Urban farming in Quezon City
Gardening as a family bonding activity with my husband, Nonong, and our daughter, Fiana. Tipid Tip: Use egg trays to grow seedlings, and old cans for pots.

Seeds of hope: The many ways urban farming can help you, your family and community

BROAD CAST - Jing Castañeda (Philstar.com) - January 18, 2021 - 11:00am

Are you a certified plantita/plantito? So is my family. During the lockdown, we suddenly had time on our hands. My 80-year-old father-in-law was the first to become interested in gardening. Then my husband, Nonong, challenged our kids and their lolo to a contest: who could grow the most vegetables in their respective areas in the back yard.

Growing memories, habits and values

Soon, gardening became our family bonding activity. It felt good to work side by side, and then celebrate when we literally saw the fruits of our labor. We harvested okra, spinach, lettuce, talinum, kangkong, and several herbs.

We figured, when you want kids to eat more vegetables, get them into gardening. They will love to eat what they grew themselves. Moreover, they will learn more about patience, perseverance and responsibility from a plant than they can from 1,000 hours of your nagging. You can’t tell a seed to hurry up. You work at it, every day, just like any other goal.

Seeds of hope

For some, growing greens is a hobby. For others, it’s survival. When you live below the poverty line, missing even just one day of work means that your family won’t eat that night. A backyard garden gives some level of food security.

That’s the story of the nanays in Barangay Botocan in Quezon City. Because of the pandemic, most of them lost their jobs overnight. They had no salary, no savings and no means of earning extra money while the city was on lockdown. “Iniisip namin ng asawa ko, paano namin mapagkakasyahin? Paano kami kakain?” Edelwina Bumacod recalls.

Sending just relief goods would merely be a temporary and unsustainable solution. The Quezon City government’s Food Security Task Force went to the Botocan community and distributed free seed starter kits, as part of the #GrowQC urban farming and food security program.

These kits include vegetable seeds, high-quality planting soil, and pots—enough for them to turn an empty, garbage-strewn lot into a lush garden that could feed the entire community.

Botocan residents transformed an empty lot into a steady source of food and extra income. QCitizens can get free seed starter kits and technical assistance, as part of the city’s #GrowQC initiative, under the Food Security Task Force headed by Mayor Joy Belmonte and co-chaired by Nonong Velasco.

Today, their Villa Verde Food Forest Farm is one of the models of a successful urban community farm. And it doesn’t just give them food, but a sense of dignity and pride. The farm is proof of what they can achieve, together.

“Sabi ko nga sa kanila, isa para sa lahat, lahat para sa isa. Sama-sama kaming humaharap sa pandemic ngayon, at sama sama rin kami kung ano ang pwede naming maitulong,” says Villa Berde president Juvy Bado in an interview.

The green revolution

An important component of #GrowQC is the Joy of Urban Farming, which Mayor Joy Belmonte started 10 years ago. The project was established to help underprivileged communities have access to a reliable source of food. Back then, urban agriculture wasn’t getting that much attention. It took a pandemic for people to realize how vulnerable we are if we don’t have a ready food source.

When ports and national roads were closed during the lockdown, all moms rushed to the supermarket and the palengkes. We were afraid of food shortage, and were affected by the sudden spike in prices.

And even if food supply has normalized, vegetable prices are still at an all-time high. A kilo of onions costs P180—more expensive than a kilo of chicken! You can easily spend more than P1,000 on one trip to the palengke, without even buying meat or fish.

So, many budget-savvy families are finding ways to grow vegetables in whatever space they have: rooftops, condo balconies, and repurposed soda bottles hung on walls. Before, people thought they needed a garden to grow plants. Today, anywhere you can grow plants becomes a garden.

No space, no problem! Barangay Capt. Bimbo Cruz of Quirino 3A gardens on his rooftop.

Plant, plant, plant!

Food security is also a priority of the Department of Agriculture. Its Plant, Plant, Plant Program encourages everyone to grow backyard gardens.

“Even if we say there are enough vegetables or supply from the provinces, if possible, we should also plant in Metro Manila, in every household,” said Agriculture Secretary William Dar. “There are new technologies that can now be used by Metro Manila residents, and we are helping in the distribution of seeds and seedlings.”

The Department of Agriculture partnered with the Department of Agrarian Reform in the Buhay sa Gulay project to help marginalized communities grow their own food. For example, the community of St. John’s Parish in Tondo converted a football field into a farm, and celebrated their first harvest in January. The parish caters to about 80,000 individuals in the adjacent 17 barangays.

Similar projects will be launched in other cities. Caloocan Mayor Oca Malapitan allocated 1.5 hectares of land. Belmonte, meanwhile, allocated 7 hectares of land in Quezon City which is expected to be the largest urban farm in Metro Manila. As an added incentive to promote urban agriculture, Quezon City is offering tax exemptions to its constituents who will use their residential idle lands for urban farming activities (for more information, email growqc@quezoncity.gov.ph.)

Check out my YouTube Channel (Jing Castaneda) for more videos on how to start a vegetable garden.

It starts with one seed

Urban farming is finally getting the attention it deserves, and I hope everyone can get involved and make it part of the so-called new normal. It’s such a simple but concrete way to make a difference. Gardening feeds your family, helps the country and heals the environment.

And for me, gardening is also an assertion of hope. I find it comforting and inspiring that fruits, vegetables can grow even in the middle of concrete jungles. It reminds me of a quote from Jurassic Park: “Life will find a way.” Both plants and people thrive in even the most difficult circumstances. Just like the nanays of Botocan, we just have to do this together.

Let’s plant hope.


I’d love to hear from you! Share your stories and tips or suggest topics at jingcastaneda21@gmail.com. You can also follow my social media accounts: Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.


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