Grow Your Own Food: The rise of urban gardening during community quarantine

One of the most surprising perks of the pandemic is the rise of urban gardening. Panic buying in several areas which resulted to long queues and empty shelves in supermarkets paved way to finding an alternative source of food. With this, the community quarantine has pushed more city dwellers to engage in backyard gardening, giving possibly lasting boost to urban farming.

Nowadays, individuals are sharing photos of their respective backyard gardens in social media sites. People are purchasing planting seeds and containers to put up their garden. Some are even looking for free supply of vegetable seeds to start their own.

In this light, the Department of Agriculture (DA) has been promoting the Plant, Plant, Plant Program which encourages individuals to grow their own food and enhance food security concerns amidst the country’s COVID-19 outbreak.

According to DA Secretary William Dar, it seeks to increase national agri-fishery output through intensified use of quality seeds, appropriate inputs, modern technologies to increase levels of productivity across all commodities, and thus ensure food productivity, availability, accessibility and affordability amidst the threat of COVID-19 pandemic.

Center’s activities in support to urban gardening

As a DA-attached bureau, the Agricultural Training Institute in Central Luzon (ATI-CL) has been promoting urban agriculture to its clienteles. Since the COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket in the country especially in Central Luzon, mass gatherings which are the bread and butter of the center are temporarily suspended. With this, the ATI-CL has devised programs that can continually serve its clients.

In fact, the center distributed assorted vegetable seeds to the provincial Farmers’ Information and Technology Services (FITS) Centers, which were cascaded to the different municipal FITS Centers. Different vegetable seedlings and seeds were also given away to neighboring barangays within Dinalupihan, Bataan.

As an alternative to the face-to-face training activities, the center also hosted the GOVEG20 AHON (Advancing Households Opportunities to Nutritious Food Production) sa Nayon webinar series composed of two (2) waves. More than a thousand individuals across the country learned about food production systems as well as different agricultural technologies through the said webinar series with learning site cooperators and experts as resource persons. The registration is open to all and its instructions are posted in ATI Central Luzon’s FaceBook Page. Certificates are also given at the end of each webinar.

Under the first wave, Mr. Carlo Sumaoang of Ragsak Family Farm discussed the topic Get to Know the Secret: Learn the Concept of Food Production at Home while Ms. Daisy Duran of Duran Farm tackled Opportunity Not Insanity: Rags to Riches, Soil to Table. In addition, Mr. Emmanuel Bundoc of Felisidro Farm explained the Vibrant Concepts of Food Systems Approaches. Dr. Norman de Jesus of Pampanga State Agricultural University (PSAU) discussed Elevate Farming: Household-Ready Ingredients to Boost Backyard Farming while Ms. Emma Tolentino of Eco Natural Integrated Farm talked about Generate Food, Generate Products, Generate Income.

On the other hand, the second wave consisted of topics regarding different agricultural technologies. It started with Dr. Chito F. Sace of Central Luzon State University discussing Soilless Farming: Hydroponics System for Beginners. Following the hydroponics was Vital for the New Normal: Urban Gardening as a Lifestyle with Mr. Joey F. Alvior of PAO-Zambales.

To maximize the use of idle time, ATI-CL also promoted e-Learning as an avenue to learn more agricultural technologies especially urban gardening. e-Learning offers courses on different topics ranging from crops, social technology, livestock & poultry, sustainable agriculture, and fisheries. All you have to do is log on to e-extension.gov.ph/elearning, create an account, pick a course, and enjoy.

The center has also launched the Post Your Garden Contest with four (4) batches to inspire other individuals in pursuing backyard gardening. Not only they will inspire others, the winners get to have assorted vegetable seeds, garden tools, and other promotional materials.

Benefits of growing your own food

Growing your own food is not rocket science – it is simple, however, there’s an art to it. Not only it ensures you in consuming fresh and healthy food, you are guaranteed that the food served in your table is chemical-free. In addition, it lets you control when to harvest your food.

“Growing my own vegetables in the garden helps to supply my family with healthy food to eat. It’s free and fresh,” quipped Al Santiago, a resident from Bulacan.

With the ample supply of vegetables, you can even help your neighbors. “I grow my own vegetables to help my ka-sitio in their daily food needs especially during the community quarantine,” said Richard Cabigting, a resident from Tarlac.

When asked what he wants to say to his fellow Central Luzon residents, Richard added, “Let’s continue to encourage, inspire, and help others by planting and growing more fruits and vegetables so that we can help and give in our own little way.”

Container gardening in 4 easy steps

If you’re now convinced to grow your own food but not sure how to start, let me leave you with these tips. It only takes four (4) easy steps to grow your own food.

First, prepare a container. You can use various materials such as used plastic bottles, empty drums, recyclable containers, polyethylene pots, and other local materials available in your household. Drill the bottom part of your container and put enough holes to provide good drainage to your plant.

Second, fill your container with soil. Choosing the right soil for your container is essential. You can use various growing media such as garden soil, compost, and carbonized rice hull. Fill your container until the soil reaches couple of inches from the top. It should be about one inch beneath the top once finished. This will act as a water reservoir, giving your plants more time to hydrate themselves.

Third, pick and plant. Choose plants that go together, not only by color but also those that need the same growing conditions. Make holes large enough for your plants. As you plant, make sure not to compress the soil. Instead of pressing the soil down, move it to the side to make room for your plants. Fill the soil back into the remaining space so that the plants are tucked securely in place.

Lastly, water and fertilize. Top-dress your plants with compost or organic fertilizers. Give your new plants a nice long drink. You want the water to run out of the drainage holes of the plot. Water your plants preferably during 7-8 am and 4-5 pm.

Growing your own food is one of the most valuable life skills you can learn as a kid or even as an adult. You savor your harvest more because of the effort it took to get to the table. These tips might come in handy to combat food scarcity. When in doubt, turn to ATI Central Luzon Facebook page to guide you in your gardening journey. As we are not sure when the virus will be completely eradicated, the best way to fight it is to live a healthy lifestyle and eat fresh and healthy food straight from your backyard.