By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, community quarantine was imposed in Luzon, and other areas in the Philippines to contain the spread of the virus. One concern during this period was of food security. 

As a response, the Department of Agriculture has launched several programs to encourage the public to grow their own food at the comforts of their home. This received positive response from citizens as they engaged in planting activities while also inspiring others to do the same. 

Karmila Rose Dimamay, a member of the Antique Provincial Board, is one of the many individuals who advocated home gardening for a sustainable source of food.

Her farm’s main produce is red lady papaya because she first planted her backyard garden with this variety.

The only difference is that Dimamay has been gardening since 2013, during the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda when she realized that people need a sustainable source of food because natural disasters, calamities, and the likes can disrupt the normal flow of the food chain. 

Back then, gardening didn’t pique the interest of many as it did now. Dimamay’s solution to encouraging others was through leading by example, which then led her to start her own backyard garden.

Now in her 30s, Dimamay grows fruits and vegetables in her backyard garden which is slowly developing into a small farm. 

Intercropping resulted in her growing garden 

Due to imposed lockdowns and quarantine measures, Dimamay said that she had time to tend to her backyard garden, which grew into a small farm called Milay’s Garden. 

“Milay’s Garden is a one-hectare property located at Malabor, Tiabao, Antique. Almost half of it is planted with fruit-bearing trees such as pomelo, rambutan, custard apple, soursop, jackfruit, coconut trees, oranges, and calamansi mainly for consumption,” she said. 

Her garden’s main produce, however, is the red lady papaya, which she intercropped with vegetables so she can have a continuous harvest of produce despite the different maturing seasons.

Vegetables also grow in Milay’s Garden.

“The distance of one papaya tree to another is 2.5 meters by 2.5 meters. I planted early maturing vegetables like eggplant, tomatoes, okra, pechay, and chili in between so while I’m waiting for the papaya to mature, I can earn from the vegetables,” Dimamay said. 

In order to maintain her garden and produce quality crops, she implements friendly farming practices such as vermicomposting, applying natural insect repellants, and using rice straws from neighboring rice fields as mulch.

3 – Dimamay practices farm friendly techniques such as vermicomposting, mulching, and using natural insect repellents.

Dimamay initially planted nearly 600 papaya trees when she began gardening but she lost almost 150 trees due to heavy rains and papaya diseases. 

“I am not an expert; I am still learning. But the essential thing is to be very observant and notice the little changes in your plants because early detection of disease can help in the mitigation. Ask advice from fellow farmers. I joined an online forum and learned a thing or two from Google and YouTube,” the Provincial Board member said. 

Earning from the produce 

With a variety of produce growing in her garden, Dimamay hired a displaced worker who lost his job because of the pandemic to help her in maintaining and slowly expanding the farm. 

She then took the opportunity of selling the produce online or through her family and friends as a means to make an income for both her and her farm worker.

“My gross income is around P35,000 to P40,000 where I also get the wages for the person who helps me out on the farm,” Dimamay said.

Dimamay makes a gross profit on P35,000 to P40,000 from selling her garden’s produce.

Presently, she plans to continue planting in her small farm as well as slowly develop it so when the health crisis is over, Milay’s Garden can be open to the public as a demo farm or a destination where people can appreciate and learn about farming for free. 

“I [also] intend to turn it into a nursery to propagate seedlings that I can share with constituents to encourage them to grow their own food,” Dimamay said. 

Growing your own food, according to Dimamay, is healthy and good for the environment because people are aware of how their food is grown, what’s inside, and at the same time, they can lessen their carbon footprint since growing food in one’s own backyard doesn’t need to be packed in plastics or transported from one point to another. 

“I advocate [gardening] to people to make them understand as well as appreciate the beauty of growing their food, and to be self-sufficient. As of now, I actively share it on my social media to encourage more people, and I am giving out free seeds and seedlings,” she said. 

Dimamay’s venture into backyard gardening started as an advocacy for her but it eventually became a profitable project for her. Still, she remains steadfast with her goal of encouraging others to start growing their own food.