By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao 

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, food security was one of the biggest concerns among citizens because the community quarantine imposed protocols that instructed residents to stay at home for their safety which limited mobility for vehicles and businesses. 

To ease the concern on food security, the Department of Agriculture (DA) started a campaign called Plant, Plant, Plant to promote urban gardening so that residents can grow their food at home while being able to enjoy its other benefits such as having a fulfilling hobby and a way to get their bodies moving at home. 

Carl Eugenio, a call center agent based in Caloocan, is one of the many residents who engaged in urban gardening as a source of food and as a way for him to pass time while at home.

Eugenio originally began planting in their backyard so that he can get exercise. Later on, he began enjoying the feeling of being able to grow food.

“I started growing my food when I began my work from home arrangements. I didn’t have a way to exercise but seeing that we had a vacant lot at the back of our house in Caloocan, I decided to start growing what I can,” Eugenio said. 

The pandemic has prompted companies to start work from home arrangements along with other new conditions so that their industry will continue to function while adapting to current circumstances. 

Seeing how productive urban gardening has been for both the call center agent’s wellbeing as well as for the family’s dinner table, Eugenio’s family joined in his efforts.

Seeing Eugenio’s gardening initiative, his family eventually joined him in growing crops.

Starting slowly and easily 

Eugenio began with crops that can be easily grown such as kangkong, talbos ng kamote, and alugbati. 

“Our backyard garden began with us growing crops that we could just plant in the ground, care for without a fuss, and can easily proliferate in a short amount of time,” Eugenio said. 

They even took to saving seeds from the calamansi and chilis that they use by drying them and planting them in the backyard. 

He advises aspiring urban gardeners to start small and with crops that are easy to grow. 

“You can use the [seeds from] vegetables or fruits that you have already bought to start growing your food. After that, you won’t need to buy them from the market again because you can just harvest them from your garden,” Eugenio said.

The family even saved seeds from the chilis they previously bought and planted them in their backyard.

Later on, he planted more crops such as papaya, ginger, lemongrass, okra, patola, ampalaya, siling labuyo, bell pepper, siling panigang, malunggay, and calamansi.

“I learned how to grow more crops as we progressed. I also learned from my neighbors, friends, as well as [from] chatting with elders who have the knowledge or a background in growing food. If the crop is tedious [to grow], that’s when we decide to turn to Google or YouTube for more information,” Eugenio said. 

Unfortunately, the consecutive typhoons during the end of 2020 have destroyed a portion of Eugenio’s backyard garden, leaving him with only a small portion from his initial endeavors.

Still, this did not deter him as he continues to plant until he can regain what he had lost during the typhoons or even add more to the garden than what was originally planted. 

The benefits of urban gardening 

Although Eugenio started gardening as a means to get some exercise at home and start a fulfilling hobby during his free time, he has found that it has brought other benefits such as being able to grow fresh produce and lowering their costs for buying food in the market.  

“I enjoy seeing plants grow especially when they start to bear fruit. We, as a family, get to share in this experience while being able to consume fresh, healthy food that doesn’t affect our budget,” he said.

Being able to grow and eat fresh produce is one of the benefits of urban gardening that Eugenio and his family enjoys.

Eugenio added that they sometimes only need to buy bagoong and harvest some fresh okra and talbos ng kangkong for their meal. Simple as it may sound, it already makes them happy and content with what they have. 

But most importantly, Eugenio notes that being able to have access to healthy food during a pandemic is the benefit of urban gardening that he enjoys the most since it provides him and  his family with the nourishment and nutrients that they need to boost their immune system, which is important in keeping illnesses at bay. 

Caring for his crops 

In caring for their crops, Eugenio said that he maintains a level of responsibility within himself so that he will be able to properly care for them. This includes watering them in the morning and just before sunset. 

Other methods in caring for their crops include using both natural and commercial inputs to secure their growth. 

“We use our vegetable scraps as fertilizer. I also buy commercial fertilizer along with insecticides to use against pests that could damage our plants,” Eugenio said. 

The call center agent also visits the backyard garden every day to check on the crops and make sure that they are growing well. 

“Growing our food, especially at a time like this, is very beneficial to us. Planting crops saved us money yet we are still able to eat fresh, healthy food. It’s the best thing we can experience,” Eugenio said. 

Like many others, Eugenio has switched to growing food at home rather than buying them in the market or in groceries. In doing so, he has found a great way to exercise, spend time with his family, and enjoy fresh, healthy produce that could sustain him and his family.

Photos courtesy of Carl Eugenio.