Pocket-sized urban gardens make a difference during pandemic
Urban farmer leaders from Payatas and Commonwealth in Quezon City receive starter kits, seedling trays, seedlings, seed, pitmoss and certificates during their graduation rites from the MB Farmville Magtanim sa Bakuran program. The Payatas Farmville has become a model community in the district.
STAR/File
Pocket-sized urban gardens make a difference during pandemic
Argie Aguja (The Philippine Star) - October 2, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Weeks into the quarantine, urban poor communities in Quezon City resolved to turn vacant spaces into food gardens. A few short months later, the harvest of urban farmers is feeding many families and providing an alternative source of income – both vital to survival during the pandemic.

Back in June, volunteers Nanita Garcia, Cecilia Lucenia and Ofelia Bana of Lower Jasmin, Area A, Barangay Payatas led neighbors in joining the Masaganang Bukas Farmville (MB Farmville) program. Under the program, residents were encouraged to start their own food gardens from small areas in backyards, vertical trellis in walls, even in pots and containers inside their own homes.

To kickstart the planting season, volunteers first signed up for seminars and training in topics like Basics of Urban Organic Gardening planting, Transferring of seedlings, Using Organic Fertilizers and Organic Pesticides, Composting, Vermi Composting, Ecowaste Management, Nursery Management, Planting and Postharvest, and Making Juices From Plants Like Chlorophyll Juice.

In the community food gardens, various patches of green, leafy vegetables sprouted within weeks. To make sure that plants are growing well, groups divided the tasks between individuals, some of whom began seeing the activities as a productive hobby during their free time.

The resulting produce can be consumed directly or sold to neighbors to augment the income of urban farmers. During the lockdowns, many families relied on these organically grown vegetables to supplement food supplies given by the local government.

“We tried all kinds of vegetables, from ampalaya, patola, malunggay, okra, sitaw, alugbati, saluyot, uraro, mustasa and kundol. We are happy to see that there’s a new sprout growing every day and we can harvest them any time,” Garcia said.

“Even in small areas, we can plant if we use vertical gardening techniques. Vines like ampalaya are especially good for this and they grow well in the rainy season,” Bana said.

Propagating urban food gardens

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), urban vegetable gardens can be much more ecological and efficient than traditional ones, producing as much as 20 kilos of food per year per square meter. Urban vegetable gardens, like the one in Payatas, can proliferate despite the lack of outdoor space when combined with organic fertilizers made from various kitchen scraps, household leftovers and sawdust.

In the neighboring Batasan Hills where there is no land available, volunteers Alfonso Caporal and Domingo Divina are busy tending crops – not in open soil gardens but in various small pots, cans, plastic containers, sacks and broken pails at home. Another volunteer used his open rooftop to house dozens of potted plants and built vertical grills for the vines to latch on. Some gardens managed to register an abundance of fresh produce, thanks to the green thumb of urban farmers.

To make full use of the yield, excess vegetables and other products are sold at affordable prices at the MBM Agro-Trade and Livelihood Center. Fresh produce from the urban farms are sold here each day to complement the income of residents. Homemade products like door mats, processed food, handmade bags, soaps and detergents, and gardening materials are also available.

Hastening pandemic recovery

MB Farmville is the barangay-based community farming initiative spearheaded by Quezon City Councilor Mikey Belmonte in partnership with “The Joy of Urban Farming” program of Mayor Joy Belmonte.

Through MB Farmville, the city government provides the necessary training and starter kits to help community leaders and resident volunteers establish and maintain these barangay food gardens.

“One of the main priorities of the Quezon City government during a post-COVID-19 Recovery Plan is food security. To achieve this, we can rely on urban farming that has a great potential in uplifting the lives of communities, with the help of the skills and abilities of residents. Spreading urban agriculture to as many communities as possible will help make people into active urban agriculturists and farmer entrepreneurs,” Councilor Belmonte concluded.

Since its establishment, MB Farmville has been able to turn more than a thousand square meters of land for urban agriculture use in each barangay in the second district of Quezon City: Bagong Silangan, Batasan Hills, Commonwealth, Holy Spirit and Payatas.

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