By Vina Medenilla

Among the OFWs who grow a prolific garden outside the Philippine soil is Lino Gutierrez Mandigma, 52, a domestic helper in Parma, Italy. 

Mandigma grew up on a farm in Mulanay, Quezon and has always viewed farming as a dream career. 

Lino’s garden, or Orto di Lino in Italian, grows various crops that Mandigma used to cultivate in the Philippines before moving abroad.

When he moved abroad in 1999 for work, he found a way to grow food in their residence’s idle space. Now, he also tends to a 150 square meter garden that he rents from the Italian government. 

Leasing a lot in Europe

Since a tenant can only rent a maximum of 50 sqm space, Mandigma’s 150 sqm adjacent vegetable plots are named after him, his sibling, and his wife. He renews his contract yearly. Every 50 sqm lot costs 30 euros, or a bit more than P1,700/year.

In Italy, pensioners are usually prioritized when it comes to land rental in order to keep them productive during retirement, said Mandigma. That said, more than half of the tenants in the vicinity of his garden are of mixed nationalities.

Mandigma’s garden, which is a few minutes away from his home, grows Philippine vegetables, with ampalaya being the primary crop since it is the most in demand veggie among Filipinos in his area. Next to ampalaya, onions and garlic are abundant in his garden.

Ampalaya is the main crop in Mandigma’s garden.

The overseas gardener also cultivates talong, sitaw, patola, upo, kalabasa, mustasa, kamatis, luya, as well as other crops that are not mentioned in the Filipino folk song ‘Bahay Kubo,’ including gabi, kangkong, sili, saluyot, okra, kamote, malunggay, petsay, alugbati, lettuce, zucchini, and cucumber.

Making money off rented land

Mandigma’s harvests are intended for sale and distribution to his family and relatives.

He sells his best-selling ampalaya for five euros (around P290 per kilo), the same with kangkong, while his upo costs two to three euros (P100-P170+) per piece.

Last summer 2020, Mandigma earned a total of 2200 euros, or more than P128,000, by selling his garden produce.

In summer 2020, Mandigma was able to earn 2200 euros or more than P128,000 from selling his garden’s produce to fellow Filipinos.

When planting in temperate regions, Mandigma noted that land preparation is very important. The land must be tilled and applied with fertilizer before winter comes.

Cultivating ‘Bahay Kubo’ veggies in Italy, according to Mandigma, is almost a breeze since aside from having a climate comparable to Philippine weather every summer, the area is abundant in water, which he considers the most important factor when growing plants.

However, he, like some gardeners, faces difficulties related to space. Sometimes, his crops do not grow well because they are either planted too close together or they are incompatible with other crops that are cultivated in the same area.

Mandigma posing with his harvests.

Even though Mandigma works during the day, he takes time to visit his garden daily. This year, he also started growing carrots, lemongrass, and ginger in containers.

Summer (from June to August) is the best season to grow food in this gardener’s case because apart from the appropriate temperature for crops, he has more time for gardening since the sun sets around nine to ten o’clock in the evening.

Farming crops is more than a source of food and extra income for Mandigma because it gives him a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Many OFWs have been finding comfort in growing crops that remind them of home, just like Mandigma who takes delight in growing vegetables he grew up with even after life has brought him to the other side of the world. 

Photos courtesy of Lino Mandigma

For more information, visit Lino Mandigma TV