The concept of sharing and caring is pretty common in India, and this came to the fore, when women across 25 villages in Rewa district in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh shared vegetables grown in their kitchen gardens with neighbours during the lockdown. Asha Devi Sen, a resident of Khandu village in Rewa, said, “Though many of us had set up kitchen gardens since 2017, the activity picked up pace during the lockdown. Many women having their own kitchen gardens distributed gourd, lady’s finger and spinach to several families who failed to buy vegetables due to the closure of markets,” she told Media Bypass.
Neeru Adivasi, a resident of Tilau village, started her own kitchen garden to grow seasonal vegetables in July this year. Adivasi said that during the lockdown, vegetables have been distributed free of cost to 30-40 families in the adjoining villages.
“Now, we do not have to buy vegetables from markets. I really like the idea of having my own kitchen garden. Some families, who have borewell facility, find it easy to water the plants though during monsoon rains are adequate,” she added. As part of her venture, she got the required supply of seeds from seed banks run by the Rewanchal Dalit Adivasi Sewa Sanathan Samiti, a Rewa-based non-profit.
The distribution of vegetables free of cost to needy families is still continuing, said Ram Naresh of Rewanchal samiti. “The women mainly grow vegetables during summer and monsoon. Earlier, most families who had kitchen gardens used to consume the vegetables and sell the excess produce. But free distribution of vegetables has been carried out most actively in 10 villages involving 22 families during the lockdown,” Naresh added.
According to Awdesh Kumar Yadav, who works for Rewanchal samiti, the kitchen garden activity has been going on since 2015-16. Yadav explained that if women have gardens on their own, they can save money and buy other essential items. There has been a marked improvement in the health of women and children after kitchen gardens were started, he added.
Phulkumari Yadav is part of a women’s group engaged in discussing about health and nutrition aspects. “We did not know much about kitchen gardens in the beginning but now we urge pregnant women to start their own gardens. Eating greens takes care of our health and helps fight anaemia. We sometimes also exchange vegetables among us,” she said Rekha Adivasi said that some of the kitchen gardens are located at a distance and her garden is about five km away from home. But thanks to such gardens, women have started eating more vegetables, she added.
To sensitise others about the importance of kitchen gardens, the women have also started composing and singing songs. A song sung over the phone narrates the names of vegetables that should be consumed throughout the week. Ram Babu Kaul from Rewanchal Samiti said that in the absence of kitchen gardens, the women used to suffer from weak health and newborn babies were mostly underweight. “When we weighed the babies, we found that their weight was about two kg or even less. The minimum weight should be 2.5 kg,” Babu said.
A group of women look after the seed bank situated in Dabhaura village of Rewa. Ranju Devi Adivasi, a resident of Khaira village in Rewa, said there was a shortage of quality seeds. So, the seed bank was set up to store the seeds of 11 types of vegetables. The team has 10 women to look after the place. “We distribute seeds among women and they give us back a share of the seeds later. Sometimes, they use wood ash from firewood in their gardens,” she added. Chandprabha Adivasi said women come every three days to look after the seed bank formed three years ago. Indigenous seeds are collected and stored in air tight containers. Women having kitchen gardens come and take whatever seeds they need from us.