An oasis in an urban jungle

The Inbox

By Eimor Santos, VERA Files

Mang Ruben's humble home resembles the Bahay Kubo in the popular folksong by Felipe de Leon.  It is surrounded by  eggplants, tomatoes, string beans and other small fruits and vegetables. Every morning he wakes up to tend beds and pots of these veggies and some herbs like tarragon and oregano.

But a stroll outside his little farm brings him not the chirping of birds just like his childhood  days in Bicol  but the hustle-bustle of vehicles. It's  because Mang Ruben lives in a farm inside the Quezon City Memorial Circle.

Ruben Marcellana, "Mang Ruben" to green lovers in QCMC,  is the  assistant agriculturist and caretaker of the 600 square-meter urban farm in QCMC.  The urban farm is part of the  "The Joy of Urban Farming" project of  QC Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte launched on Sept. 27, 2010.

Also called Task Force Greening, the project is in partnership with the Department of Agriculture the Department of Science and Technology and the Earth Angel Sanctuary.

Carrying out Belmonte's Green project is a team  headed by an in-house agriculturist, Mang Ruben, and three gardeners. In this  summer's intense heat, the team has to water the plants three times a day. That requires them to stock water at night to keep the soil moist under summer's scorching sun.

The QCMC farm has become part of the itinerary of  many schools' field trips.

"Kahit isang araw lang, mahipo nila yung lupa (They can feel the soil even for a day)," Cristina Perez, Project Development Officer  said of the benefits of exposing city children from exclusive schools to nature.

Perez also said the urban farm  helps the children appreciate vegetables. She hopes that knowing more about the how vegetables are produced would encourage children to like to eat them.

Many Quezon city residents  are regular visitors of the QCMC farm  and Mang Ruben is more than glad to share with them tips in gardening. He even gives out free seedlings.

Businessman Alfred Muhi from Project  8 is a frequent visitor and enjoys exchanging gardening notes with Mang Ruben.

In a city where most of the residents do not have the luxury of land, urban farm advocates the use of containerized gardening, planting seedlings in recycled 1.5 liter bottles, styrofoam containers and pots.

"Through this, we can plant even in the little spaces of our house," Mang Ruben said adding that  during stormy days these pots can easily be moved to some covered place to avoid drowning.

Mang Ruben and his gardeners also make use of vermicomposting, a process that uses worms, African nightcrawlers in particular, to turn garden and kitchen waste into fertilizer.

Instead of using commercial and chemical fertilizer, dried leaves from the park and kitchen waste from the nearby restaurants are collected to produce the organic fertilizer.

Perez said aside from producing food, the project is also contributing to the local government's Solid Waste Management efforts.

Bert Mendoza, a member of the  project's staff, said although the QCMC farm  is just a small part of the 26- hectare circular park, it serves as a demo farm and has inspired schools and villages in the city to have their own  urban farms.

Perez said they are holding  free seminars on urban farming and are giving out free materials to public schools and barangays. They conduct an assessment every three months.

She said within Quezon City, there are urban farms now in Barangays Mangga,UP Campus and Sto. Cristo Elementary School among others.

"We already have 25 farms all in all," Perez proudly reported.

She would like to see Krus Na Ligas, a densely-populated barangay not so far away from QCMC which had been a subject of the United Nations urban planning project many years ago, have its own urban farm. As of now, Krus na Ligas Barangay Secretary Purificacion Agustin  said "Ang meron lang kami mga kangkungan ng mga indibidwal (All we have are some individuals' field of swamp cabbage)."

It's a challenge for  Quezon City barangays to turn green especially because Mang Ruben's urban farm has been replicated in as far as Barangay Manggatarem in Pangasinan.

(The author is a journalism student of the University of the Philippines who is writing for VERA Files as part of her internship. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")