Interview with Khushboo Sonigera, Founder, Root Life

Twist the bullet and bend the rules till they are broken, a kind of dogmatic belief that has led to many original yet unbelievable innovators to grow and change the world in the past century. Thinking out of the box, exploring, experimenting and passionately pursuing it takes courage and this week we bring you one such SHEpreneur – Khushboo Sonigera, an architect and Hydroponics Agriculturalist – An “agritect”!

From lucid dreams at night, which would lead to design concepts and experiment with Ruben’s tube, with Kimaya Dawson playing in the background – Khushboo is a dreamer, a feeler and a craver for thrills in life. She has been on an exciting journey of creating spaces camouflaged with natural elements through her landscaping career and has taken hydroponics to bring food closer to people. Here’s her story.

Tell us about your journey from architecture to Farming.

Twist the bullet and bend the rules till they are broken, is a kind of dogmatic belief that leads me forward. So I’ve always wanted experiences of my own – as an Architect, Landscapist and today an urban farmer too. My journey started back in 2012, when my interest for travel took me for an urban farming workshop in Italy. It’s from that point where my interest in farming grew alongside of studying architecture at the same time. These two paths would merge in my work. As an architect, landscapist and a farmer I have been pushing boundaries in growing farms within the city, designing building integrated farms and gardens that breathe life into any space. My expertise also covers soil-less cultivation as an emerging new way to farm efficiently. Thereby being able to hyper-localise food. With that, my pursuit of integrating Architectural design, nature and agriculture has taken shape in my studio. The journey was never about the transition , rather about blending the two.

Farming/Hydroponics is something more and more youngsters are leaning towards. What is hydroponics and why did you choose this?

Hydroponics is growing crops without the use of soil and about using 80% less water compared to conventional farming . It’s an agricultural concept that allows you to grow food anywhere and everywhere , as it is not dependent on rain and soil, in some cases it is independent of sun too allowing you to even use lesser space to grow your food , such as balconies, window sill etc. This kind of farming saves land from deforestation, water runoff and keeps the crops free of pesticides and many more advantages. When we have moved from towns to cities in search of new living standards and job opportunities then why leave our food behind ?

To be in a field with not many role models to look up to and learn from, what have been your unexpected obstacles and how did you overcome them?

In any field there are unexpected obstacles, just like ours. We simply overcome by not losing focus because at times when you invest efforts and money in building an idea into a business, it’s very easy to get emotional about it . It’s important to not lose trust in the idea you have, remind yourself that ups and downs are part of the package , approach the issue pragmatically and save the stress.

What according to you is basics to start and sustain a business?

START SMALL. Check off boxes like , are you passionate about it ? how much money is needed to start off? Talk to a lot of people around you about it , have no ego about not sharing your ideas, be open about it . The more closed you are about your business the less it will sustain. Today’s world is all about collaborations and not hierarchy. Network !!

As independent as we women are, we all have our support system . Tell us about yours…

Well my support system from the start has been my parents. I’ve always had the freedom to explore my passion and the strong emotional support when things weren’t all hunky dory, which I am truly grateful for. I still remember my first hydroponic unit back in 2012 and how my dad showed his support by connecting extra electrical point for my system .
of course in the past year it’s been my husband and my in-laws , who until then weren’t aware of growing veggies hydroponically. They have trusted us and took a leap of faith by investing in Rootlife . There are days I won’t be able to visit the farm and my parents in law always lend a hand and it’s really beautiful to have them there working with us. I feel really grateful about this .

Biggest strength of all is the voice in my head, always telling myself that you are doing ok and you shall heal . It’s an everyday challenge. But you got to do what you got to do right ?

What are your future plans for Rootlife?

Future plans for Rootlife is really evolving lives , the idea is to have an architecture farm where we grow a lot of food on a big scale. Experiment and design new and natural materials in architecture. We intend to branch out Rootlife in multiple locations and make food easier and surely cheaper for people. We are still taking baby steps , while we are excited to do experiment with a lot of things we also want to take this one day at a time.

Tell us about your sustainable approach. Why’s it important to imbibe sustainability in ventures today?

Sustainability for me is to stay with what is available to you at the closest , from your food, clothing , the material that you source for your living , etc . All of it . Our approach to sustainability in today’s time is to be vocal for local , it’s about doing things together and supporting one another locally. Sustainability is a very time to time concept , once upon a time plastic was considered sustainable because it could be used in multiple ways and today that is destroying the planet . So today, bringing food closer and by being all about local , with as many local collaborations is sustainability to us . Its about using resources that is closer to us.

It’s important to imbibe sustainability in ventures today because it’s time saving and money saving and it’s much simpler. It will do a great deal to you in a long run and it will actually make a difference in people’s lives . It’s not only about going harm- free or being eco- friendly. It’s ironic how some people buy coconut shells from Bali and claim to support sustainable lifestyle.

Any advice for women looking to venture into farming/hydroponics or a business in general? (financial, technical, motivational, etc.)

There are a lot of domestic issues women face when looking to venture into entrepreneurship, in general . Don’t fight it out , take a step back and ask yourself why you really want to do this , not because you are bored but find the purpose behind it. Do not be hesitant to ask for financial support if needed because after all you are confident about retuning it with interest. If you have an idea but don’t know how to go about it, learn about it , take a course , google ! Watch tons of YouTube videos, do something , but do ! The motivation will automatically start thriving and then there is no going back 🙂

Anything else you’d like to say

I think I said a lot already . Kudos to you and your team for starting such a beautiful venture!!