Nestled under the Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) train tracks near the Thiruvanmiyur Railway Station in Chennai, lies a Nutri-Rich Garden established by the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF). Since January 2022, the garden has been home to 61 varieties of nutrient-dense plants, like nellikai, sitapzham and guavas, as well as various types of spinach and green leafy vegetables. It also houses uncommon species, such as red bindhi, peanut butter fruit, orange-flesh sweet potato, wood apples, water apples and West Indian cherries. Inspired by Prof M S Swaminathan’s food-based approach to combat malnutrition, the garden serves as an educational hub, spreading awareness about the value of micronutrients in fruits and vegetables.
While the garden has inspired visitors to make changes to their diets, it has also motivated them to start growing their own vegetables at home. Many visitors are fuelled by a passion for gardening, and the Nutri-Rich Garden has inspired them to expand existing home gardens. The process of tending to these plants has prompted many to learn more about the nutritive value of the vegetables they grow at home.
“I didn’t know West Indian cherries could grow in Chennai. We already grow tulsi, tomato, and other plants at home, and now I want try and plant cherries as well. I’m sure my children will like them!” said a parent, who was visiting the garden with his daughter.
Some visitors spoke about a few challenges they faced when growing vegetables at home. Many regretted the lack of space in their houses and the harshness of the Chennai sun. Elder visitors shared that they found climbing stairs to their terrace gardens tiresome. These challenges, however, did not dampen their passion for gardening. Many found solutions to these problems – such as creatively utilising available space and setting up shade nets to block direct sunlight.
“The doctor told me that I had to stay away from direct exposure to the Sun for two weeks to recover fully from an illness, but I couldn’t do it because I felt bad for my plants, wilting away under the Sun. I dashed upstairs to water them in the mornings,” confessed Ms Gomathi, a resident of Indira Nagar. She spoke about how her plants did not yield many vegetables, but brought her peace of mind and happiness.
Pictures of some plants grown in the garden
Pests can be devastating for home gardens, and visitors spoke of how they dealt with these issues. Highlighting their commitment to having gardens organic and environment-friendly, many admitted to using traditional remedies such as neem oil, turmeric, and insect sprays bought from stores that sell country medicines. Several visitors also said that they sought pest-management tips online, and eagerly incorporated them.
Some visitors spoke of how their home gardens were looked after by all generations of the family. Gardening became a bonding activity for one visitor and her three-year-old grandson, who would help her tend to the plants. She also spoke about how looking after the keerai plants made him excited to eat it, having previously refused to eat it. Gardening helped him gain a deeper appreciation for food and nature.
From my observations at the Nutri-Rich Garden and speaking with visitors, it is becoming increasing clear that the garden not only serves as a platform for people to learn about nutrition, but also a space for residents to bond over a shared love of gardening. It has helped some Chennai residents become resourceful gardeners, and fostered a love for nature in the community.
*Edited by Ms Sangeetha Rajeesh
*Photo credits: Ms Hridya K K and Ms Sharoan Thomas
*With inputs from: Mr R. Kalaimani, Scientist-Biotechnology