Bernardo M. Villegas
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Urban Gardening

           It is music to my ear every time I hear that one of my friends plans to retire from an executive position and devote the remaining years of his life to cultivating a small farm in one of the provinces surrounding Metro Manila like Laguna, Cavite or Batangas.  These retirees are guaranteeing longer lives for themselves and larger supplies of high-value crops like fruits, vegetables and livestock for the population of some 20 million in the Metro Manila area.  I consider it as one way of making amends for the way our leaders completely neglected agricultural development during our first decades of economic development.  These “gentleman farmers” can serve as models for the beneficiaries of agrarian reform in these provinces on how to make productive use of the lands they received under CARP.  These executives-turned-farmers may actually try to teach consciously the poorer farmers how to make their lands more productive.  I know of retired bankers who are actually doing so.

          Believe it or not, in the concrete jungle of Legaspi Village, Makati where I reside, I have three very luxuriant papaya trees growing that soon will provide for my breakfasts some succulent sweet papaya, a very important health food that senior citizens like me are advised to eat daily. I can do even more urban gardening if I can retire one day in Sto. Tomas, Batangas, where my late parents left us some three to five hectares of farm land.  Actually my siblings and I are actually planning to cultivate part of these lands in the very urbanized setting of Sto. Tomas Batangas (we are surrounded with hundreds of factories locating in the industrial zones of First Philippine Holdings and other developers) and obtain technology from such seed companies as Harbest and East West Seed that are actively promoting the cultivation of fruits and vegetables in the provinces surrounding Metro Manila.  We can sell the produce to wholesalers who are providing the numerous supermarkets in the National Capital Region with these much-desired health foods.

          Since I have written in the past about Harbest, owned and managed by my friend Arsenio (Toto) Barcelona, let me now share with my readers some information contained in a newsletter issued by another major seed company called East-West Seed, a European multinational  with headquarters in San Rafael, Bulacan.  In a publication called “Usapang Gulayan” (Vegetable Talk), East-West Seed aptly states that urban vegetable farming is one of the keys to food security and proper nutrition in the cities in an article by Ivy A. de Guzman.  East-West Seed (whose Chairman is my good friend Johnny Santos, former CEO of Nestle and now Chairman of the Social Security System) has a foundation that teamed up with the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) and Mondelez Philippines, a like-minded food manufacturing company, to promote urban farming by organizing seminars on Urban Vegetable Gardening with the parents and teachers of Mondelez Philippines’ Joy Schools Program as beneficiaries.  The Foundation  conducted a one-day workshop on vegetable urban gardening at schools affiliated to the Program, including Sampaloc Site II Elementary School (Paranaque City), P. Manalo Elementary School (Pateros), Bayanan Main Elementary School (Muntinlupa City), P. Zamora Elementary School (Pasay City) and Gen. Vicente Lim Elementary School (Manila City).  The participants were taught how to maximize their limited space at home and make it a productive source of food for the table.  At the end of the workshop, each participant received a starter kit with seed, seeding tray, pot tin media, organic fertilizer and planting guide, which can help them start their own vegetable garden.  An analogous program was implemented with the help of GT Metro Foundation in selected schools in Taguig and Pateros, Rizal.

          For both gentleman farmers and the beneficiaries of the agrarian reform program in provinces surrounding Metro Manila, East-West Seed will make available during the rainy season of 2015 a new sweet corn variety called Rainy Sweet F1, the newest hybrid sweet corn variety that is well adapted to the rainy season.   It has strong plant vigor that can withstand fungal disease.  The plant has lower ear position and strong root system suitable to endure heavy rains and withstand light wind blows.  It has good ear size with sweet and tender kernels, characteristics that consumers look for.  Those interested in more information may contact mobile phone number 0917 553 6095 or email Melanie.Mendoza@eastwestseed.com or technologytransfer.department@eastwestseed.com.  East-West Seed Company regularly conducts training on off-season vegetable production in its main office in San Rafael, Bulacan. 

          Urban gardening can also help in greening parts of the cities, especially if the technology used is organic farming and if the farms are planted to tree crops like coffee, cacao, rambutan, lanzones, longans and other fruit trees as some of my relatives and friends have done not only in Sto. Tomas, Batangas but also in Tanauan, Malvar and Lipa in Batangas and Alaminos, San Pablo City and other Laguna towns.   As another metropolitan area develops around Clark Field where the international airport will be surely located by the next Administration, the same trends will be even more feasible in still predominantly agricultural areas in Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija and Aurora.    By producing high value crops close to urban markets, we can also achieve the reduction of transport costs and therefore a decrease in use of fossil fuels in keeping with the advice contained in the most recent encyclical of Pope Francis on climate change.  Urban gardening, therefore, can address food security, inclusive growth and environmental protection all at the same time.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.