For 34 years, urban gardening was the way the life of Roger Medenilla has been. Roger was a long-time rice farmer back in Bicol but due to poverty and the situation of local farmers, he left the province in 1987. He braved Greater Manila to take risk of having a better life. He started in Las Piñas and transferred to several areas in Cavite throughout the years.
With both being widowed and the knowledge in urban gardening, Gemma Medenilla, present wife, bonded with Roger in 2019. In 2020, the couple discovered the 1.8 hectares of idled land along Molino Rd. in Bacoor, Cavite and brought life to it.
“Mas maganda nitong kasagsagan ng lockdown dahil hindi nakakabiyahe ‘yung ibang kakumpitensiya mula sa malalayo, mas nabibili nang mahal ang gulay namin (Things were better for us during the lockdown since other suppliers from afar weren’t able to deliver their products—which made our vegetables sold at a higher price),” Roger shared how they’re doing well in contrast with the majority of people’s current situation.
“Nakikita ko ‘yung iba na nakakabili ng malalaking bahay at sasakyan (I saw others able to buy big houses and cars),” Roger told as the reason why he ventured into urban agriculture. And true that, he was able to buy a house and lot, two vehicles, and send his children to school which he doubted to achieve if he continued being a rice farmer with not owning the land they cultivate.
According to Philippine Statistics Authority’s (PSA)
2015 Poverty Statistics and 2018 poverty incidence estimation, farmers are constantly one of the sectors posting the highest poverty incidences. And from a research paper published in 2003 about land issues stating 7 out of 10 Filipino farmers are landless, the data jumped to an amount of 9 out of 10 farmers do not own the land they till in a 2017 documentation by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).
Roger Medenilla, 62, rents the 1.8 ha land owned by a woman named Mrs. Lim and coordinates with the caretaker for an arranged payment of only ₱10,000 ($210) a year. Aside from the cost of reviving the land, Roger doles out the expenses for the urban garden business: from the capital needed for seeds, crops, herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers; and the water supply system. Earnings are divided in half with 50% to Roger and 50% to each urban farmer that works with him.
Gemma Medenilla, 52, shows how her plants have grown fast for only a short period of time. Just in the first quarter of the year 2021, she started selling ornamental plants and medicinal plants, which she is not aware of to be, for a low amount of ₱50-100 ($1.05-2.1) only. Gemma used to do urban gardening also from the year 1990 to 2007. But since her late husband died in 2009, she stopped.
The plants Gemma initially used were only given to her until she is able to multiply them. She would sometimes buy new pots or upcycle used materials. Most of her plants are different varieties of Mayana, a kind of medicinal plant. Medical Health Guide of 2011 reported Mayana is used for immediate treatment of wounds, swelling, bruises, sprains, and cysts.
The vegetables the urban garden produces are mostly leaf crops (i.e spring onions, mustard leaves (mustasa), Chinese cabbage (pechay), Chinese parsley (kinchay), and spinach) which they decided to be since these are faster to harvest in only 1-3 months. From these, they regularly supply six stores in Divisoria—but distribute on other more stores when there are excess.
Alex, one of the urban farmers, adds extra to a kilo of spring onions (₱100/$2.1) being purchased by a ‘beef pares’ vendor. Other regular consumers of their urban garden are nearby street vendors and small business owners.
Each urban farmer has a designated plot in planting assorted vegetables. Rogelio “Bro” dela Cruz, 49, is a long-time friend of Roger back in Bicol. Before Roger went to Las Piñas in 1987, Rogelio was the first one to get there two years earlier. That was the last time he had done urban farming before he settled again a few years ago. “Dahil dito, mapagtatapos ko na anak ko sa college, isang taon na lang (Through urban gardening, I will be able to let my daughter finish in college, one year left before she graduates),” he said, smiling.
The other part of the urban garden is surrounded by residential homes of Georgetown Subdivision. In each of Rogelio’s plot of three with 16 soil beds, an estimated initial amount of ₱10,000 ($210) is needed for capital. In a time of poor sales, there is less to no room for profit, and the capital is only recovered. If lucky enough, the earning is double the capital or more. According to Rogelio, his previous jobs weren’t able to match the comfortable life and income he earns in urban gardening.
Jonie Medenilla, Roger’s nephew, sprays herbicide on prepared land to prevent unwanted weeds to grow. On the other side of the lot is the busy highway of Molino Rd. The agricultural land was once filled with bushes and coarse grasses where wastes or dead animals were dumped.
Ramil Medenilla, eldest son of Roger, and other urban farmers place haystacks above the soil once they plant Chinese Parsley (kinchay). This is a strategy they practice to prevent the sun from drying the soil which impacts the growth of the crop.
Chinese Parsley (kinchay) is sold ranging from a stretched amount of ₱30 up to ₱700 ($0.6-14.65) per kilo depending on the weather and the number of products available in the market.
Alex washes newly harvested spinach on a submerged portion of the farm lot. The water is a combination of rainwater and tap water passing through a very long tube connected to a water pump from Roger’s house in the nearby subdivision.
Roger prepares the spinach in a plastic bag weighing ten (10) kilos each, but an extra kilo is added. Like kinchay, the price of spinach is also volatile and it was sold that time to ₱100 ($2.1) per kilo.
Alex loads in the car four plastic bags of spinach and another four plastic bags of onion springs, the usual number that Abby orders according to the urban farmers.
Kalanchoe pinatta or Katakataka, considered to be a miracle plant, is used to treat different ailments whether internal or external.
In the hand of Gemma are sprouting Katakataka leaves in a recycled plastic cup that she repotted from the falling offspring of the parent plant. Despite Gemma’s accidental growing of medicinal plants, it makes the urban garden complete—from food to herbal medicine.
Roger shows seeds of Chinese parsley (kinchay) that he and other urban farmers produced rather than buying new ones.
This photo story is first published on kelmalazarte.com. Kel Malazarte is a community photojournalist in the Philippines.