[Sustainability Agenda] How The Living Greens is bringing organic farming to urban spaces
With a degree in agri-engineering, Prateek Tiwari recognised the potential of organic produce much before its massive popularity today. To simplify the farm-to-fork supply chain, Prateek started an organic farming company in 2003, but it soon shut down in 2006.
“There was no organised retail at that time. It was also difficult to convince farmers not to use pesticides,” Prateek tells SocialStory.
However, Prateek views that failure as a “negative inspiration”, which drove him to build The Living Greens over the past eight years. The Jaipur-based company was built with a unique idea: “what if people could grow organic produce right on their rooftops?”
Mostly, residential rooftops are redundant. These vacant spaces can be converted into food-growing spaces. However, key elements like a package or a standardised product and experiential knowledge were missing.
Currently bootstrapped, Thespent the first four years building its product — a portable farming system.
“We focused on creating an organic kit, which has a combination of sprays and root fertilisers with modern biocontrol agents and Vedic formulations, like neem-based formulations,” Prateek explains.
Once the startup acquires a customer, it tries to understand their interests, and depending on factors such as the season, it provides them with the right seeds and guidance.
The Living Greens ships the system in pieces, which can be reassembled and self-installed by the customer with the help of the startup’s online support. To date, it has sold between 5,000-6,000 systems.
“The pandemic really catalysed the interest in [our product],” Prateek says.
As people were stuck in their homes after the onset of COVID-19, they began recognising the unutilised space that existed on their terrace and saw the potential to do something with it.
Big impact of small changes
For The Living Greens’ customers, getting fresh organic fruits and vegetables is a great benefit, but adding a green cover to the rooftops also has long-term advantages.
“As you’re covering the rooftops, the building doesn’t get heated up as much. When heat reduces, the electricity consumption also goes down,” Prateek explains.
Cooler buildings, in the long run, also mean cooler cities. “Cities are also surrounded by green areas, and as a result, cities become low-pressure areas, which attract more air-borne pollution,” he says. Growing plants also helps in this regard as they absorb carbon dioxide and release fresh oxygen.
In fact, reducing the supply chain and the distance between farm-to-fork significantly adds to sustainability.
Prateek points out that by increasing urban organic farming, people have the opportunity to eat fresh produce compared to vegetables and fruits bought from the market, which starts losing its freshness over time.
“My whole life has been invested in telling governments and people to wake up to this thought,” Prateek shares. He recalls meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sharing this idea with him, where the PM told the team that such initiatives should be a part of the Smart City missions.
However, Prateek says that investors look for massive growth in a short period compared to the tangible and intangible benefits in the long run, which poses one of the primary challenges for the startup to scale up its business.
Expanding impact and empowering people
With a base in Delhi-NCR, The Living Greens has a customer base of over 1,500 people across 25 cities and continues to grow. It is also empanelled with the Government of Bihar for India’s largest rooftop farming project, which will cover 1,500 houses, subsidised by the government.
Another key element to The Living Greens’ business is green walls, which can be built indoors or outdoors and help cool buildings. Besides improving the aesthetic of the property, these walls also contribute towards making them more environmentally friendly and reduces air and noise pollution. “We have complete 50,000 sqft of green walling,” Prateek adds.
In an effort to provide employment opportunities to underprivileged women, The Living Greens has launched a ‘Mahila Mali’ programme. At present, it has employed two women who provide maintenance services. The startup is keen on expanding this programme to migrant youths.
With expansion on the horizon and an uptick in interest in organic farming, The Living Greens is looking to build a network of city business partners who can also help with on-site maintenance and provide hands-on support to its end-users.
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