BPI, PCAARRD’s gardening project expands to all Los Baños barangays

by Novah Angela B. Ruiz

Community garden in Brgy. Tadlac bears fruits of lowland crops such as okra and eggplant. [Photo by Novah Angela Ruiz]

“Malaki po ang natitipid namin. Yung pang-bili ng gulay, puwede nang ipang-bili ng sabon, shampoo. Pero yung pang-bili ng gulay hindi talaga makakabili dahil may tanim po talaga,” shared Evelyn Cahinde, a resident of Barangay Tadlac, in an interview, expressing the significant benefits she has received from the harvest of their local garden.

Inspired by the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Cahinde decided to establish her home vegetable garden to reduce grocery expenses, ensure a readily available supply of organic vegetables, and find solace in watching her crops grow during the isolating moments of the pandemic. Moreover, she actively contributes to and benefits from the community garden in Brgy. Tadlac, although it is not located just a few steps away from her home.

In fact, it would take a journey of passing through multiple barrios to reach the small barangay of Tadlac from the National Highway. Surprisingly, in 2020, a parcel of land along the National Highway was discovered to actually belong to Brgy. Tadlac territory, despite the absence of a direct connecting road and being occupied by unaware informal settlers. In response, Brgy. Tadlac Captain, Ambito “Bobit” Meneses issued notices to the settlers and devised strategies to reclaim the area and expand Brgy. Tadlac. With the assistance of Barangay Public Safety Officers (BPSO), they successfully reclaimed the land by planting crops but were soon faced with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic just a month later.

During the pandemic, access to fresh and healthy food became a challenge for Filipinos, especially for Brgy. Tadlac, as they did not have their own market and had to rely on a market in another barrio. However, a month after Brgy. Tadlac’s community garden meant there was a readily available harvest for the benefit of its residents! 

Reflecting on the situation in an interview, Brgy. Tadlac Captain Meneses said, “Yun ang nakatulong sa pagbibigay namin ng mga ayuda bukod sa bigas, na binibigyan ng national government. … Akala nila I’m so good (at) foreseeing what’s coming. Kasi pandemic eh, papaano ka magtatanim, diba? Pero kami, pandemic, nag-aani, kasi nakapagtanim na kami bago dumating ang pandemic. Timing lang talaga.”

The community garden’s 8th and 9th harvests were distributed to Brgy. Tadlac residents per purok in April 2021. [Photos from Barangay Tadlac Official Facebook page]

As the pandemic subsided by the year 2021, the home and community gardening project by the Bureau of Plant Industry- Los Baños National Crop Research Development and Production Support Center (BPI-LBNCRDPSC) was introduced. During this period, Brgy. Tadlac proactively sought support from BPI-Los Baños, who not only provided training on gardening skills but also supplied them the essential tools, seeds, and fertilizers to continue establishing their garden. 

Eventually, Brgy. Tadlac became one of the first eight out of 14 barangays in the municipality of Los Baños to establish a community garden. Currently, the barangay is continuously participating in the mentioned services to continue cultivating the garden, while fostering a strong collaborative relationship with BPI-Los Banos. 

Gardening project’s roots as a pandemic-borne solution

The home and gardening project began as an initiative to aid senior citizens, one of the most affected sectors of the community during the pandemic. Due to their vulnerability to infection and strict quarantine restrictions, they faced difficulty sustaining themselves with fresh food. Hence, former Agricultural Center Chief of the Bureau of Plant Industry – Los Baños, and now the BPI Assistant Director for Operations and Technical and Production Services, Dr. Herminigilda A. Gabertan, thought of a solution to address this by teaching senior citizens the basics of home gardening. Over time, the project expanded to benefit more Los Baños residents, developing from a recreational activity to a potential source of livelihood. 

Recognizing the project’s potential, the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD) supported this by funding the expansion of its target population during Phase I. Partnering with BPI-Los Baños, the project initiated Phase I, offering training, technical assistance, and gardening starter kits to barangay representatives and selected residents. This effort led to the successful establishment of fully developed community gardens in eight barangays and supported households in creating their own home gardens.

Established community gardens in Brgy. Batong Malake and Brgy. Tuntungin-Putho during Phase I of the project. [Photos from Bureau of Plant Industry – Los Baños Center]

Moving forward, the project advanced to Phase II in March 2023, collaborating with all 14 barangays in Los Baños through coordination with the local government unit (LGU), according to Niña R. Rosales, Agriculturist II of BPI-Los Baños. Under the current phase, the conducted preliminary activities and planning of community gardens has led to the near-completion of establishing these gardens in all 14 barangays, and preparations have begun to renew the project for Year 2 implementation. Furthermore, gardening tools and seeds are continuously being distributed to participating beneficiaries, enabling them to start their own home and container vegetable gardens.

Home and community gardening training in April involved barangay representatives, and students from Los Baños Senior High School for Work Immersion. [Photos from Bureau of Plant Industry – Los Baños Center posted on May 18, 2023]

Benefits behind the growing gardening trend

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to limited access to fresh produce, inspiring a global trend of growing food at home. A study conducted by Dr. Teresita Villamor Barrameda of the UP College of Social Work and Community Development in 2017 on home gardeners in Barangay UP Campus highlighted the growing popularity of home and community gardening through the years, which was driven by the need for food security and the control over their food supply.

This shows how urban gardening is nothing new in the Philippines. The same study indicated that there are historical examples of urban gardening in the Philippines dating back to the 16th century when residents grew crops along the banks of the Pasig River. Its statistics indicate that implementing this practice had a positive impact on communities to establish food security, accessible food sources, improving nutrition, and even boosting socialization. For example, bio-intensive gardens in Negros have helped reduce malnutrition among urban children from 40% to 25%. Vegetable gardens in Cebu have raised vitamin A levels in children and provided other nutritional benefits.

In North Fairview, Quezon City, an urban poor community has utilized approximately 70% of unused areas in a subdivision for vegetable cultivation through agreements with landowners and the homeowners’ association began with three demonstration farms and has since expanded to include 166 urban farms in communities, schools, and daycare centers. The project’s objectives are poverty alleviation, and nutrition improvement through the provision of resources and training in organic farming.

Now that Los Baños strives to do something similar to expand the home and community gardening project, this all demonstrates how the growing popularity of home and community gardening in the Philippines reflects the recognition of its benefits, which include enhanced food security, environmental sustainability, and community engagement.

The sustainable future of vegetable gardening

Rosales has also emphasized that among the objectives of the gardening project is to promote the practice of gardening in households, establish community gardens in every barangay in Los Baños, and possibly expand this gardening project outside of Los Baños. With the promise to continue to provide training, materials, and technical assistance until the year 2024, more residents would be able to participate within their barangays and cultivate their own produce in the long run.

Until then, the Los Baños community will gradually embrace the practice of urban gardening. For Brgy. Tadlac, Captain Meneses himself mentioned how he promotes participation from both the Sangguniang Barangay and the barangay residents to guarantee the project’s sustainability. “Whenever merong mga SOBA (State of the Body Address), pinapasok ko yan. Tapos sa page, ginagamit ko ang social media about dyan, na eto yung alternatives, subukan mo! Eto BPI, nagbigay, libre naman to oh. Hopefully padami sila ng padami. At least sinisimulan na natin, gradually.”

In the near future, it may be possible to serve freshly harvested vegetables on the table with guaranteed convenience and accessibility. This could become the future for all households in a barangay, and for all barangays in Los Baños. All it takes is initiative and knowledge, and the rest will fall into place.

“Besides sa knowledge, kailangan mong magkaroon ng passion sa gardening, at madumihan ang kamay mo para maging successful ang mga tanim mo.”

– Niña R. Rosales

If you wish to join in a community garden project or start your own home garden, the DA BPI-Los Baños Center provides services, training, and even gardening starter kits for small-scale gardens. You may personally visit their headquarters with their location address at Economic Garden, Brgy. Timugan, Los Baños; or contact them through their email ([email protected]), their Facebook page as Bureau of Plant Industry – Los Baños Center, or their contact number at (049) 535 0285.