Self-taught agriculturist Danny Agliam is being invited to be a resource speaker in several trainings to share his knowledge on urban agriculture, which he has been practicing for several years now in his rooftop garden at P. Zamora Street in Baguio City. -- Harley Palangchao
For a city that was originally a grassland and has morphed into a concrete jungle, some of those reminiscing the city’s pre-pollution pre-traffic, pre-garbage, pre-construction boom, and pre-overpopulation years have stopped dreaming of having the old Baguio City back. Instead, they started propagating the idea of becoming real stewards of the city that has hosted them. And that even if Baguio City could no longer backtrack to what it originally was, there are other ways to help their city disentangle from the problems it is now facing due to development.
They believe that while progress is beyond their control, the city and its residents do not necessarily have to leave it at that and live with the consequences.
As Baguio celebrates its 107 years as a city on Sept. 1, one of the new visions being recommended for the 128 barangays and the city government to consider as a sustainable program is the practice of urban agriculture, which, to a growing number of “urban gardeners” in the city, is doable and doesn’t take much to set up and maintain.
Its advocates suggest as well that making Baguio City as an urban agriculture capital is not impossible. In fact, the city should set its eyes towards this direction because the advantages of keeping vegetable gardens in idle nook s have no bounds, and current circumstances of the city and the environment as a whole demand for it.
They have proven that even in small ways coupled with creativity and a sense of survival, urban agriculture helps in addressing concerns ranging from food security, proper nutrition, health, pollution, waste management, disaster preparedness and resiliency, clean environment, climate change, tourism; to the need to care for, reap from, and commune with the earth that has supported human existence.
Further, they believe involving the city’s young generation by teaching them to grow their own food in pocket gardens and eat healthy would spell the difference for Baguio in the next 100 years.
It may not bring back the Baguio of the olden days, but advocates deem it a revival and a shot for sustainability. As the current Department of Tourism Cordillera leadership has also recently proven, with a community that cooperates, agrees for a change of mindset and attitude, and owns that change, things would get done.
One advocate particularly says that with a change of mindset among Baguio’s stakeholders and backing from public servants, “who have the vision, integrity, passion, and imagination to implement programs such as urban agriculture,” it will have “positive and long-term impact on the lives of residents and on the environment.”
Waste to food, the urban gardening way
Maria Victoria T. Tenefrancia, Lingling Claver, Olive Gregorio, Benjie Macadangdang, and Charmaine Joy Rama-de Guzman have one challenge in common: how to manage their wastes. All of them have different reasons for feeling the need to devise a way of waste management, but they came up with the same solution: starting and maintaining a garden practically within their turfs, and defying concrete’s dominance.
Four-star “bahay kubo”
De Guzman, along with husband regional television executive and news anchor Dhobie and their two sons, capitalized on the “green thumb” by growing vegetables early on as a young couple renting an apartment, up to now when they already have their own place and space to plant vegetables, coffee, herbs, and other fruit-bearing trees and ornamentals. De Guzman shared that she got interested in gardening because her sons have respiratory difficulties. She started growing medicinal plants in pots as an alternative cure, and slowly added more kinds of plants until they were able to build a garden with sili
(chili pepper) oregano, eggplant, coffee, and others that they find would grow and thrive.
Last year, she recreated the practice at the recently classified four-star Le Monet Hotel, where she is the manager, by setting up a mini vegetable garden at the idle Camp John Hay lawn at the back of the hotel.
Imagine a four-star hotel growing bahay kubo
De Guzman related they started the garden last year as a part of the hotel’s aim to minimize hotel waste by making use of what can be reused or recycled, such as kitchen refuse, vegetable trimmings, bottles, caps, and used tires.
Aside from ornamental flowers, Le Monet Hotel’s garden has a mini pond containing fishes that are capable of warding off mosquitoes and a variety of edible plants like squash, bitter gourd, beans, gabi
, and herbs like oregano, rosemary, tarragon, and chives. Further, aside from providing a scenic and relaxing view for their guests, the garden cuts off food expense of Le Monet employees, who consider taking turns in tending the garden as a way of camaraderie and team building.
Tenefrancia, a Barangay Palma-Urbano kagawad
who, together with the members of the barangay council committee on environment, health, and sanitation that she chairs, took to heart the obligation of barangays to manage biodegradable and recyclable wastes as mandated in the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000. Also a volunteer coordinator of Zero Waste Cluster of the Baguio We Want, a movement for “Clean Baguio,” she wanted to make sure that incineration and other ways of waste disposal disallowed by law and are harmful to the environment would not be adopted by the city government in its Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan.
Using the 30 percent of the share of their barangay from garbage fees collected by the city government, they hired a “bio-man” to do the rounds in the whole barangay in shifts to collect biodegradable and recyclable wastes of each household. Thirty percent of the wastes collected are biodegradable kitchen refuse and 20 percent are recyclables. They decided to store these in drums and made them into compost in a portion of the barangay hall.
Tenefrancia, who also worked for the Department of Agrarian Reform and came from a family who maintains a pocket vegetable garden in their backyard, with her co-barangay officials decided to start a community garden and used the compost as fertilizer and the recyclables as garden materials. They planted the garden with herbs and vegetables and these were made accessible to community members to partake.
At least five Palma-Urbano households are now keeping their own backyard gardens, where they maximize every available spot to plant edible plants like sayote
, various herbs, squash, and beans, even resorting to hanging plant boxes out of recycled bottles and Styro cups in case of back and front yards made completely of concrete.
The barangay’s health workers and nutrition action officers also promote gardening and recycling to mothers as a means of providing their children proper nutrition. “Growing our own food using materials that we thought are wastes but surprisingly can build a garden may be great for the city’s barangays to practice,” Tenefrancia said.
Claver, on the other hand, is using social media to propagate that gardens in an urban city like Baguio are possible and could do wonders in many aspects. She created the Facebook public group Baguio Benguet Urban Gardeners or BBUGS, which so far has 427 members, “largely propelled by my realization that Baguio is generating tons of biodegradable waste that should revert to the land and benefit our households and communities.”
She thinks more people should get interested and be aware of the urgent need for the city to adopt urban agriculture or gardening. “Through urban agriculture, we could make wise use of waste resources that we have so much of: biodegradables for natural compost, recyclables for gardening materials,” Claver said.
She said it could also address food insufficiency, especially for the underprivileged residents of the city. It could make healthy, affordable food accessible to families.
Piloting an ecological center
Doing the right thing in solid waste management prompted Macadangdang, Lourdes Extension punong
barangay, to seek the expertise and adopt the best waste management and farm practices of the Maryknoll Ecological Sanctuary located at Barangay Campo Sioco.
Disheartened by the disinterest of barangays within its vicinity, MES officer Olive Gregorio said the MES, which promotes earth consciousness, spirituality, and action, was more than willing to adopt Lourdes Extension as pilot area for the establishment of an ecological center that aims for zero waste through a community garden. A free one-week training for barangay officials and residents on zero waste that applies permaculture as one of its components was set this month, with the objective of sprucing up their barangay community garden.
Gregorio expressed hope more residents would develop interest to learn the same, as they also offer the Sunbeams Daycare, which introduces toddlers to the importance of farming and environment consciousness.
Macadangdang said majority of their constituents are aware and practicing waste segregation, but very few know the proper way, much less those who know that most of the things they throw can be recycled or reused to grow food. Aware of their responsibility, he said the barangay officials wanted to put themselves under the tutelage of the MES so that they could promote and teach the same to the residents, who mostly already started their own backyard gardens but wanted to manage them more effectively.
Urban gardens as a disaster preparedness and resilience component
Among other events, Baguio wrote history when it was hit the hardest by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that affected a big part of Luzon in July 16, 1990. For days, the city was totally cut off from nearby towns; basic services like water and electricity took time to be restored, while food and first aid and medical supplies took days to weeks to reach the area by land.
During typhoon season, Baguio receives the biggest volume of rainfall in the entire country, affecting most business and market operations with residents compelled to stay home. Again, chances for the city to be isolated due to the closure of the three main arteries connecting the city to the lowlands resulting from landslides and eroded mountains are not remote.
Claver said as one of the most disaster-prone cities, the city government has to take disaster preparedness, resiliency, and food security seriously, and urban gardens are one of the major components to be ready.
“A community could be cut off from food supplies during calamities and disasters. When Cuba faced difficult economic times, its cities created urban farms that provided food for its citizens and also generated jobs and income for thousands of people. Rich, industrialized cities in California, Oregon, South Korea, and Japan have urban farms even inside buildings that provide food for urbanites,” Claver explained.
“They know what resilience means,” she said.
Tenefrancia added having food readily available from each household’s garden could spell the difference in making Baguio communities resilient and secured, and they are assured of having safe and healthy ones at that.
Pro-air, tourist draw, and then some
Claver shared that urban gardens are also excellent carbon sinks.
“We know that cities are almost always plagued with pollution. Gardens absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen for us, humans.”
She also pushes urban community gardens as an alternative tourist draw. Instead of Panagbenga Festival, which generates so much waste, “a festival of urban community gardens in Baguio would be so much more sustainable.”
Claver said now more than ever, there is a need to expand green spaces in a city that has morphed into a concrete jungle, by making productive, idle nooks for health, food security, and livelihood. “We need to return nutrient-rich biodegradable waste to the earth in a circular fashion.”
She added urban gardening is also a great way to create community and share resources with neighbors.
“And who says gardening is just for old folks? By letting out kids and youngsters experience sun, seed, and soil, we open to them the amazing, living world of nature,” she explained in the BBUGS Facebook page.
De Guzman, for her part, has gone as far as making waste management the subject of her Development Communication thesis at Benguet State University Open University, in order to know the best advocacy model for responsible and efficient solid waste management basing on the perceptions of the Baguio hotel industry players, and what innovations and practices they would agree to adopt, considering that the industry is one of the big generators of solid waste.
In the meantime, though, she sees herself continuing to find fulfilment in being assured of safe and healthy food and medicine, savings, and somehow being able to do her part in managing wastes, at home and at work.
Rev-Blooming, re-greening Baguio
by changing people’s mindsets
Taking off from the remarkable repainting and transformation of three formerly “eyesore” sitios
in Barangay Balili, La Trinidad, which has recently placed the area in the local, national, and international tourism map as Stobosa (Stonehill, Botiwtiw, Sadjap) Hillside Homes Artwork, the DOT-CAR led by Director Marie Venus Tan has recently launched the agency’s Rev-Bloom Baguio campaign for the revival of Baguio, which is said to have lost some of its appeal due to accelerated urbanization.
Because the city and its residents “have overdone themselves,” Tan said a way to the revival is not to start pointing fingers. Instead she is now asking the locals and especially those who adopted Baguio as their own, to be its stewards by agreeing to cooperate in doing something worthwhile for the city – the key that made the Stobosa project leap from the drawing board into reality.
“I’m asking people now to start planting trees and endemic and edible plants in the city. Do vertical gardens. In this time and age when technology is already there, it’s all in your hands. Use Google and learn how to do a vertical garden. Everybody has access to technology. It’s very easy and it doesn’t cost much,” Tan said.
Tan explained that the Rev-Bloom campaign is deeper than it sounds. More than the physical revival and re-blooming with beautiful flowers and trees to bring back the scent and weather typical of the city, its people should first understand Baguio’s history and its uniqueness.
“Baguio is different from any town in the Philippines simply because of its historical background. This is the only city built by the Americans. It is built not to be so highly urbanized but primarily for rest and recreation and wellness.
It has a very limited carrying capacity. Moving forward to what we are today, how do we revert? We can’t. There’s no going back. It is here. We have to contend with what is happening now. We need to stop and reassess where we have gone wrong in making this city. It is positioned as a summer capital; as a beautiful city where you can walk, have peace, where you can roll down your windows, no air con, and everybody walks,” Tan said.
She said Rev-Bloom’s deeper aspect is doing what is possible: changing minds, changing mindsets among members of a community.
“The (Rev-Bloom) campaign is a community-based revival. And each who has adopted this city should look at themselves as its stewards. It is for the next generation to appreciate. If we put too many buildings and commercial establishments, we will look like any other city in the Philippines, so why come here at all? We’ve actually tipped the balance of the ecology.
What we are doing is rallying the people to start planting in their backyard. It doesn’t take much. It doesn’t take a huge investment to do that. I have also instigated people who dwell in commercial areas (to do the same). Because how much will it take putting planters and pots of living flowers to bloom in your windows?”
“You have to love nature; appreciate, grow, nurture it. That’s what ‘re-bloom’ is all about, among others,” Tan said.