.com/2012/04/micro-manuals-for-4-earth-building-techniques/, http://natuecocityfarming.blogspot.in/2009/03/preparing-amrit-jal.html




Story Tags: terrace farming, cob, construction

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