Asian woman harvesting from her plant

Youth urged to become ‘urban farmers’, grow food in small spaces

Last June 19, during the 5th episode of the online series “Stories for a Better Normal: Pandemic and Climate Pathways” on the topic “Growing Your Own Food Part 2”, House Deputy Speaker and Antique Representative Loren Legarda featured urban farming and home gardening tips and advice from experts and advocates. She also urged schools and millennials to follow suit.

The episode presented University of the Philippines President Danilo Concepcion and wife Atty. Gaby Concepcion; Dr. Carlos Primo “CP” David, chair of the Climate Change Commission’s National Panel of Technical Experts and UP Diliman professor of Geology and Environmental Science; University of Antique President Dr. Pablo Crespo, Jr.; Carlo Sumaoang, founder of MNL Growkits Corp; Chef Jam Melchor, head of Slow Food Youth Network Philippines and founder of the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement; Karla Delgado, Earth Leader and director of Kai Farms; and Bea Misa-Crisostomo, owner of Ritual, who all shared practical information on food gardening.

Sonia Mendoza of Mother Earth Foundation, Atty. Paula Aberasturi of DowntoEarth PH, and Atty. Ipat Luna of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources also joined the online conversation as reactors.

The Concepcions shared how the UP Diliman campus started converting their executive gardens into “gulayan” (vegetable) beds, and how the UP system could further encourage individuals to jumpstart their own food gardens through videos and online tutorials.

“Sa UP, mayroon tayong ilau-launch na isang programa upang turuan ang ating mga kababayan na walang bakuran para magtanim ng halaman. Karamihan po sa mga nakatira sa siyudad ay walang space. Sa TVUP (YouTube), maglau-launch kami ng tutorials kung papaano magtanim sa paso at saan ilalagay ang paso. Higit sa lahat, magtuturo kami ng hydroponics o kung papaano magtanim nang walang lupa sa loob ng bahay (At UP, we’re going to launch a program that will teach our countrymen without backyards to plant vegetables. Many of those who reside in the cities do not have much space. In TVUP, we will feature tutorials on cultivating potted plants, and where to place those pots. Moreover, we will teach hydroponics, or planting without using soil, inside houses),” said Mr Concepcion.

David discussed his proposal, Commercial Scale Urban Agriculture: Transforming UP Diliman as a Major Food Production Area, which aims to convert some of the university’s 25-hectare idle lands into a major food production area.

“Urban farming should not only be confined to our own backyards. If we look at Metro Manila, it is highly urbanized, but there are still pockets of land where we can do massive urban gardening and farming. By far, the largest open area in Metro Manila is the UP Diliman campus. The proposal is to make UP campus as a major food production area. The purpose of producing our own food connects a lot to climate change. During times of calamities, flooding and pandemic, we want our food to be within our reach and know that it is fresh and free of pesticides,” said David.

Crespo shared some initiatives of the University of Antique to promote edible landscapes and resilient agriculture.

Marami tayong mga plants and herbs na akala natin hindi kinakain, pero nakakain pala (We have numerous plants and herbs that we mistakenly thought were inedible). So, we’ve been coming up with a book about this. We also have one project now with the Central Philippines State University that has perfected a technology on vermicomposting. We will make sure that all campuses of University of Antique will practice vermicomposting,” Crespo said.

Legarda then urged other state universities, colleges, and even private schools to utilize spaces and plant vegetables, edible flowers, and trees within their campus and called for the strict implementation of Republic Act No. 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2001 where segregation at source, recycling, and composting practices are followed.

Mendoza shared the different methods of composting, such as underground, clay pot, using tire towers, and vermicomposting, which could be done within households.

Sumaoang recalled how he introduced organic grow kits in the Philippines through MNL Growkits and shared how urban gardening became a growing interest and more relatable even among millennials.

“The objective of MNL Growkits is basically to change the perception of the youth towards farming. We showed them grow kits. Everything needed to start cultivating plants is in one box. We really try to make farming relatable. We’re very happy to say that, after so many years of inviting people to farm, there are now a lot of committed first-time growers,” he said.

Chef Melchor, an advocate for slow food and food mapping, shared his efforts on fighting food waste and promoting urban and sustainable agriculture, especially among the youth.

“Our objective is to fight food waste. We also reached out to our local government units, that instead of giving out canned goods, why not give fresh produce instead. We also want to teach our youth that the proper approach to food must be multi-faceted. They shouldn’t just be active on the keyboards, they must also go out to plant, and immerse themselves among farmers and visit farms. We chefs shouldn’t also just be cooking, we should also know where the food comes from,” Melchor explained.

Legarda supported the food mapping project of the Slow Food Youth Network Philippines mentioned by Melchor, and also asked the UP System, CCC, and The Climate Reality Project Philippines to help in this initiative.

Karla Delgado, an owner of a permaculture farm engaged in saving seeds and education for sustainability, shared her top three reasons why we should save seeds.

“One: Seeds are wealth. Currently in the Philippines, most farms buy seeds. So, by saving our own seeds, farms will be able to save cash in their farming operations. Two: Seeds promote food security. The answer to food security is families and households planting food in their backyard, in pots, or any space they can manage. And third: Seeds protect biodiversity and promote a healthy gut. Eating local, biodiverse, and organic food will keep us healthy and strong,” Delgado said.

Bea Misa-Crisostomo, an eco-entrepreneur, shared her experience in establishing Ritual, a sustainable general store, and her efforts to promote biocultural diversity.

“We said if we are going to do a store, then we don’t want to use plastic. We put up the store and said zero waste is the ‘how’ and not the ‘what’ of our business. Ritual focuses on biocultural diversity. We wanted to represent local products, heritage products, and start helping at least one farmer at a time. It works in a palengke (market) setting because most people want access to their regional products,” said Crisostomo.

To close, Legarda, a backyard farmer herself, stressed how food gardening and sustainable farming can help ensure food availability and supply in our households, while helping protect the environment and climate.

“Food gardening teaches us how to be self-sustainable. It tries to correct our hyperconsumerist mindset, which is killing our planet. It teaches us to segregate and recycle, to save our seeds and plant what we eat, and to grow our own food no matter how small a place we live in. These small steps can really impact our communities in a huge way,” Legarda concluded.

As an online discussion to promote health, environmental consciousness, and climate-adaptive practices, “Stories for a Better Normal” aims to change the mindset of individuals, families, and communities to lead sustainable lives towards a healthier, safer, and much better normal than we used to have.

This online discussion has been organized in partnership between the Office of Deputy Speaker Legarda and the CCC, with support from the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC), The Climate Reality Project-Philippines, and Mother Earth Foundation.

If you’re seriously looking to transform your home into a small edible garden paradise, the website offers these 8 tips on how to grow your own food even in small spaces. The full details are in

A man holds in his hands fresh and green sprouts of germinated seeds of peas and red cabbage are rich in digestible energy, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, proteins, and phytochemicals.

1. Apply container gardening – Given an appropriately sized container, one can grow almost any vegetable and many varieties of fruit. Being movable, containers can also optimize the use of the sun.

2. Consider vertical gardening – Most plants and vegetable grow upwards. If you’re out of horizontal space, well, sky’s the literal limit for vertical gardens.

3. Raised beds and square foot gardening – Raised beds maximize space and effort, and also greatly reduces the need to weed, or makes it easier to uproot weeds.

4. Take a closer look at keyhole gardens – These are designed to maximize space by eliminating the need for walkways as found in traditional row gardens or with raised beds.

5. Try edible permascaping – This involves planting food-bearing perennials in areas where ornamentals would traditionally take up space.

6. The neighborly community garden – If you don’t have a balcony or yard, find a nearby vacant lot where your neighbors or community can share in the cultivation of the garden.

7. Heard of the lasagna gardening method? – It’s technique often referred to as “sheet composting”, and a great way to convert a patch of land into an eco-friendly organic garden.

8. Strategic gardening – Choose the right plants to grow in your space. It depends on your space and your level of commitment to turn your patch of grays, whites, and browns into greens.