BY PATRICIA BIANCA S. TACULAO

Many home gardeners have seen the benefits of growing food in their space, especially during a global pandemic where mobility is limited because of quarantine restrictions. They have access to fresh produce, have a productive way to pass the time indoors, and promote food security. 

But others have yet to experience urban gardening. And while cities like Metro Manila have space constraints, community gardens can come from converting vacant lots into suitable areas for growing food. 

Community gardens are plots of land where a group of people can collectively grow food and enjoy the process of gardening.

Presently, UGC is composed of more than 20 community gardens around Metro Manila.

To promote the idea of growing food and fostering food security as a community, a local grassroots organization called Urban Green Communes (UGC) envisions the transformation of Metro Manila into one big community garden, with local community gardens in every barangay.

UGC is composed of urban gardeners who propagate, grow, and connect community gardens in Metro Manila. It was established in October 2020, amid the pandemic and food insecurity in cities.

“The vision is grounded on principles of food democracy (to grow and share our food), the right to the city (to take charge of our urban life), integrative public health (to take care of our health as a community), and regenerative agriculture (to bring back life to ecosystems in our cities),” said JC Tejano, one of the founders and members of UGC.

Presently, the organization is composed of more than 20 community gardens. These communities are in subdivisions, barangays, schools, informal settlements, and condominiums with roof deck gardens around Metro Manila. 

Equipping others for urban gardening 

Community gardens under UGC have begun growing vegetables such as tomatoes, pechay, and more. Residents are also taking part in both growing and maintaining the crops to foster food security and promote public health with the help of fresh produce. 

This was made possible through UGC’s knowledge and resource-sharing initiatives on regenerative agricultural practices and community organizing among their communities.

UGC has knowledge and resource-sharing initiatives on regenerative agricultural practices and community organizing among their communities.

“We also work with policymakers and government offices to access resources such as land, equipment, and inputs and to push for policies that promote community gardening as a new normal in our cities,” Tejano said. 

Dealing with space constraints 

According to Tejano, the biggest challenge for community gardening in Metro Manila is access to land. 

“Some communities have managed to secure the permission of private landowners to use idle lands, others use open spaces of their homeowners’ associations, while others made creative use of scarce spaces such as roof decks,” Tejano said. 

He added that some communities also engaged in guerilla gardening as a form of protest against the spatial inequality in Metro Manila.

Due to space constraints, some urban gardeners started growing food in their roof decks.

UGC hopes to solve this problem by utilizing idle government lands and converting them into community gardens for residents to use. 

“Right now we are exploring the possibilities of using idle government lands in partnership with public offices and also starting a land-sharing program to systematically match willing private landowners with community gardeners,” Tejano said. 

Why urban gardening is a must 

UGC is determined to spread awareness about the advantages of urban gardening by engaging as many communities in Metro Manila as possible.

Through community gardening, more people can have access to fresh, healthy produce and the feeling of satisfaction from growing it themselves.

“It should be promoted especially at a time like this of record-high hunger. Aside from the food, urban gardening can also be a concrete step to sequester carbon in the atmosphere and contribute to the fight against the climate crisis,” Tejano said. 

Community gardening can pose as the solution to food inequality in urban areas like Metro Manila. Organizations like UGC are starting various initiatives to make residents more knowledgeable and well-equipped to start growing food in the city while creating social ties and a deeper sense of community. 

This approach also has the potential to preserve the environment since residents are encouraged to follow the principles of regenerative agriculture. 

For more information, visit Urban Green Communes on Facebook.

Photos courtesy of JC Tejano