Creating a Urban Garden for all - Colombo, Sri Lanka

CEESP News - Kanchana Weerakoon, Founder/President, Eco Friendly Volunteers (ECO-V), Sri Lanka

The Metta Garden in Colombo, Sri Lanka, run by Eco friendly Volunteers, is the place for generating healthy food for people and a living space for many other animals and plants. It has become an inspirational training institute for many stakeholders who are trying to grow organic food and to get a better income through in-high-demand organic food.

ECO-V

Kanchana Weerakoon, founder of ECO-V Photo: Kanchana Weerakoon
We at ECO-V (www.eco-v.org) in Sri Lanka are involved in bringing back urban biodiversity through organic home gardening, so that it is a task beneficial for both human and other living beings.

Finding a space to grow food is a challenge in urban areas. Even though a space might be available for growing food, opening up this space not only for human beings but also for bees and butterflies is even more challenging for two reasons: one is overcoming selfishness in sharing a very limited space with other living beings, the other challenge is attracting butterflies, bees, and other biodiversity to an urban setup.  But both these challenges have overcome with our “Metta Garden”. The total area of 18 perch land patch is situated in the middle of semi urbanized area which is 12km south of Colombo; the commercial capital of Sri Lanka.

In 2013 when this piece of land was bought, it was just an empty patch with degraded soil with a single coconut tree. I conducted a biodiversity survey and understood that the availability of faunal diversity is very low. No bees were found and only six species of butterflies were recorded. Common urban birds were there but not very frequently seen and the soil was very dry and no earthworms were observed. It was a wasteland which the neighbors had been using as a dump yard for their non-biodegradable waste.  It was my mission as the president of ECO-V to use this piece of land to bring back whatever the biodiversity available in the environment and to make it useful for the people living in the area.

The mission started with regenerating degraded soil. A wet kitchen waste was added along with green leaves and banana stems to keep the soil moisture.  Let the wild plants to come up naturally and helped to understand the local floral diversity. Special attention was given to create the butterfly garden by planting host plants. We started growing vegetables for human consumption and used compost to let earthworms come. Then we invited neighbors to bring their wet kitchen waste only but not any plastics. That way the community learned about segregating waste at origin and encouraged them to recycle.   

The effort was successful, within a year the butterfly diversity went up to 63 species and bees were recorded on the flowers dedicated for them. Organic vegetables were growing successfully as the soil became healthier too.  The garden had two distinct components; Eco Garden which managed as an urban forest with food for humans, and Metta Garden which was dedicated for butterflies, bees and other insects.

Today it’s a registered organic certified urban garden where we sell some of vegetables to a farmers’ market for a good price. It also supplies some of the staffs’ vegetable needs too. We share seeds and plants with many people and inspire them through garden visits. Many training programmes are carrying out on the site for children, youth and women groups. After 5 years of creating this garden we all are happy to have this space in the middle of houses and roads in rapidly urbanizing area.

For our neighbors it’s the dumping yard for kitchen waste. Therefore, they don’t have to wait till the municipal truck comes for collections. We give some of the harvest to them and they are happy to have organic, healthy and fresh vegetables and fruits. Many of the people come for searching for medicinal plants. Some others are coming for plucking flowers for temples. We are hearing stories related to our garden as many people are referring it to as a “butterfly garden” or “flower garden” or “urban forest”. So it has become a popular icon after 5 years of our effort.  

However, for all of us at ECO-V, it has a different meaning and it’s an invaluable space that we created mainly for non-human living beings and proudly sharing it for training purposes to let people understand, when you put a little effort you can bring back biodiversity which was unseen before!  It’s a very precious place for us, where we get mental well-being and space to get connected with Mother Nature.

An Urban Garden for all - Colombo Photo: Photo by Kanchana Weerakoon

Kanchana Weerakoon is the founder and President of ECO-V in Sri Lanka and the current president of Journeys for Climate Justice.

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