Thursday, 30 August 2012

Commentary: Time for backyard gardening

A typical backyard vegetable garden where a small groupings of veggies are grown in just a small space.


LAST April when I took a brief vacation in Parang, Mambulao, I made a point to visit our relatives in our “linang” at Pinagbirayang Munti, Paracale, CamNorte, to say hello. I also brought them some goodies for “pasalubong”.

They are our relatives on my late father’s side, who grew up and grew old and stayed put at the farm all their lives.

As always, the visit would end up with lots of fresh “buko” being split for their sweet nectar and refreshing white meat and many other farm things.

As the sun shot up and burned hot, my Nana Paz asked what I wanted as “ulam” for lunch.

I would like to have “ginataang sitaw sa balaw (shrimp paste) at tinuto (la-ing) …,” I told her.

“Ay … bibili pa tayo ng sitaw sa Batobalane …”

Pinagbirayang Munti, for all you know, is a coconut plantation village about a kilometer’s away from the national highway, coming from Batpbalane on the way to Labo.

“Bakit … di ba dapat marami nyan (sitaw) dito sa linang …?

“Wala na … wala nang nagtatanim ng gulay dito sa amin … bumibili na lang kami sa Batobalane …”

“Eh bakit … ?”

“Lahat ng mga tao dito, nasa kaburan…. Nagkakabod…”

Nana Paz said: “Madali ang pera sa ginto … magkabod ka mula sa umaga … pagdating ng hapon ...  pera na … may pambili ka na ng bigas, sardinas, tuyo at gulay…”

(Those days, gold was selling at P900 per “bahay” (stress in the second “a”) and the weight of one “bahay” is equivalent to the weight of 14 grains of dried palay, said a gold trader. And a “magkakabod” on lucky days would fetch at least two or three bahays after a day-long toil at the “kaburan”.)

“Kung magtatanim ka naman ng gulay .. maghihintay ka pa ng tatlo … apat na buwan bago mo maani … madalas .. kakainin lang ng mga nakawalang kalabaw ang tanim mo ... Kaya talo …”

So for our lunch that day, we ended up eating fish that my mother bought at the wet market in Mambulao just before we drove off to Nana Paz’s place at the farm.

And no veggies.

Indeed, those were the days in my youth when vegetables could be had straight from the farm.

This brings me to the current issue of nutrition among many Mambulao households.

We are aware that prices of basic commodities – rice, fish, meat, vegetables, canned goods and many others – have gone up to the roof ---  that a bundle of “pechay” or sitaw is sold as if it is gold.

Blame this to the growing number of families who are getting foreign aids – from their love ones who could be breaking backs as OFWs in the Middle East, Africa, PNG, Asia, Europe and US.

Their buying power has spurred the prices of basic commodities, both in sari-sari stores and public markets, to jump as high as they could.

Because of this, the other group of families – the poor ones -- has opted not to have vegetables in their meals. The fishermen’s families would just settle for fish – which could be dried or boiled fresh – and nothing more.

Those that don’t have enough money would pass vegetables in favor of other foodstuff that could be cheaper and of course the must-buy, which is rice.

At the end of the day, the bottom line is that there should be something on the table for the entire family to partake of.

But the truth is vegetables could be had easily; it only takes some will to do it.

Pechay, sitaw, talbos ng kamote and a lot more of the fast-growing veggies could easily be grown in the backyards of many household all over our community.

I know that even to these days, there are many houses in Mambulao that have managed to keep a piece of “land” in their backyard where they can raise fast-growing vegetables.

It’s about time that parents should realize the big savings they could make from these veggie gardens and at the same time improve the daily diet of their children by regularly including green leafy vegetables in their meals – harvested straight from the garden.

All they have to do is devote one weekend to develop – or convert that vacant piece of lot into vegetable plots for greenies such as “pechay” and raddish, cabbage, tomatoe, eggplant, string beans (sitao), okra, patani, bataw, capsicum or bell peppers, onion green shoots, patola and upo, just to name a few.

In my youth, we planted our backyard with various types of easy-growing vegetables and managed to sell the extra harvest, leaving us with some coins for other things needed at home.

While it is true that having an extra lot space behind the house would no longer be realistic nowadays, still there should be enough space to welcome a modest plot or two for certain types of fast-growing varieties.

Such weekend activity could gain a foothold in the community if the municipal government would itself encourage the residents to engage into this as part of its community nutrition program.

This way, the people would feel that their local government is concerned about their health and that it is trying its best to show it by making backyard gardening as a major program to improve the lot of every household.

In a number of cities in Taiwan, the local governments have an on-going program encouraging the elders – the retirees, in short – to go into vegetable production as part of their retirement activities.

The LGU provided a space solely marked for this project, and each of those who participated was allotted about 33 square meters (5.7m x 5.7m) of lot where they planted fast-growing veggie varieties.

But before that, they trained on produce-growing while at the same time encouraged to go organic – no fertilizer and no chemicals.

To cut the story short, the program was a big success. While some participants kept their veggies for home consumption, others ventured into commercial production that required them to do it in bigger area.

But of course, as far as Mambulao is concerned, this is fairy tale in the sense that the reality of having not much available space for this project faces everyone wanting to venture into it.

But amid hindrances and obstacles, there should be a “diskarte” that could be worked out to deal with them.

The local government of Mayor Dong Padilla may have some ideas to look into, if ever it decides to plunge into it.

So it goes without saying that if the LGU goes into it, it should also provide the technical know-how on growing vegetables alongside the provision of fast-growing vegetable seeds – for free – to participants in the project.

This is important to make sure that the participants are on the right track with their food garden project.

And at the end of the first growing season when veggies are ready for harvest, the LGU should launch the so-called “garden veggies fair” where the best among the harvested crops are recognized and displayed for the public to see and appreciate.

The recognition is a sure-fire come-on and incentive for the veggie-growing households.

But the real dividend will come from the quality of meals that the family would be sharing everyday, thanks to the vegetables that have now become a regular part of their diet.

If I may, this should be the battle cry: magtanim ng gulay sa bakuran para sa masayang tahanan … laging kumain ng gulay para sa mas magandang kalusugan …

Any takers?

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