Ferdi Sta. Barbara’s garden tower is just one of his family’s sources of fresh veggies for salads and sinigang during the lockdownDuring these times, with no coronavirus vaccine yet in sight, people are anxious regarding the future of their health and assurances of a steady supply of food. What if there is another lockdown and supply becomes uncertain? What if prices of food, especially vegetables, skyrocket?
For food security
In the past few weeks, many ideas came up regarding food security. One suggestion stood out, especially for people living in crowded urban areas and highrise condominiums. Articles have been written about growing food in cities, or what is called urban farming and container gardening. Those who have been doing it in their homes saw the usefulness and practicality of container gardening during the lockdown.
Take the case of Ferdi Sta. Barbara, compliance and assurance executive at the corporate ESH department of First Philippine Holdings Corporation (FPH).
“If you want to eat freshly picked veggies, try planting your own,” says Sta. Barbara, one of the core adviser-planners of the container gardening and urban farming project of Lopez Group Foundation Inc. (LGFI). The project was initiated by LGFI together with the HR, ESH and Walk the Talk groups; it was being planned and was about to be presented to top management as a Lopez-wide employee undertaking when the lockdown was imposed in March.
The core officers of this massive project include practitioners of container gardening like Cedie LopezVargas, Rina Lopez Bautista, Nardz Ablaza, Monica Tan and Sta. Barbara, among others.
Success at the rooftop
Urban farming as an answer to food security and availability had already been implemented at Rockwell Business Center (RBC) in Ortigas years ago; it was spearheaded by Dr. Therese Guia who tapped urban farming expert Dino Juan to conduct seminars for FPH on how to go about this. The site chosen, upon getting the approval of the RBC building administration, First Philippine Realty Corporation and the FPH-First Gen admin, was the rooftop of the building.
It was a success—after a few months, the harvest provided vegetables for the canteen on the 17th floor. Unfortunately, due to the lack of volunteers to monitor future harvests, the project was put on hold until LGFI restarted the project, one building at a time, one employee’s home at a time. Due to the pandemic, the time has indeed come for such a project, with the national government addressing the need for food assurance.
“During the lockdown period,” says Sta. Barbara, “my family and I had continuous supply of fresh herbs and other vegetables from my garden tower and container garden for some of our meals. When I started this urban gardening, I really did not know anything about planting or farming nor do I have a green thumb, as they say. So when I got interested (because I want to eat fresh), I had to research and read all about how to plant, germinate seeds. I had so many experiments—some were successful, some were not. I even have records of how many seeds I germinated. There was seed germination that was not successful simply because the seeds were expired. Later, I learned that to preserve the seeds, they have to be refrigerated.”
Sta. Barbara observes that people feel discouraged to embark on urban farming due to the costs. How to address this if one lives in a small house and wants to get into container gardening? What are the estimated costs?
“The elements that are needed are the potting soil (roughly P250 per sack of 20 kilos), compost (for your garden to be organic) which can also be bought from gardens that sell soil mix, pots and seeds, or you just can do composting yourself,” explains Sta. Barbara. You would also need lots of water, sunlight and TLC (tender loving care).
In her project brief, LGFI’s Monica Tan writes that “developing sustainable cities is a priority on the national level as well as the international level (see Sustainable Development Goal #11). One way of achieving this is by way of urban farming, which is defined as ‘the cultivation of plants in cities as well as the processing and distribution thereof, in a variety of ways in different locations (vacant lots, rooftops, yards, greenhouses, etc.) under different management systems (residential, commercial, nonprofit, etc.).’”
Tan further explains that “urban farming has long existed but government has now recognized multiple benefits from it: food security, improved nutrition, alternative livelihood, urban resiliency, physical activity, reduction of wastes, and ecosystem services. In Metro Manila, the 17 cities and lone municipality have at least one project on urban farming. These projects are found in government properties such as schools, open spaces, parks, etc. On the private sector side, these are found in community gardens and individual spaces.”
With the pandemic still ongoing, there is no better time to start container gardening or urban farming. Look around the neighborhood including your own home spaces, gather tips and begin planting your vegetable garden. You are then literally planting your seeds to grow and feed your family today and in the future, thereby lessening your anxieties in times of natural and man-made disasters.
(Story/Photos by: Dulce Festin-Baybay)