This OFW Shares How Helpful Urban Gardening Is—Especially During A Pandemic

It's time to start your own garden!

IMAGE Michael Forcado

One of the important lessons this pandemic is teaching people all over the world is how to have food security. Being a food-secure nation means that all its citizens have access to food and has a stable food source.

Some local government units in the Philippines encourage households to grow their own vegetables by giving free seeds as relief goods, while the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Plant Industry is giving it away for free to anyone interested. Urban gardening, growing fruits and vegetables in the city, certainly eases some worries in these trying times.

Michael and the family's roof deck garden.
Photo by Michael Forcado
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We got to talk to Michael Forcado, who is currently an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) based in Doha, Qatar for the past 11 years, on how urban gardening has helped his family every day, but most especially, during the crisis.

1 Their urban garden gives them accessible vitamin-rich fresh produce.

Michael and the family always have fresh and organic vegetables on their table all the time. Michael shares, "Our children also became more interested in eating vegetables because they see how these lovely greens grow from seed to harvest. They are healthier and are more resistant to common diseases such as cough and colds and flu."

Michael and the family!
Photo by Michael Forcado
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Michael's family grows kangkong (their favorite crop because it's the easiest to grow!), tomatoes, pechay, malunggay, lettuce, okra, string beans, ampalaya, eggplants, cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes, and sweet potatoes in their roof deck garden. But they also have herbs and spices like oregano, sweet basil, chili pepper, onions, and ginger.

2 It  saves money. 

According to Michael, vegetables are expensive in Qatar because most of their fresh produce is imported from neighboring countries. By having fresh produce within reach, the family reduces the number of trips to the grocery and saves them more money.

He says, "Because of the implementation of the lockdown, households who maintain a sustainable garden will be in a much better position not to panic and would not need to go out frequently just to buy vegetables and fruits, thus limiting their exposure outside and accordingly limiting their chances of being infected by the COVID-19 virus." 

All the gulay you can use for your favorite Pinoy dishes!
Photo by Michael Forcado
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When they're in the mood for sinigang or any of their other favorite dishes, they only go to the grocery to buy the meat (fish or chicken). Michael emphasizes that cooking healthy dishes are more pleasurable knowing that they're using their garden's produce, free from any pesticide. 

In addition to saving money, Michael also earns extra income by selling vegetables they planted in their roof deck garden. Specifically, he's selling kangkong to Oriental Kitchen, the family's favorite Filipino-Chinese-Indonesian-Malaysian restaurant in the city. He says, "That is why any amount we can save by producing our own vegetables is a big help in our day-to-day budgeting."

Photo by Michael Forcado
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3 It helps the community, too.

One way that urban gardening can help other people is by sharing one's produce to the community, especially to those who have no financial capabilities to buy food.

"This can also become an opportunity for others to share their produce to their neighbors and thus helping the community on a micro-scale. [These are] small solutions that contribute to resolving problems of greater magnitude," he says.

4 Gardening is therapeutic.

Dealing with the global pandemic and the news concerning the crisis is understandably stressful, so any form of quarantine-friendly therapy is much appreciated. There are numerous studies that say gardening is therapeutic and in Michael's case, it holds true.

Michael puts it beautifully, "In a world where everything is remote-controlled and you get almost everything instantly in a push of a button, I think the best reward that one can get from gardening is to be able to see beautiful things growing life from a tiny seed."

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Michael shares that his kids don't have Xbox (or any gaming gadgets) since they enjoy being outdoors and gardening so much!
Photo by Michael Forcado
The family also grows cauliflower in their garden.
Photo by Michael Forcado
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Tending to a roof deck garden also helps Michael and the whole family bond with each other. The whole family is invested in gardening and each member has their own role to fulfill. Michael takes care of the soil preparation, his wife handles the seedlings, and the kids take care of watering the plants. Everyone helps with harvesting.

How do you start an urban garden?

"The best tip I can give for beginners is to actually start," Michael says. For beginners, he suggests growing cherry tomatoes and pechay since both of these germinate easily, especially in the Philippines' tropical climate. 

Besides buying and growing actual seeds, regrowing from scraps is also possible! According to Michael, celery, lettuce, and cabbage can regrow by cutting the base and placing them in a shallow container filled with an inch of water. 

Potatoes can be used in so many dishes to make it more filling!
Photo by Michael Forcado
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You can also regrow potatoes by placing them in a cool, dry, shaded place and wait for nodes or shoots to sprout. "When this happens, they are now ready for planting in loose soil. And voila! You would be growing lots of potatoes in just three months," he says.

When it comes to space, this is a common concern when it comes to urban gardening. It pays to do a little bit of research depending on what space you're working with, whether that is an outdoor garden, a balcony, or a window sill with a ledge. 

Love strawberries? You can plant your own strawberries!
Photo by Michael Forcado
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Thankfully, there are a variety of crops that can grow in used containers that can thrive in condo-type settings (with sunlight or LED). You can grow fruit-bearing plants like tomatoes, carrots, eggplants, and strawberries. You may also grow herbs that can be useful for adding flavor to your dishes, such as basil, chives, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme.

Just remember that it's okay to make mistakes as you're only starting and gardening relies on multiple factors. If you want more tips and tutorials, follow Michael and his gardening journey on his Youtube channel.

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