As our cities continue to expand, human beings are losing touch with nature. But the urban farming movement seeks to change this by encouraging people to grow vegetables and fruits in their yards, in empty lots in their neighbourhood and in public spaces such as schools, universities and hospitals. As this hobby becomes more popular, new and innovative products are being developed to help city dwellers grow herbs, salads and vegetables not only in gardens and yards but also on their balconies and inside their apartments.
My Green Chapter has brought this concept to the UAE with the launch of its online store, mygreenchapter.com. The store has sourced gardening and urban farming products from around the world to help UAE residents join the growing network of urban farmers, who want to live in harmony with nature, eat fresh, organic produce and live greener, more sustainable lives.
Besides gardening tools, equipment and materials for adults and children, the company offers innovative ‘smart garden’ technologies that make indoor farming as easy as clicking a button. The company also sells chicken coops, feed and accessories to enable urban farmers to raise chicken in their backyards.
The project is the brainchild of Frenchman Jean-Charles Hameau, who is an animal lover and gardening enthusiast. Hameau graduated in Agriculture Engineering and has a Master’s in Economics. He came to Dubai in 1999 as a commercial attaché in charge of agriculture and food at the French Consulate, and later co-founded the Saint Vincent Group which is the leader in the pet food and accessories industry in the GCC region.
Hameau spoke to the Weekend Review about urban farming and the new products that mygreenchapter.com is bringing to the UAE. Excerpts:
How did you get interested in urban farming?
A few years ago, I saw a documentary on TV about how the urban farming movement started in Detroit, USA, during the economic crisis in 2008, when people began using public spaces and abandoned industrial land to grow vegetables and fruits. Around the same time, I met a chicken coop supplier in Europe, and was surprised to hear that most of his company’s exports were to the GCC region. I did some research and realised that this is a part of the culture of this region and many families in the UAE are growing their own vegetables and keeping chickens in their backyard. Six months ago, I decided to keep some chickens in my garden, and seeing the smiles on the faces of my children when they pick up fresh eggs every morning is one of the factors that convinced me to start My Green Chapter.
What is your vision for the store?
Urban farming not only adds greenery to cities but also helps to reduce pollution and improve our health. Growing vegetables and fruits in our own gardens helps us to reconnect with the Earth and have a greater appreciation for where our food comes from. It reduces the food miles associated with long distance transportation while also ensuring that we eat the freshest produce and foods that are in season. We believe this is not just a passing trend but an unstoppable movement towards sustainable living, so our vision is to bring unique and innovative products to encourage the growth of urban farming in the UAE.
What kind of products are you focusing on?
For UAE residents who have gardens, we wanted to get the best quality gardening tools, seeds, potting soil, organic fertilisers, micro-irrigation kits, gloves and boots, and wooden chicken coops that are suited to the climate. It is particularly important to introduce children and young adults to green and sustainable living, hence we are offering a range of colourful gardening kits for children. Since the weather here makes it difficult to grow anything in summer and most people in the UAE live in apartments, we have sourced many innovative products that allow stress-free indoor gardening throughout the year. We also have a range of pots and planters, including self-watering pots and space saving designs for vertical gardening on indoor walls. We are working with experts in the field to source products that are suitable for the UAE and technologies that make gardening convenient. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everybody’s gardening needs.
What are the new products you have introduced to this market?
We have many new products that take the effort and unpredictability out of gardening, making it easy for anyone to grow herbs, salads, vegetables and flowers all year round, even in indoor areas with limited space and sunlight. An example is the Click & Grow Smart Garden. All you have to do is to insert the plant capsules, fill the water tank, plug it in and the specially developed smart soil, and built-in sensors will make sure that the plants get optimal water, oxygen and nutrients. It comes with a Grow Light that immaculately calculates the spectrum of light required by the plants and the number of hours the light should be on and off. It makes the plants grow faster without any pesticides, hormones or other harmful chemicals and after you harvest the first crop, you can get new plant refills and re-use the Smart herb garden as many times as you wish.
Similarly, the Plantui Smart Garden is a hydroponic system whereby you can grow tasty greens without soil. The fully automated, patented growth process with special light spectrums, is packed into a beautifully designed ceramic device with overhead LED lights that provide optimal spectrums and intensity for photosynthesis. The watering and lighting are automatically adjusted during all growth phases, so all you do is to place the plant capsules containing the seeds in the device, switch it on and harvest the produce in about eight weeks. It comes in various sizes, to suit different kitchen spaces, allowing you grow three or more types of salads in the same unit.
Likewise, the Mini Garden is an innovative modular wall system for creating vertical gardens in a balcony of any size, or on a wall in a home or office. It comes with a patented irrigation system that automatically waters the plants. We will continue adding new products to our extensive range.
Can raising chicken in one’s yard also be so easy?
Farmers have been raising backyard fowl for over 3,000 years but only in the last five years has it become accessible for even the beginner farmer to raise their own livestock. We are the first suppliers of chicken coops in the UAE, and I can tell you that building a basic chicken coop for a small flock of birds is an easy do-it-yourself project that you can take on if you have a backyard at home. Keep in mind of course the rules regarding this in your neighbourhood and avoid keeping a rooster. It is worthwhile because you can raise them organically, free of hormones and antibiotics, and let them run around your yard rather than being cooped up in a cage. You can get around 300 eggs per hen per year, and the fowl are excellent mosquito repellants.
Is the UAE ready for the urban farming movement?
Absolutely. The country is becoming greener and has launched many sustainable living initiatives such as the urban farming competition recently organised by Dubai Municipality. I have read of urban farming programmes in local schools, and look forward to collaborating in such efforts because it is important for children to get away from their gadgets, step outdoors, connect with the Earth, learn where the food on their table comes from and experience the sheer joy of growing their own vegetables.
Jyoti Kalsi is a writer based in Dubai.
For more information go to www.mygreenchapter.com