Community garden supports and empowers residents of San Roque during pandemic

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Franco Luna – Philstar.com

January 10, 2022 | 3:25 p.m.

MANILA, Philippines – Tanimang Bayan Community Vegetable Gardens, a community-led, community-driven community project in the impoverished urban community of Sitio San Roque in Quezon City, has gone from being a food source to a “strategy for ensuring food security and defending land rights, ”said a community organization.

In a documentation report on the agroecological urban agriculture project, Save San Roque nonprofit alliance observed that the residents of the community were “able to find ways to fend for themselves” despite the lack of support from the national government.

According to the group, this came as an active and natural response to the dwindling supplies of the Kusinang Bayan (community kitchen) project set up during the strengthened community quarantine last year as residents waited for help from the government.

“Residents knew from the start that the initial setup of Kusinang Bayan depended heavily on financial and in-kind donations from sympathetic donors. And as the pandemic progressed, those donations declined,” the association’s report said.

According to Weng Bautista, one of the garden’s project managers, the group has already planted and harvested okra, eggplants, squash, papayas, tomatoes, ginger, sweet potatoes, garlic, pechay. , pulang sili, malunggay, sitaw, mustasa and ampalaya since September 2021.

But community gardens have come to be more than just a source of livelihood.

How did they do it?

By 2020, members had already identified areas suitable for use as agricultural plots.

But it was only when the project partnered with farmer groups and advocacy groups like SAKA “to enrich the agricultural skills of residents and further strengthen them in agroecology” that the project took off.

These partnerships, SSR said, consisted of advanced modules on agricultural planning, the creation of organic inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and agroecological farming processes. “These served as a knowledge base [San Roque] Tanimang Bayan members and volunteers, ”the group said.

According to SSR, residents who had experience and technical knowledge in agriculture took on the role of organizing and mobilizing community members in the management of the plots.

Community solutions

“Bananas are used as a fertilizer … with added sugar. After seven days, we combine the juices with water. We water our crops with it. [Fermented Fruit Juice] solution three times a week, ”Bautista said.

“On the other hand, the [Fermented Plant Juice] is made from sweet potato leaves. It is also added with sugar. Likewise, we wait seven days before combining the juices of the mixture with water. We water our crops with the FFJ solution and the FPJ solution alternately every day. “

The supply came from fruits and vegetables donated by the San Roque Vendors Association, among others, while they also grew “marigold flowers at the perimeter of agricultural plots. [to help attract pollinators and deter pests.”

Residents also came up with the idea of “using garlic as a more cost-effective alternative to the Oriental Herbal Nutrient pesticide” to prevent insects from coming near the crops. 

Work teams, composed mostly of women, were also formed to work together collectively and systematically distribute the farm labor — such as watering, cultivating, producing organic inputs, and harvesting produce — equally

To harvest more efficiently, the community also came together and collectively designed a farming plan for cultivating different species of plants alongside each other.

The need for arable soil and bigger plots of land also eventually allowed them to reclaim spaces starting with other areas in the community that were not priority areas for demolition.

“Using the improved and streamlined farming process, expanding to Kamote and Moral (plots) has become easier and more efficient…Community members gradually extended the parameters of the existing plots. Eventually, they were able to add new plots. This was done covertly and incrementally to avoid suspicion from the guards,” Save San Roque said. 

Harassment still reported amid pandemic

Even under the coronavirus-induced quarantines, members and volunteers still reported that the biggest challenge for the project was the continued harassment they faced, either at the hands of private security detail or security personnel including the police and military.

“Every move we make in the community garden, they call us out,” Gelyn Rosilio, a community leader and one of the project leaders of the gardens was quoted as saying in Filipino.

“Residents are placed in constant danger and precarity: tower cranes lifting heavy construction materials regularly hover above their houses; excavation advances to where the residents’ houses are; construction activities pose constant threats to their safety; and harassment, and coercion to drive away residents have become rampant,” SSR also said. 

During the Enhanced Community Quarantines, the urban poor community was on the receiving end of raids and vilification from state forces. One of its first community kitchens was raided by cops and had its protest materials torn down.

Since then, though, officers of the Quezon City Police District have been reported for harassing picketers calling for government aid and in one occasion, snatching the phones of protesters recording altercations on camera.

Police and local government officials have since clarified that filming cops on video and protesting the national government’s pandemic response is in no way against the law.

READ: PNP officer grabs phone of urban poor volunteer after pickets calling for ayuda

Assertion of rights

More than just a food source, the documentation said, the community garden became “more meaningful” as those taking part in it reported “feeling empowered [while] their agency takes precedence in all phases of the initiative. “

Besides its practical garden function, the Tanimang Bayan “has also become a strategy for the community to defend their land rights and resist threats of demolition, serving as barriers to prevent the encroachment of developers on the community.”

Later, the gardens not only brought food security, but also knowledge sharing among community members, as well as collectivism, empowerment and even improved mental well-being.

“These countered the idea that the poor are lazy and unproductive and highlighted the autonomy and self-reliance practices of residents,” wrote Save San Roque.

“Members and volunteers saw the value of using and transforming demolished and unused spaces for the benefit of the community, especially in these difficult times. “

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