Farmer on the Roof

Yesterday, we bought a couple of potatoes. They’re organic. They’re cleaned and individually wrapped in a microwaveable shrink-wrap, so you can just stick them in the microwave, and you have a snack: a hot potato.

But what I found intriguing was a little tab that says: Trace me. It opens up to provide a code number and a message that says, This potato is traceable! You can track this potato all the way back to the farm.

All you had to do was to enter the code on their website. So of course I did, hoping for something like “Farmer Ed’s Potato Spread” and an address.

Alas. There was less to it than that. The code only revealed that it was a regular-sized organically-grown russet from Oregon. No back to the farm at all. I suppose it would have been something boring like “Field number 32446” anyway.


Some vegetables are a lot easier to track to their origins.

When I was in India recently, I stayed with my friends Sujata Madhok and Mukul Shukla. They’re both journalists… and more. One morning, Mukul said “You must see my kitchen garden. It’s on the roof.” I went up, expecting to see a few pots of tomato plants, and maybe a curry-leaf shrub or two.

Oh no.  There were indeed a couple of tomato plants, volunteers that had hidden in the soil and popped up when conditions were right. But this was a serious effort, a mini-farm, a symphony of lettuce and cauliflower and broccoli in clay pots. The whole thing was organic; they were improving the soil with compost made in an old bathtub ripped out after a remodel. (The other bathtubs had become beds to grow more vegetables.)

The terrace was up three ladder-like staircases. Fortunately, water was pumped to roof tanks, so it didn’t involve hauling water up. But all the pots and soil  were carried up there.[Edited to Add:  In comments, Sujata said, “Our driver-turned-gardener Ramchander does much of the hard work on this impromptu farm.”  ]

A clothes line with a few clothes-pegs attached testified to the multiple uses of the space.

“This used to be a great party terrace,” their daughter said, rather regretfully. Like many teenagers, she didn’t look that impressed with her parents’ achievements.  Her friend was more appreciative, and took Mukul up on an offer to help herself to the organic lettuce for a cool salad.

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5 Responses to Farmer on the Roof

  1. splanet says:

    Gosh Rupa, this is so cute. Thanks. Also loved the bit about the hot potato. I’ve often felt that we urban folk have too little appreciation of the hard work that farmers do. We take our food for granted, never realising how closely all sorts of humans are connected through the anonymous food supply chain.

    Mukul comes from a farming family so he understands the work involved. His rooftop garden isn’t aesthetic but practical and useful. Our driver turned gardener Ramchander does much of the hard work on this impromptu farm. He recently brought down a trayful of tomatoes — picked half ripe as a borer worm was getting to them. The worm is being countered effectively with a spray made of tobacco ash (Mukul’s pipe has its uses!). Meanwhile the tomatoes have turned a ripe red and are sitting pretty on the dining table! — Sujata

  2. Haerinder Singh Rawat says:

    Great. I am impressed and inspired. I live in a flat in Mumbai. We have some potted plants on the window sill. This year we planted one chilly plant and had a handsome crop. Just a start.

  3. eshaguha says:

    That was so nice to read. Mukul and Sujata’s little ‘Farm on the terrace’ is such a nice way of using space well. Our childhoods were spent in these small kitchen gardens where our mothers grew veggies and also easy to grow fruits like papaya and they all tasted so good and fresh. Am sure the lettuce and tomatoes on Suji’s table must be tasting as good.

  4. Kirti madhok Sud says:

    Wow Rupa, Sujata and Mukul’s farm has come alive in your blog..just as it looks in real life. We too have been enjoying their home grown produce this winter which I proudly put on the table.

  5. vinty says:

    Rupa, what a delightful story. It’s so nice to hear of urban Indians converting their barsatis to vegetable gardens. We filled in the swimming pool that came with our house, and are expanding our vegetable garden. We have garlic, snow peas, onions, lettuce, radishes, strawberries, argula, tomatoes, basil, cress, cilantro and the world’s hottest chillies–bhut jholokia. We use companion planting (nasturtiums and marigolds with tomatoes, for example)to try to keep pests to a minimum without using any pesticides. And we compost vegetables and leaves so we produce our own fertilizer. And because we don’t use any chemicals, our garden attracts lots of bees, hummingbirds and Monarch butterflies. Come and visit the next time you’re in town!

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