By Marilou Guieb

 

PLANTITOS and plantitas.

Buzzwords of the century and perhaps the happy words on which many a man and a woman have anchored their sanity in the midst of the gloom the pandemic has brought.

Or perhaps it can be called the secret of finding joy – the art of ‘from gloom to bloom’ – a little tip on surviving lockdowns.

 While plantitas and plantitos have certainly made a booming business of ornamental plants, it may have started with something more vital – planting your own food.

For access to food was a real problem when the world started to reel from the impact of COVID-19.

 To help solve the problem of access to food, Agriculture Secretary William Dar came up with his Plant, Plant, Plant project. In turn this gave Baguio City the idea of Survival Gardens, where individuals and households are provided with vegetable seeds that they can sow and grow in their own backyards. Survival Gardens was implemented almost a week or two after a lockdown was declared in March with a budget of over P84,750 for seed distribution, which was supplemented with another P151,700 as the program gained popularity.

The project was handled by the City Veterinary and Agriculture Office with significant support from the DA-CAR and the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI). Dr. Brigit Piok, head of the City Veterinary Office, said the project was a success with all 128 barangays in the city participating. They had seeds distributed to 4,000 recipients from March to December 2020.

As envisioned by Dar, the project also became a way to have residents separate their biodegradable kitchen waste for their compost. “This reduces foul smell and pressure on landfills where only residuals should be dumped. There will also be a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions because food scraps are also a source of methane emission from landfills,” he said in The Way Forward. He also noted that surface and ground water are protected because leachates are minimized or eliminated with segregation.

Survival Gardens became a family activity as well, getting many youth involved in planting, an advocacy also close to Dar’s heart. In fact, his Plant, Plant, Plant program embraced many of his basic dreams for agriculture.

Eventually, gardening also proved to be a therapeutic approach in raising the spirits of residents in the city where despondency was slowly creeping in due to loss of income, feelings of isolation and anxiety brought about by the fear of getting infected with Covid-19, for as many have said, there is indeed a feeling of happiness, almost divine, in watching a plant grow from seed to plant.

The sweeping fever to plant may be attributed to Dar’s Plant, Plant, Plant concept, as they were not mere words but had actual support. DA-CAR, according to Regional Director Cameron Odsey, established demo sites and online training for vegetable production and chicken raising, models for aquaponics, provided seeds and fertilizers, among other services, to help households have direct access to food. In the city alone, DA-CAR since March of 2019, aside from livestock and chickens, had distributed 862.7 kg of seeds to 15,491 individuals. No wonder the fever has swept across the city, from executives to housewives, seniors and the young. This eventually gave way to the phenomenon of plantitas and plantitos, now a big business in the city. But that’s another story.

Survival Gardens in 2020 was capped by a contest that selected 93 participants from the barangays. Their scrapbooks paint the happy success story of the program.

Amelia Montes won under the container category of the contest. Her scrapbook showed her harvests of a variety of beans, lettuce, arugula, corn, squash, spinach, kangkong, and colorful ornamental plants and orchids grown in plastic gallon containers and placed on her rooftop or her limited garden space. She also showed pictures of her young granddaughter transferring seedlings to pots. Her produce not only feeds her family, but she also has a little sold and shared with friends.

“Composting and making concoctions are my favorite sustainable gardening practices,” she said. She makes her own fermented plant juice and fish amino acid to give nutrients to her plants. She also keeps catnip and dora plants to keep plant-eating insects away. She has a simple rain-harvesting device and an improvised water purifier using stones. She also entertains herself by painting her hanging plastic pots into scary faces to keep birds away.

Veronica Mat-an and her husband, meanwhile, took the grand prize for ground gardening. Their scrapbook also showed second cropping from seeds taken from plants grown from seeds originally given by the DA-CAR. Their garden continues to produce pechay, a variety of beans, kale, amaranth, onion leeks, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, bitter gourd, cucumber, strawberries, gabi, bottle gourds, squash, and many others with most of the seeds given by the DA-CAR.

Marcelina Tabilin, agriculturist at the City Veterinary and Agriculture Office, said they are heartened by the success of the Survival Gardens program and will find ways to continue it. She is now monitoring how many of the participants continue to maintain their vegetable gardens.

Agriculture and markets have somewhat returned to normal; but then again, the virus keeps the population wary of yet impending lockdowns that may spell another crisis in food security. Fortunately, Dar’s outlook through his Plant, Plant, Plant program has given confidence that food can just be grown in your own backyard. “My aim is to develop a love for planting in everyone and that growing one’s food is good for the health and the spirit,” he once said in an interview.

Cumulatively, as of this writing,  DA, under its urban agriculture program for Baguio City alone has served 15, 491 beneficiaries , distributed 998.915 kgs of seeds. 

One can almost see more backyard and rooftop gardens thriving. And why not.

Afterall  Montes and Mat-an tell us that their stories can easily be the story of one and all.