How a Cuban Organic Farming Revolution Spurred This Engineer to Make Farmers out of City Dwellers
Inspired by the Cuban system of organopónicos, Homecrop, a startup founded by Manvitha Reddy, is setting up modular vegetable gardens on rooftops around Hyderabad.
For urban dwellers, a garden is often a rare luxury. Dealing with the double constraints of time and space, most horticultural enthusiasts have to limit their green thumb to bamboo shoot and indoor plants. Manvitha Reddy, a Hyderabad resident, decided to resolve the situation with a little help from Cuba.
Inspired by the Cuban system of organopónicos, Manvitha and her team at Homecrop are setting up modular vegetable gardens on rooftops.
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Organopónicos developed in Cuba in the period after the fall of the Soviet Union. As they lost their trade links and food security, the Cubans began to grow their own vegetables and foods organically in thousands of gardens across the country. Not only did the movement resolve the food crisis, but organoponics became a model for inspiration for urban gardeners across the globe.
Cut to Hyderabad, India, where civil engineer and management graduate Manvitha Reddy found herself questioning urban lifestyle. “I realised that people were willing to pay 4-5 times more for organic food, but there was no authentication of whether the food was organic or not.” Even as she worked as the operations lead in a startup, she began conceptualising a solution to her dilemma.
Her mother, who grows vegetables in her garden, offered Manvitha the first site for channelling her talent and introduced her to organoponics. The Cuban method seemed a perfect solution for Manvitha.
“During my research, I realised that lots of people wanted to grow gardens in their house, but lack of knowledge stopped them,” she says. “People are scared to try because they don’t know enough. There was also the issue of getting materials, which was difficult in cities.”
Manvitha began conceptualising Homecrop in January 2017. Her lack of knowledge of agricultural sciences proved an early obstacle that was easily solved when she received incubation support from National Academy of Agricultural Research Management (NAARM). Homecrop launched formally in January 2017.
Homecrop offers urban farming units, measuring 15 sq ft, which can be set up to grow a variety of regular and exotic vegetables and herbs.
“We provide a self-sustaining structure,” says Manvitha. “We offer a leak-proof support structure, potting media, garden tools and shade nets.” The units also use olla earthen pots for irrigation, minimising water wastage. The kits are available in two packages — basic and premium. Homecrop also offers basic services and annual maintenance packages.
With help from experts, and drawing from her own engineering experience, Manvitha developed the design for the units herself. It took around four months to draw up the design, and Manvitha kept in mind the specific requirements of urban gardeners.
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“People are often hesitant about gardening on roofs due to possible seepage,” she says. “We have developed support structures to prevent that. People were also concerned about vegetables drying up in the summer and going damp during monsoons. The unit is designed to be like a low-cost version of a greenhouse for gardeners to grow all sorts of vegetables in spite of weather conditions.”
Identifying the right design was crucial for Manvitha to set her product apart in a market flooded with urban gardening units. She has also struggled with pre-conceived notions about gardening. “People think gardening should be cheap, but using a cheap product can be expensive in the long run.”
As a result, the Homecrop team has also made it a point to educate people through one-on-one sessions and social media interactions. They also reach out to customers via expos and exhibitions.
In three months, Homecrop has covered 400 sq ft in Hyderabad, and is currently in talks with gated communities to set up gardens atop buildings.
While the current set of products focus on rooftop gardens, Manvitha is also expanding her product line. She is currently focusing on kits for balconies and vertical units, so that people living in small apartments can also try their hand at gardening.
Homecrop also wants to engage more gated communities and companies to turn available spaces into vegetable gardens. “We want to promote edible landscaping,” Manvitha says. “Landscaped gardens are usually decorative, but this can use the spaces more functionally.”
Aiming to make urban farming fuss-free, Manvitha says, “I hope to see gardens on every roof in Hyderabad.” And perhaps soon, in other parts of the country too.
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