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Young Indonesians paint the town green
by Staff Writers
Jakarta (AFP) Sept 30, 2011

Young Indonesians are breathing new life into their polluted concrete capital city with little more than buckets of soil and seeds.

A group of mostly young professionals, known as Gardening Indonesia, has joined the global urban farming movement, converting vacant patches of land between Jakarta's skyscrapers into lush green vegetable gardens.

"There's concrete, concrete, everywhere. But if we look hard enough, there is vacant land we can farm," said Sigit Kusumawijaya, 30, watering freshly planted tomato seeds.

On a one-hectare (2.5-acre) lot between luxury homes in a north Jakarta suburb, Kusumawijaya and his fellow gardeners grow tomatoes, cucumbers, corn and chillies where an eyesore dumping ground once stood.

The group's goals are to encourage a healthy population and a green city while saving money on grocery bills.

Jakarta residents have for years criticised the government for allowing giant malls and towering apartment buildings to replace green spaces, which are now few and far between.

Traipsing the muddy earth of the vegetable garden in her leopard-print boots, 26-year-old architect Syahnaz said that urban farming was one way young Indonesians could take matters into their own hands.

"The government isn't doing very much for us, so we have to take the initiative to look after the city," she said.

Syahnaz -- who like many Indonesians uses only one name -- has traded her life as a mall-rat for urban farming.

"The massive use of air conditioning in malls is destroying our planet -- it's an evil," she said.

Kusumawijaya and some friends formed the Gardening Indonesia group earlier this year, recruiting thousands of followers on social networking sites Facebook and Twitter.

Members discuss online the latest urban farming trends and projects and share information about organic farming, while hundreds turn out on weekends to work in group gardens in 14 cities around the country.

The Jakarta group has already had two big harvests, initially sharing the vegetables with family and friends or people in the neighbourhood.

But now they and gardeners at Tangerang city on the outskirts have signed a deal to supply 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of spinach a day to a popular local steakhouse in Jakarta.

The group also facilitates workshops and farm trips so that participants can learn how to farm without pesticides and harmful fertilisers.

"It seems like easy work, but to have a successful harvest, we need to know what type of soil is suitable for different types of crops, and understand the different seed grades," Kusumawijaya said.

Agronomist Adhie Widiharto, who was invited to lecture on organic corn planting, praised the group's efforts for the environmental benefits they bring but also for showing how households can be more economical.

"The recent skyrocketing of chilli prices is a good lesson that shows us the benefits of growing your own food at home," he said.

Extreme weather earlier this year destroyed chilli crops, pushing prices up five-fold to 100,000 rupiah ($11) a kilogram. Chilli is an essential ingredient in most Indonesian dishes.

"If every city produced more of its own food, we wouldn't need to import so much from other cities. We would save fuel and reduce pollution," Widiharto said.

Local produce is also fresher and healthier than food that has travelled hundreds of kilometres from villages, he said.

Urban farming has also become a social activity. For Syahnaz, the trend has brought her an unexpected gift -- a like-minded boyfriend.

"I've killed two birds with one stone. I planted my chillies, and I also planted the seeds of love," she laughed.

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