Indira Naidoo pitches for green cities

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By Neena Badhwar

What should news anchors do when they move on. Should she find another job, or start a new program was the dilemma former ABC news presenter Indira Naidoo faced. She had seen enough, watched enough footage of gruesome stories, wars, abuse and violence. She really sat and pondered about things seriously, she says.

At her home in Paddington, Indira turned inwards and turning inwards made her find herself, her roots and the knowledge she came with when she had moved from South Africa. It reminded her of her childhood days how they had a vegetable patch next to the house and how some of the dishes had vegetables sourced from the home garden. “The food tasted so good though it was just a very simple meal that we all enjoyed eating together.”

Indira turned to growing herbs and vegetables in her apartment balcony at Potts Point. Would you believe, on the balcony, a 20 square metre concrete space, 13 floors above the ground level! Her partner Mark, obviously, objected to the idea. “It couldn’t happen,” he prophesied.

But to Indira and Mark’s surprise the balcony facing the northerly Sun actually took to the plants and also to their pride, they actually flourished. Before starting out she read a lot, talked to some avid gardeners and watched gardening shows on television. Soil, sun, shade, wind, direction, weather, pollination, bees, water, compost and mulch were all the factors that she thoroughly looked into and went and spent just around $200 on good potting mix, good seeds and seedlings.

“I happened to taste some heirloom tomatoes from an organic farmer from a stall at a farmer’s market. They were just delicious and reminded me of tomatoes from childhood days, their aroma that wafted. It was divine.”

She says she got as much info as she could from the farmer about those tomatoes and went ahead and planted some on her balcony. Not only the tomatoes, Indira went ahead and experimented with around 40 herbs and vegetables and ended up with a bumper crop of about 72 kilos.

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“Mark had stopped complaining by then. We arranged the balcony in such a way that we had our bar-b-que and our chairs and we sat in an environment with herbs and vegetables growing around us. My mornings became quite interesting as I looked forward to checking the plants on my balcony soon as I got up, watering them, weeding and getting rid of any bugs and pests.

“It was only 10-20 minutes of my time but it relaxed me a lot and gave me a good reason to get up to,” says Indira.

“We have had some very interesting dinners where we have cooked dishes by using produce from our garden. And every one has really enjoyed the food and the environment.

“I experimented a lot with my cooking, just simple dishes we used to have at my parent’s place. It has been a kind of learning curve for me. I ended up writing my first book ”˜Edible Balcony’ and then last year I wrote ”˜Edible city’ on my experience in helping some of the city gardens that I have been involved in.”

Indira was approached by actor Dave Wenham to help set up a rooftop garden for Wayside Chapel which has turned out to be quite a fruitful journey for its team of volunteers. Also, a Melbourne restaurant that turned its rooftop into a beautiful garden where its patrons can enjoy their meals in the middle of city, yet sitting in the midst of greenery.

In her books, Indira talks about food miles how the cost of food increases with the distance it has to cover to reach the consumer, at times from one part of the world to the other, travelling thousands of miles. The stored food loses its value, she says, even the fresh vegetables losing half their vitamins once left in the fridge for over a week.

Indira’s books are an interesting read as they take one from being a novice to a seasoned gardener, like what she is now. At times frustrated, other times elated, Indira pours out all her emotions as she goes along and encourages the reader not to give up. She describes each and every herb and every vegetable she has grown and follows it up with a recipe that has used the crop from her own garden. The dishes are simple, look good and authentic and seem delicious for anyone to try on.

Indira has also visited many gardens around the globe to see and study how people grow and handle such kitchen garden experiments. It has changed her life and also through her experience Indira is trying to change people’s life, people who are worried about the world, the climate change and want to be able to produce things right close to them.

“If I could, I would change all the roof tops in the city to gardens tended by its residents. A place where they can go and relax right in the middle of city, not to some far away farm,” says Indira, in her recent talk at Hornsby library. The talk was attended by aspiring community members who bought her autographed books. She gave away complimentary ”˜Munash’ – the rock dust that has come out of a used mine and is rich in nutrients and helps grow rich, robust crop when used.

Her going away tip is to ”˜always read the label on the plant you buy. Don’t throw it away as it has some very good information. And make sure to invite bees by planting bee-attracting flowers such as calendulas, marigolds, nasturtiums and borage. You can also keep sting-less bees. Know the friends and foes of the bugs and plants that grow synergistically alongside each other’.

I am one convert now, trying to grow things in my garden, armed with her book which has given me new confidence to go try gardening the way Indira explains.

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