‘Green Souls’ is an NGO where people grow fruits, vegetables, few flowering plants and different types of medicinal plants at 2 different locations, i.e., a patch of land at Kharghar. These fruits and vegetables serve 40 cancer affected children and a terrace farm at Dadar which serves 120 orphan boys at an orphanage. Founded by Julius Rego, this NGO group mainly comprises of 4 team members and 6 other people who are called in cases of emergencies.
They produce these food materials by the process of organic farming. And by organic farming they mean no usage of red mud which is ordinarily used at farms but they opt for organic waste by converting it into compost. This organic waste includes fallen leaves, household vegetable waste, tender coconut waste, sugarcane bagasse (which is a pulpy residue which remains after the juice has been extracted).
Green Souls NGO started with their first organic farm at Kharghar in 2012 on a small patch of land and the parents of the children who used come for their Cancer treatment helped them in the farming activities. Being a small group of people, they started with their Facebook Page where they would post pictures of their activities and workshops conducted by them. After gaining significant attention, their farm grew in size and so did their following. Then, in 2013 they started off with their second farm at Dadar. Gradually, they trained boys from the orphanage, who were also provided with food. Anybody and everybody were welcome to grow food in an organic manner in these two community farms.
“There was a growing concern about the food we eat. ‘How is it grown and supplied?’, and ‘By the time it comes to us, what is the condition of that food?’ So after trying to understand the system, I realised that the food that we are eating is not very healthy, it is highly polluted and contaminated with many kinds of chemicals thanks to the fertilizers. When you use fertilizers you ought to have pest problem. These pests force you to resort to medication which has toxic chemicals in them. Ultimately all these toxic chemicals and fertilizers enter our bodies. And one of the main causes of cancer is the drugs and fertilizers. A lot of children at Kharghar are barely 1 year, 6 months or 2 years old, most of them are suffering from cancer because of the food that they consume; even the air quality levels are bad. All these factors have led me to realise the importance of food. If you don’t eat the right food, you won’t be healthy. This is the reason which triggered us to start this venture,” says Julius Rego.
The founders had to face quite a few challenges to begin with. Finding a place to start a farm wasn’t a problem for them but finding the right resources was not easy. As they were sure about not using red mud, they first had to look for organic waste from various places, collect it and then convert it into compost, which is a really slow process. Also none of the team members were trained in this field nor did anyone have any agricultural background.
But luckily, they didn’t have to invest a lot in the beginning as in they didn’t have to pay for the waste or for the rent for the farms. While the compost was in the process of getting made slowly, they shifted their focus on gaining knowledge about different ways to retain the compost and the crop and in the meantime, they came up with the idea of plastic containers. They used plastic containers to grow most of their organic food and these plastic containers were such that it required least amount of water.
Now you might think that, ‘Why not use red mud since it has been used in Farming since the ancient times?’ The reason why they avoid red mud is that one of their farms is on the terrace of a building, with pots and containers filled with Red Mud. This would increase the load on the terrace and the children living under the roof would be in danger. Since compost is much lighter than mud and it is not only tackling the waste problem of the city but, they are also improving the air quality, they opted for this eco-friendly method. With the air quality improving thanks to these farms, they also attracted a lot of bees, butterflies and birds. So it’s a win-win situation in every sense.
Apart from the 3 paid gardeners, 1 at the Dadar farm and 2 at the Kharghar Farm; and the team of 4 members, there have been more than 3000 people who have been helping them in the farming activities at different points of times. Amongst these many volunteers, there are many who are college students who visit these farms for their project works; there have been many offices who have sent their employees to help at the farms for number of weekends; there have been many volunteers who had moved out of their jobs and wanted to take a break; different groups of people who are enthusiastic about nature and a few interns who have been working on the farms as part of their internships.
All the love and support makes the members happy at the end of the day. But, the children that this food goes to are happier and healthier than everyone else.