Urban Gardening launch in Las PinasI recently had the pleasure of attending an activity of the Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture in partnership with the Department of Agriculture. It was the launch of a gardening project right inside a vacant lot of a subdivision in Las Piñas.

Local government officials, barangay leaders and sector representatives of the city were present. Just like any other political occasion, there were speeches by political figures, but what caught my interest was the testimony given by a barangay captain from the area.

He had been an urban gardener for a long time. He said that his passion started with a basic need. “Every day, I’d buy vegetables from the market- it would cost me at least P20 for a single bunch of pechay or sitaw, then another P20 for tomatoes, and at least another P20 for other cooking ingredients. One day, I realized just how foolish I was- spending more than a thousand for vegetables that I could easily grow.”

That was how his passion for organic gardening started. Now, he doesn’t need to spend at all for a month’s supply of vegetables. He would just have to go outside his house and pick his own harvest! In fact, his neighbors have bartered with him—chickens in exchange for fresh, chemical-free vegetables.

His testimony was a reaffirmation of how ideal urban gardening can be. Yes, it can be quite a challenge-space is a consideration, then there’s some science and research- ask yourself what’s the best vegetable to grow in this erratic weather? Most of all, you need to devote time and have a lot of patience, but it really can be done.

Virginia's urban gardenI am actually a small-time urban gardener, with emphasis on “small-time” please. I started gardening long before I worked for Greenpeace.

My love-affair with vegetable gardening started in 2010 when I documented an urban gardening project for another NGO. I interviewed a mother who proudly said that aside from the benefits of growing fresh, chemical-free vegetables for her family, she could profit from it and earn an additional P40. Not bad considering P40 a day is a good way to augment their daily household budget.

It struck me, if she could do it, why can’t I? So, I started growing vegetables. I enjoyed it so much, not only at the prospect of harvesting my own, but because it has given me the chance to commune with nature. While others need to go to parks for a bit of greenery, I have a small and thriving garden of pechay, ampalaya, alugbati, sitaw, lemongrass, saluyot, turmeric, squash, camote and patola. I also have okra, malunggay and calamansi in our small veranda.

Virginia's urban gardenVirginia's urban garden in San Mateo. Photo by Virginia Benosa-Llorin.

The 3rd quarter Social Weather Survey said that an estimated 4.8 million families experienced involuntary hunger or had nothing to eat. It makes me wonder, what if everyone could practice urban gardening in their very homes? In fact, space shouldn’t be a problem, little planters could do the trick.

In many areas, urban gardening has become increasingly popular. For some it’s just a pastime or an answer to economic hardship. But for me, urban gardening is both an enjoyable hobby and, at the same time, a way to secure my own organic vegetables – ampalaya and saluyot for my Ilocano husband - and herbal medicine for my daughter.

Come to think of it, the answer to the complex problem of hunger and malnutrition could just be a simple down-to-earth project, like a do-it-yourself urban gardening.

Virginia Benosa-Llorin is a media campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia based in the Philippines.