By Vina Medenilla
A significant part of the global workforce continues to suffer from the impacts of COVID-19, especially those in the non-essential sector. A significant number of the businesses were forced to close down at the height of the pandemic. After more than a year in quarantine, some local businesses are still sacrificing their operations for safety and financial reasons, while others have decided to reopen as the quarantine protocols eased up.
In Louie Ocampo Gutierrez’s case, founder of sterling silver jewelry retailer Silverworks, his goal to expand the brand in other locations was put on hold due to the health crisis. This was replaced with the goal to sustain the livelihood of his 500 employees.
When the community quarantine was imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19, Gutierrez found himself securing food for his family and at the same time providing alternative jobs to some of his employees in the retail business.
“One morning, I was walking along the street in the village where I live and chanced upon an empty lot full of overgrown cogon shrubs. I called up the owner and offered to clean the area in exchange for her allowing me to start a family garden,” said Gutierrez.
The owner agreed to his request, allowing him to plant in the vacant lot, free of rent for two years. “I saw this as a sign that there were bigger opportunities to follow.”
This led to the establishment of the Urban Farmers of Belair last August 2020. Found in a luxurious village in Makati, the social enterprise was built with five objectives that Gutierrez also calls “five pillars.”
These five objectives, or pillars, are as follows: (1) to maximize the idle land, (2) to find creative solutions in dealing with challenges in waste management with the least amount of resources, (3) to create jobs that will augment the livelihood of displaced workers, (4) to bring the Bel-Air community together with a common interest—food and gardening, and (5) to adopt a charitable model and support poor communities around the area through the farm sales.
“We also named the social enterprise Urban Farmers of Belair as an homage to those who really work with their hands on the field to bring food to our tables,” Gutierrez added.
Newfound passion in farming
Despite not having initial knowledge and experience in agriculture, Gutierrez and his workers were able to transform the 530 sqm lot into a productive area with the help of experts and professionals in the industry.
The urban farm is naturally kept through the use of chemical-free fertilizers. Urban Farmers of Belair now offers fresh produce, as well as edible landscaping and pruning services.
As of this writing, the farm raises more than 50 varieties of leafy greens, herbs, and fruiting plants. Arugula, romaine lettuce, and green ice lettuce are the most in-demand leafy greens, while rosemary, basil, and parsley are the most requested herbs among their clients.
Urban Farmers of Belair has a Viber group for their customers composed of the residents and non-residents of Bel-Air village.
The urban farm serves as proof that having a green thumb is not necessary for one to grow food. In their case, despite not having a green thumb or a background in farming, their hard work and passion eventually resulted in a flourishing farm.
“It’s not about the money, it’s not about the income, but it’s the peace of mind and satisfaction that we’re able to feed good food for the community,” Gutierrez said on a video posted on the farm’s Facebook page.
With the constantly changing COVID-19 protocols, many plans and goals continue to be delayed and adjusted. This may be the same for Gutierrez, but this didn’t stop him from staying out of action despite the setbacks.
Because of his foresight and organization skills, the urban farm has become a source of healthy food both for his family and the community they belong to.
For more information, visit Urban Farmers of Belair.
Photos courtesy of Louie Ocampo Gutierrez.