When George Remedios was a boy, a Christmas tree that had become too big for his house was planted in the colony garden to grow. Twenty five years later, the tree has grown far taller at 30 feet. 31-year-old Remedios, founder of the Turning Tide has now branched out to create a cycle of tree plantation in the city with his family friend Calvin Andrade who is 20 years old. They have planted over 350 trees in the city since they began last year.
Remedios and Andrade collect Newspapers and recyclables from people who are interested in planting trees. The money they make from selling the papers is used to buy saplings and seeds. They plant the trees and take care of them till they can survive on their own, provided the flow of newspapers for recycling keeps coming. “People can reach us through facebook or whatsapp and we will collect the newspapers. We then use the money for seeds and plantation and making the soil fit for survival. We even make compost bins and recycle natural material to increase the fertility of the soil,” he said.
Remedios is the most vocal about his passion. An advertising professional, he quit last year because of an accident that required physiotherapy and medical care. During that period, an idea germinated in his head and pushed him to experiment with the most natural ways of taking care of plants and the environment. “In the time we have been working on this, we have seen that even educated people living in societies with employed gardeners don’t water their trees. All you have to do is dump a bucket of water every day and maybe poke holes in the soil once in three months. Instead of burning leaves that rake up, just place them below the tree and let them break down naturally. You can even use fertilizer if you want and if you don’t wish to spend on that, you can use saw-dust, wood shavings, twigs, branches and even cow dung and just leave it near the tree. You don’t have to do much,” he said.
A lot of home experiments have made these guys infamous in their area. “We were working on a compost mixture in an air tight container in our house, when we opened it the stink was so strong that everybody in the house ran out gasping for breath. Unfortunately the experiment failed but we might have a go again,” he said. A lot of research and development through YouTube videos and articles have paved a way for others to take it up in their own localities. The problem is they are not consistent. “A lot of subscriptions have gone down. We can’t keep reminding people to give us newspapers. We stopped taking plastic and metal recyclables because our society doesn’t have storage capacity and Raddiwalas were not ready to come for just two or three kgs of plastic. It does become challenging to convince people to let us plant trees. They come up with all types of excuses that they will block my view, if it bears fruits then people will throw stones at it and the mosquito population will increase, etc,” he said.
Remedios was inspired by his grandmother who had a green thumb and Andrade by his mother. Both are on their way to register their initiative as an NGO to tap into CSR funds and plant more trees in the city. Andrade would volunteer even through his board exams and wishes to join the air force. He was a part of a nature club in school. “Actually more trees in the city doesn’t mean the air will be less polluted in the city. We need to understand the cycle of nature. A forest grows because nobody is sweeping the land there. In cities we are obstructing the very natural cycle of carbon going back into the earth. We need to stop collecting leaves and burning them. The leaves rest on the soil, go through the natural mulching process and decay into the soil. Twigs,branches when they decay produce microbes that are beneficial for the trees to grow. If you find these things, just put them around your nearest tree. It will also help the soil quality. Simply planting a tree is not enough, we need to create a sustainable environment for it to grow. In the city we have the red mud which is iron ferrite. It becomes hard as clay and very difficult to break down. A tree cant grow in an environment like this. We need to put the carbon back into the ground,” he said. Khar residents Remedios and Andrade use the hougle culture which is popular in the west. They dig up the soil and use twigs, branches, saw dust, leaves, cow dung, cocopeat, wood chips, compost and a lot of water. It loosens up the soil and the release of microbes makes it more fertile. “The top soil is really bad. We try to add layer upon layer by consistently using this method. We even make compost bins with wire mesh and wooden blocks on a shoe string budget. You don’t need an expensive bin, you just need the right wet and dry waste ratio which 70% dry and 30% wet waste,” he said.
Remedios said that the air quality in the city is over five times the prescribed limit and he has observed that winters are getting colder. “These are early signs of desertification,” he said. To counter that, his group at The Turning Tide try to rope in school children and educate them about tree plantation. “We recently planted about 250 trees in Mulund with school children with the help of a local parish priest. He is an environmentalist in his own right and he organized a competition for children where the winner of the best tree gets prize money. So whoever shows the best results over the year gets Rs.3,000 as cash prize. We used to plant atleast five trees earlier but now it is project based as we are not receving newspapers regularly and are also running around getting the paperwork sorted for the registration. Our main aim is to work with school children and make them aware about environment and engage them in activities, play games and have fun interactive sessions with them,” he said. Co-incidently Both of them were also bitten by the green bug as the bandra teacher Maria D’Souza taught them in school.
Another idea they have is to approach schools with football grounds. “By planting these trees at the periphery you get so many benefits. You are protected against dust, noise and pollution and trees like ashoka can be planted,” he said. Another vertical they wish to explore is by engaging with tribals in Aarey Milk Colony. “We have noticed that builders give them money to set trees and plants on fire so that the land can be claimed for construction. We want to introduce them to fruit bearing trees and maybe vegetables so that they can get income from that and are inclined towards saving trees,” he said.
It seems that Remedios and Andrade have a special corner for fruit bearing trees. “We are trying to grow Papaya, Chickoo, Amla, Almond, cherry, pomegranate, coconuts and more such trees beside indigenous trees like Ashoka and Neem,” he said. They have 80% success rate if their efforts in the Pachorawala house is anything to go by. Ebrahim Pachorawala gave them his front yard to experiment and over a year they have seen tremendous change. “The ground wasn’t soaking any water anymore. It was rolling of the garden. Now it has become soft. Insects have started coming here and I can feel the difference,” said Pachorawala. The duo has planted several trees in the western suburbs and most of their trees have managed to survive.
A fruit sapling costs anything between Rs.100 to Rs.200 and the price increases as the sapling grows. Remedios has around 70 jackfruit saplings in his balcony that’ll take atleast three more months to be planted in ground. “We just ate a jackfruit and collected the seeds, dried them and planted them in plastic bottles. If the space is less, we just cut the top off beverage bottles, punch holes in them and plant the sapling and then we give it to cigarette shops around our area. They take care of them and we collect it from them when the need arises,” he said.
“The onus is ours. We cant say that this is someone elses problem and the government or the BMC is to be blamed. The biggest problem is that we think someone else will always be there to clean the mess and take care of things. This is our environment, our house. We are dependant on nature, it is not dependent on us. We are not strangers to the health benefits of being close to nature. We can end the garbage collection in Bombay in our societies if we take care of our own waste ourselves. All we need to do is help to complete the carbon cycle of nature. When we have trees we have more birds, more wildlife around us and a better eco-system. Earlier buildings in the area were advertised on the basis of how nature friendly they were, not what facilities you had inside the building. Builders are encroaching on such lands. We are not up in arms though. As our facebook page says, Life is too short to be an activist so be an executionist,” he said.
Soundtrack courtesy: Solitaire Blues
Photos and Video: Tanya Prasad