“Eh simula nung nagkasakit ako, nandito na lang ako sa bahay. Hindi na ako pwede magtrabaho. Nung nagkaroon ng garden, kahit papano, may napaglilibangan na ako. Nakakatuwa tingan yung mga tanim doon. Na-e-exercise ako, nakakakain pa kami madalas ng sariwang gulay.” (Since I got sick, I just stayed at home. I am not allowed to work anymore. But when we had the garden, I found something to do with my time. It is amusing to look at the plants there. I am able to exercise, I am able to eat fresh vegetables more frequently.”

Thus answered Atanacio “Nonong” Barcinas, age 48, when asked how he feels about the recently established urban gardens in their community. A resident of Sitio Asprer, Barangay Bagong Silangan, Quezon City since 1996, Nonong is an active member of the Homeowners’ Association in their barangay. When he first heard about the urban garden project, it immediately piqued his interest.

“Sinusuportahan ko naman kahit anong project namin. Ipinaliwanag nga sa amin yan, na magtatanim daw kami. Nagtanim ako, nagtatanggal ng damo, nag-iigib ng pandilig.”(I support all activities of the organisation. They explained that [garden] to us, they said we will start planting. I planted some crops, I pull out weeds, I draw water when we water the plants.)

Dr. Ed Paningabatan of UPLB shared his knowledge on urban gardening, particularly the Enriched Potting Preparation (EPP), a technology which he developed and perfected.

Building urban resilience through the gardens

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Three gardens were built in Asprer through the collective efforts of the community members, association officials, and other volunteers. One of the gardens is placed at the rooftop of the local daycare center, one is located at what used to be an idle patch of land near the community’s basketball court, and the third is established in a vacant lot, a few steps from the daycare center. All three gardens are planted with vegetables such as lettuce, pechay, chili, tomato, and bitter gourds. The members also planted herbs like basil, spirulina, and mint. One of the garden is planted with kundol.

According to the association officials, harvest schedule depends on the crops. The usual turnaround time for lettuce and pechay, their bestsellers, is two weeks. Other plants, which take longer to mature, such as chili and bitter gourds, take four weeks before they are sold. Herbs, on the other hand, can be sold as soon as the plant matures. Proceeds from the garden are pooled until the opportune time when it could be invested in new crops or more fertilizer.

Benefits of the gardens

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When asked about the primary benefits he gleans from working in the garden, Nonong cited that the garden gives him something to do everyday and allows him access to cheap but fresh vegetables. His statements were echoed by Florida “Flor” de Loyola Lambot, another member of the community.

Nakakatanggal ng stress. Tapos kahit late na kami magluto, mamimitas lang kami, kahit ano, sili, mga pangsahog. Kapag may harvest, bibili kami.”(It is a stress reliever. Even if we cook our dinner late, we can just get vegetables, anything, like chili. If we harvest, we also buy some vegetables.)

Flor, age 64, is a single mother living with her children and grandchildren.  As a former overseas Filipino worker (OFW), Flor is used to an active lifestyle. According to her, taking care of the garden gave her something worthwhile to do with her time. Before, every day is spent finding something to do after her grandchildren left for school. With the turnover of the garden to their community a few months back, she found a new hobby.

Mabuti kasi nakakapagtanim ako. Makikita mo mamaya sa bahay, nagtanim na rin ako. Kapag umaga nga pupunta agad ako, titingan ko ang halaman!”(It is good that I can plant now. You will see in my home, I also have some plants there. In the morning, I immediately go and check them).

Most volunteers who work at the garden are senior citizens who usually have nothing to do to pass time. One of the most important benefits of the garden, aside from access to cheap yet fresh vegetables, is the renewed participation of these senior citizens in their community.

“Ang lapit ko lang. Araw-araw sinisilip ko yan. Matanda na ako e, pero kailangan mag-exercise. Tapos bibili ako ng gulay.”(I live near [the gardens]. Everyday, I go there. I am old but I need exercise. I also buy vegetables [from the garden]. Benjamin Teves, also known as Lolo Ben, reported this when asked about the biggest benefit of the gardens to him.

Looking ahead, dreams for the garden

Management and maintenance of the gardens were officially turned over to the community last October 2016. This marked their autonomy over the gardens. As an association, they have the sole decision making power regarding the future steps that they will take in order to maintain the community-based urban gardens.

Nonong, Flor, and Lolo Ben all showed positive attitude toward the garden and echoed their appreciation of its benefits. Healthier lifestyle and better diet were on top of their list. However, Ate Flor observed another positive change:

Mas napatatatag ang samahan namin. Kasi sama-sama naman kaming nagtatrabaho diyan. Lahat ng nagboluntir. Pero s’yempre, yung iba, siguro busy sila.”(Our cooperation [in the community] improved. That is because we all work together in the [gardens]. Everyone volunteered. But of course, there are others who might be too busy.)

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Kuya Nonong, who is in charge of watering the plants every Sunday, noted something which he thinks could be a point of improvement: “Yung iba, hindi nagdidilig kapag toka nila. Dapat ginagawa nila yun. Dapat tulong-tulong.” (Some do not water the plants even if they are scheduled to do so. They should do their task. We should help each other.)

Aside from better cooperation among members, the community also dreams of expanding their gardens. Visions of bigger gardens with more crops are shared by those who are working directly in the gardens. As expressed by Lolo Ben, “Eh sana lumaki pa. Kasi lahat makikinabang diyan. Mas maraming tanim, mas malawak na lupa. Para maganda.” (I hope the garden could be expanded. Everyone benefits from it. More plants, wider land. It is better that way.)

Flor noted that the association can inspire other community members to plant crops in their own houses. Some members have already started planting crops on repurposed soda bottles, cans, and other recycled materials. Even if the space is limited, these early adopters found a spot either in a tiny box by the windowsill, balconies, or in front their homes facing the street.

Although small in size, the community gardens in Asprer symbolize the huge dreams and aspirations that the people pin on them. A welcome change in the community; the members are committed to make their small and green patches grow into something that can nourish not only their families but the whole of Asprer community as well.

The story of Asprer is an example of how building urban resilience can create co-benefits. Taking care of their gardens did not only inspire the members to eat healthier, it also fostered better working relationships, and most importantly, created the community’s sense of ownership.

Val Bugnot

About Val Bugnot

Val took up BS Development Communication from the University of the Philippines- Los Baños and is currently finishing her Master's degree in Community Development from the University of the Philippines- Diliman. Her work with various communities focuses on environmental justice, sustainable livelihood, and community-based resource management. As a development communicator, Val has solid background in knowledge management, content management and branding, website development, and others. During her free time, she enjoys mountain climbing, surfing, and playing musical instruments.