Not everyone can afford to grow their own food. But for those who have the space, time, physical ability, and mindset to do so, it can be a fulfilling experience for the mind and body, not to mention a filling experience for the stomach, especially during the current challenging times.

As the first anniversary of the COVID-19 quarantine nears, we look back on a year filled with fear and uncertainty on a global scale, but also one laced with hope and the bayanihan spirit. The beginning of the lockdown, in particular, gave rise to many trends such as Dalgona coffee, sourdough baking (both of which rely on agricultural products, by the way), and growing one’s own food. The last one, while making for beautiful social media posts, also addresses a more serious issue, that of food security.

The Philippines’ continuing record as the country with the longest and strictest COVID-19 lockdown, coupled with the recent rise in vegetable prices due to natural disasters and unforeseen weather conditions, has seen folks who have been growing their own food continue to experience the value of their investment and labor.

The rise of the survival garden

There are countless stories of families and individuals who, stuck at home and worrying about the nation’s precarious food security, have taken to growing their own food. This has been aided by the Department of Agriculture’s Plant, Plant, Plant program, which included the distribution of seeds and modules to households who want to establish edible gardens.

Successful home growers wax poetic about not only having access to fresh produce, but also knowing exactly how they were grown and what kind of fertilizers and insect repellents were used on them. Most have chosen to go the natural farming route, using fertilizers and insecticides they have connected themselves in a bid to ensure that their harvests receive as little synthetic chemicals as possible. Another benefit that home growers report is getting physical exercise and relief from the stress of living in the middle of a pandemic.

Vote with your fork

However, not everyone has the means to grow their own food, and that’s okay. One does not need to work with soil to engage in agriculture: the act of eating is enough. But this does not mean that folks without gardens are powerless to shape our nation’s food security. There is such a thing as voting with your fork: making purchases that, when compounded, show suppliers and lawmakers what the buying public wants.

Whether or not you grow your own food, you can vote with your fork. One way to do this is to buy produce from farmers you know or from sellers who support smallholder farmers (farmers who till small plots of land) as much as possible. When choosing a seller, find out if the farmers they work with are being paid fairly. By fairly, we mean enough for a decent quality of life for the farmer and their family. If a seller claims to “help the farmers,” ask them how they specifically do so to make sure that they aren’t just using it as a marketing gimmick. Unfortunately, voting with your fork means researching where your hard-earned money goes. It’s not something that many people want to do, but it’s essential if they want to make informed choices.

Studies have shown that national or global crises give rise to “survival gardens,” where people with the means to do so grow food for personal consumption. While this has obviously been the case in the Philippines, one hopes that it isn’t a fad that will fade once the pandemic ends. Because while we’re sure that COVID-19 will go away sooner or later, if we don’t support our farmers and fix our food systems right now, our country’s food insecurity may not.