Garbage area-turned-vegetable garden feeds community in Bacolod City
But who would imagine that inside a small community hides a unique attraction. Down an alleyway going to the barangay’s Purok Bolinao looms a garden where wide-variety of vegetables grow.
Dubbed “Gulayan sa Barangay 1,” this community vegetable garden established by the barangay council along with partner-organizations from the public and private sector has been helping fisherfolk here for over four years now, especially when the unprecedented coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic came into existence.
Trash to vegetables
In 2017, spoils were left in the area following a dredging project at a river sometime in 2017. Huge volumes of foreign wastes, mostly plastics, were also washed ashore in an almost a hectare coastal area.
In June 2018, when the new set of barangay officials assumed post, they started changing the image of the place. From a dirty garbage area, they developed it into a green and sustainable community vegetable garden.
Punong Barangay Cesar Rellos Jr. recalled that since he was a kagawad, he had already envisioned transforming the space into an area for urban farming.
Instead of letting the informal settlers occupy the idle lot, the official met with the residents and urged them to help as the barangay plans to utilize it into something useful for the community.
“We believed that there’s money in the vegetable garden thus, we converted this garbage area to a vegetable garden mainly for the residents,” he added.
The barangay initially developed the 1,000 square meters of the entire 9,550 square meters area. They planted it with vegetable crops like okra (ladies finger), saluyot, alugbati (malabar spinach), malunggay (moringa), sitaw (string beans) and ampalaya (bitter gourd). The seeds and planting materials that they used were either bought or donated by some friends.
In order to involve the community, the barangay council tapped as project partners and beneficiaries the members of the Barangay 1 Bacolod City Fisherfolk Association. The group is composed of 86 member-families who were the ones planting and growing the vegetables at the community garden.
“Instead of buying vegetables from the market, they can get it here for free,” Rellos said.
One of the challenges faced by the group was the higher acidity level of the soil because the area is near the sea. It was difficult for them to grow some of the vegetables.
But through the help of the City Agriculture Office, they were able to overcome such a challenge. In 2019, the local government provided them with various farm inputs like vermicast, garden soil and seeds.
A year later, under the urban gardening program of the Department of Agriculture (DA) – Western Visayas, the “Gulayan sa Barangay 1” passed as a community vegetable garden. The agency then provided additional support services like nursery, farm equipment like shredder, and other inputs like vermicast, garden soil, seeds and seedlings to the group.
Both the members of the barangay council and fisherfolk association were also given free training on urban farming for five days. With this, they were able to sustain the garden and increase the number of planted vegetables here.
‘A big help’
When the pandemic hit the world, the community vegetable garden helped a lot, especially in serving as a source of food for the fisherfolk members, their families as well as their neighbors.
Rellos said the pandemic has taught them the importance of food security. In terms of livelihood, the vegetable garden has in fact augmented their income from fishing.
“They no longer need to spend for their vegetable needs,” he pointed out, adding that the garden is also addressing the need for healthy food for the community, especially during this crisis where people need to boost their health.
Barangay 1 has a total population of about 5,700. Most of the residents rely on fishing as their source of living.
But since fishing is also seasonal, vegetable gardening helped many of the households to cope with the challenges brought by the pandemic including loss of jobs and income opportunities.
One of them was the family of 62-year-old Sandra Barte, who is also a member of the fisherfolk association.
“Gin-engganyo gid kami ni Kap. Cesar nga magbulig tanum kay ini kuno nga garden para man ini tanan sa amon [Kap. Cesar really encouraged us to help in planting as, according to him, this garden is also for us],” Barte said.
“It’s really a big help for the poor families like us,” she said, adding that what is good with this garden is that we can get fresh vegetables from here whenever we need for free.
For 45-year-old Lorvein Canales, president of the fisherfolk association, their role is simply to sustain the garden and encourage other residents to also venture into vegetable farming rather than just engaging in fishing.
Canales admitted that, at first, they lacked knowledge and skills on urban farming. But by actively involving themselves in the training provided by the DA, they eventually widened their perspective about agriculture.
Also, their interest was awakened particularly on the potential of farming as another livelihood opportunity aside from fishing which they have been used to for a long time.
“Farming has really helped us, fishermen, a lot,” he said, stressing that “the peak fishing is not all year round, most of the time within four to six months only, so we need to look for another source of income in order to feed our family thus, we engaged in vegetable gardening.”
Through the hardwork of the barangay along with the entire community, they now felt the positive result of the “Gulayan sa Barangay 1.”
In 2022, the group was able to produce a huge volume of crops at the community vegetable garden.
From January to November this year, they were able to harvest 80 kilos of eggplant, 20 kilos of pechay, 40 kilos of okra, 20 kilos of patola, 19 kilos of black beans, 10 kilos of pepper (paitan), and more than a kilo of ginger, among other vegetables which they were able to sell just within the barangay.
These are on top of the vegetables that the association members are getting for free for their household consumption.
Thus, from being just the source of food for the residents, the community vegetable garden is now giving an income generation opportunity for the fisherfolk association and its members.
“From that time, I saw that we can actually plant more when the entire community unites. I realized that a single vegetable plant can be multiplied through the hardwork of our residents,” the punong barangay said.
In July this year, through the help of a non-government organization (NGO), farming technology reached the “Gulayan sa Barangay 1.” The innovation was aimed at improving the initiative to help more members of the community.
The development of integrated urban farming among local communities has been the advocacy of Bacoleño Ian Fred Solas, owner of IF Green Technologies.
The innovations and best farming practices that they have started in their urban farm at Barangay Pahanocoy are being shared by their startup company to other barangays in the city.
Solas said he was tapped by the officials of Police Station 2 for a collaboration between projects of the barangay councils it covers including that of Barangays 1 to 10, 17 and 18.
“The police chief wanted to help the families of the persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) by providing them livelihood opportunity,” he said, adding that they also tapped as partner-institution the Carlos Hilado Memorial State University in Talisay City to address the need for financial literacy of the project-recipients.
Of the 12 members of the Association of Barangay Councils of Police Station 2, the farming technology of Solas’s group first reached Barangay 1 as it already established an integrated urban farm.
In the bid to help the “Gulayan sa Barangay 1” boost its production, they introduced the aquaponics technology to the community vegetable garden.
Solas said aquaponics technology is a design or innovation in agriculture where the fish being grown inside the farm collaborates with the plants.
The fish waste or ammonia is being converted by the bio filters into nitrates that will serve as a fertilizer for the plants. So it’s a cycle system as the plants also provide oxygen to the fish. It’s chemical free, he said.
The garden has also started using a hydroponics system and vertical gardening.
Solas said the hydroponics system is a solution-based or soilless farming method while vertical gardening is employed to ensure higher yield even in a limited space.
“The major advantage in this farming technology is having no extensive farm work aside from only about two percent mortality rate of the products,” he added.
Also, the barangay does not spend for chemical fertilizers as the vegetables are organic and naturally grown.
As they start utilizing the aquaponics technology, hydroponics and vertical gardening the “Gulayan sa Barangay 1” initially grew 700 heads of tilapia given by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and planted 756 lettuce seedlings.
It was also able to save from the electricity expenses because the nursery and other garden facilities are being energized by the solar power system donated by the BFAR.
“We are making this garden as a demo farm or a model area where all other barangays in the Bacolod City can see that a project like this is possible,” Solas said, stressing that “if Barangay 1 was able to successfully convert this garbage area into a sustainable community vegetable garden, other barangays can also do the same especially those with wide areas potential for urban farming.”
For his part, Rellos said they are thankful to the organization for extending their help by bringing their technology to the barangay’s community vegetable garden.
Ensuring a healthy community
Aside from providing food to the members of the association and their families, the “Gulayan sa Barangay 1” project also aims to ensure the health of the community. Thus, they are making sure that the vegetables grown here are free from chemicals fertilizers.
But, they also recognized the need to ensure its sustainability in order to increase more people in the barangay.
That is why, Rellos said, the barangay council is really making sure to allocate funds every year mainly for the maintenance of the community vegetable garden.
Also, the barangay is giving much focus on sustaining the active involvement of the residents, young or old, in order to make the vegetable garden self-sufficient.
As of this writing, the fisherfolk association has generated a savings worth P12,000 from the vegetables that they have sold. In order to keep the amount intact, the members are the ones working for the farm.
The association president said that if they really need to tap the help of others who are not yet members of the group, they are paying them with vegetables harvested from the garden.
“Our assurance in the association is that we, members, will continue to unite and help others for this project which is not only for us but also for our children and their children in the near future,” Canales said.
Through the help and support of the government and private organizations as well as the unity among the members of the community, the group is optimistic that the community vegetable garden can further increase the number of people it can serve.
Aside from planting more, they look forward to establishing new community vegetable gardens in other areas at the barangay. Through this, they hoped to make the entire Barangay 1 a food sufficient barangay.
As a former president of the fisherfolk association, Rellos said, he saw that his constituents need not just fishing, but also planting vegetables.
Moreover, the “Gulayan sa Barangay 1” had also previously been a source of vegetables cooked by a school for its feeding program, which is something that the council would like to continue.
It also plans to adopt a “Gulayan sa Paaralan” by supplying the vegetable seeds and seedlings needed by the schools in establishing their own vegetable garden. They are also willing to share their best practices with other barangays in the city through the conduct of training.
The group also expressed optimism that many other residents would embrace and give importance to farming, especially that Covid-19 pandemic still prevails, so that the push for a healthy community will further gain boost.
Rellos admitted that the illegal drugs problem had been prevalent in the barangay before. But it has been slowly addressed now, he said.
Through the community vegetable garden, they are also looking at helping the residents who previously used illegal drugs by giving them the opportunity to work at the “Gulayan sa Barangay 1.”
“We will help them to earn so that they will not go back to their illegal activities,” Rellos said.
The “Gulayan sa Barangay 1” is now being considered as a model farm by the local government in its bid to replicate the former’s best farming practice to other barangays.
The dreams that they planted about four years ago are now producing positive results. Their success, an inspiration to others.