By Vina Medenilla
Despite the pandemic, Slow Food International, a global organization that promotes local food cultures and heritage, pushes their 13th Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, their largest worldwide festival on food, environment, and food policies.
Terra Madre 2020 is a mix of digital and physical events happening in over 160 countries. For the Philippine chapter, they’ve lined up multiple activities for different regions, which involves an online food talk series that is currently on-going via Slow Food Negros Community’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.
One of the episodes of the food talk series tackles urban farming. In Bacolod, a garden sits in a backyard that used to be a garbage dump. The area was then unoccupied, not until when Anabel Villanueva-Salacata, a retired infectious disease doctor and owner of Twenty Six Herb Garden, decided to transform the lot into an edible garden. “You do not have to have a 2,000 or 3,000 sqm or a hectare of land,” she said, explaining that one can grow anything either in a driveway, area in your dirty kitchen, or a condo’s balcony. “Just have some small pots and choose the plants that you want to eat.”
They also grow rabbits for meat and rabbit manure that they use for composting. “That’s another healthy, lean, high-protein, low cholesterol, low-fat meat that is an option for low-income families to grow in their backyard,” Salacata said. In less than a hectare of land, her backyard is equipped with crops like varieties of lettuce, animals like rabbits and native chickens, as well as their on-site restaurant where they serve and offer what they grow. They are the only garden-restaurant that serves rabbit meat in the city as well.
For non-marketable products or those goods that are damaged, they feed them to their chickens, rabbits, and worms, which allows them to alleviate the garden’s food waste. “That’s something we want to tell our children, that you don’t have to have a lot of garbage generated on a farm,” Salacata adds.
Raising Darag chickens in the backyard
Besides the rabbits, Twenty Six Herb Garden is also home to native chickens, specifically Darag chickens that are native to the islands of Panay. “I decided to raise a few of them because if you don’t keep raising them, they will disappear from the face of the Earth,” says Salacata in one of the episodes of Negros Island Ark of Taste series.
Darag chickens are usually grown in backyards, says Salacata. They are small and versatile that do not need to be highly maintained as they feed themselves with pasture. “They are very easy to raise. The taste of the chicken usually comes from what they eat. And what they eat is all-natural vegetation around them.” Although Darag chicken eggs are half the size of the regular commercial-grade eggs, Salacata finds them very tasty and healthy as well.
Darags do not breed fast, making it difficult to grow for commercial use. Despite this, raising Darag chickens only takes up a small area with proper housing. “Darag can lay their eggs anywhere. They actually incubate it themselves and they can actually grow them into chicks.” For this reason, Salacata saves so much energy, time, and money in raising her Darag chickens.
Their chicken meat is high in protein and potassium and contains less fat. As stated on Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity’s website, due to this breed’s nutritional value, they are often served to lactating mothers. Salacata said, “When you cook them there’s also less oil and fat. It’s really a healthy chicken to cook because you use techniques that will not use a lot of fat.” However, “The meat can be a little bit tough so more people are buying the imported chickens.”
Darag chickens tend to be more distinctive and flavorful. “It is tougher than the usual hybrid or commercial chickens that we buy because they are left to run around,” Salacata explains. The typical dishes that Darag chickens are used for are chicken adobo, tinolang manok, and sinigang.
Many farmers have lost their interest in growing native chickens like Darag for they do not produce heavier meat hence, they are sold at a lower price as well. “It is not something that will invite big investors to grow, but they are our heritage.” With this, Salacata calls everyone from the youth up to the senior citizens to join the movement in providing good food that is affordable, sustainable, and that’s beneficial to the environment.
With the threats of extinction that our native species like Darag chickens face (caused by many factors, including the high demand for fast food), let’s heighten our support and prioritize buying local rather than global.