Meet Andrea from Iligan, Lanao del Norte, Philippines

“I am a novice gardener, a hobbyist, an entrepreneur, a pastry chef and a full time mum.

Sourcing some hard to find and unavailable ingredients here in Iligan was very challenging for me hence I decided to grow my own food especially culinary herbs, fruits at first. My parents required a healthy and restrictive diet and two years ago even I decided to take a healthier and sustainable path. Believing in the healing power of some natural and traditional medicines/therapies, we started growing greens. And of course, growing greens makes me calm and happy, and it relaxes all the senses despite scorching heat and sweats!

We have a very limited space about 300 plus sq meters including our house. I started out with basic culinary herbs like rosemary, thyme, Italian oregano and then expanded to lemons and different varieties of lettuce. The plants that we have currently in our garden are grown over the years.

I am no expert and honestly I am not so conversant with technical terms but what we usually do is simple. We make our own compost from organic matter (fruit and veggie peelings) and use vermi-cast from worms that we tend in a makeshift and fabricated vertical garden pod which my father made. We use pond water from the backyard and/or rainwater for watering and mulch the soil to prevent weeds. I usually check my plants everyday at least twice despite a busy schedule. We use organic fertilizers that we get from organic farmers/sources. For pest control, we never use chemical pesticides, only natural DIY pesticides that I make but we rarely have to use them.

I try to get seeds and/or seedlings from organic farmers from whom we buy organic rice, and from friends, family and other organic growers or farm supply stores. I do save for later and share extra seeds with anyone in need or anyone who wishes to buy them. It’s better to have more growers.

As we only have a very limited space in the garden, it is obviously challenging to propagate and/or plant new varieties. Even with vertical gardening setups, the space has almost reached its maximum capacity.

Gardening has always made me feel grounded as I am a nature loving person. It has also helped me financially as this has become sort of a second business since people are buying either seedlings or produce from us. Meeting new people from all walks of life who also share the same liking and passion is a plus. Learning a new skill be it in gardening or other areas, gives me a boost of self confidence. And as we are growing some of our food, we reduce our food cost.

In Iligan, we have what we call as a TABO (meetup) where local farmers/growers/artists/crafts display and sell their produce on a weekly and/or monthly basis to “support local and buy local” which is the main goal and advocacy of the event. On Facebook I’m affiliated with several buy and sell and other local groups for information exchanges and idea sharing. Our city is on enhanced community quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic and recently, I also initiated a donation drive to give away extra seedlings to people who need and want to have survival gardens. I also got to promote my locally and organically (though not certified) sourced ingredients with “garden to table” concept.

In light of our global situation, the importance of our farmers and having survival gardens became evident. Give gardening a try, your prudence will pay off. Like all living things, plants just need a bit of TLC. If you’re good to them, they will give back and more. Anyone can grow greens, no degree is required. I think we should start supporting and promoting local too rather than having to rely on global industrial food systems (I know to some extent I am guilty of this still). Growing your own food and knowing how and where it came from should be a basic, pragmatic, lifesaving knowledge that all humans should have.”