In 1946, India was hit by acute food shortages. ‘Grow More’ campaign was launched by the British government. Army released a lot of its machinery for digging wells, leveling ground etc. Viceroy’s private secretary, G.E.B. Abbey, wrote to Mahatma Gandhi to inform him that ‘in Delhi a considerable part of the central vista’ was to be ploughed up and the gardens of bungalows were to be used for growing vegetables on a large scale.
Gandhi’s, 21 February 1946, letter to the Viceroy further suggested that that small and medium sized vessels of the Royal Indian Navy, which were on patrol or guard duty during the war, be converted for the purpose of fishing to provide an additional source of food. Gandhi also suggested that a law be passed to convert all public gardens into fields growing vegetables.
After the demise of Soviet Union when Cuba was faced with acute food shortages it turned to urban farming to collectively meet its growing food needs. Today in Cuba more than 35,000 acres of urban gardens produced 3.4 million tons of food. In Havana, 90% of the city's fresh produce came from local urban farms and gardens, all organic. More than 200,000 Cubans worked in the expanding urban agriculture sector.
We need to trigger our minds and think as to why we grow only grass in most of the urban towns and cities. Why don’t we grow the much needed organic vegetables and wheat on India gate lawns? Actually during the industrial revolution there was strong economic logic in switching land use. Growing grass curtailed agricultural activity and ensured the movement of labour from farms to factories. But fields could not be completely abandoned because there was a lurking fear that industry may fail and economy may have to revert to agriculture. Thus lush-green lawns became a part of a hedging strategy that eventually created the rural-urban binary. Today, we are culturally conditioned to think of green grass lawns as beautiful and the thought of interspersed crops and concrete as ugly as well as unacceptable.
The radical solutions offered in 1946, to ‘grow more’ are more valid in twenty first century Delhi or any metropolitan town that is struggling with ‘pollute less’ strategies. The idea of converting gardens into farms is as relevant as it was seven decades ago. Today, urban households are not just subjected to soaring food prices but also to vegetables that stale and chemically treated. The lack of organic farming coupled with unhygienic transportation is an urban nightmare. The trucks carrying vegetables add enormously to polluting the city. Total green area under Delhi Development Authority (DDA) is in the range of 5000 hectares (12,350 acre). In Lutyens Bungalow zone (LBZ) 5,600 acres of land grows only grass. To maintain manicured grass in LBZ gardens the government spends Rs.70, 000/acre, every month. If only total grasslands of Delhi could be used to grow organic vegetables, it could meet Delhi’s vegetable needs locally. Not only will it help Delhi have fresh, organic vegetables it will also reduce the number of trucks that bring vegetable to Delhi from other states, reducing the pollution levels considerably.