The parish of Tondo turns a football field into a vegetable farm


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Image of St. John Bosco Parish, Tondo

MANILA, Philippines – Before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted daily life, the football field at St. John Bosco Parish in Tondo, Manila, offered students at the youth center a tender respite from the urban jungle.

The grounds were barely pedicured – just an expanse of rugged terrain that got muddy when it rained and creaked in the summer – but a number of students flocked there to play after school or to relax in the shade. nearby trees for a bite to eat or a conversation.

Worn goalposts and soccer balls are now gone, with the pandemic forcing students out of classrooms and into distance education. The football field, however, has been turned into a vegetable garden – and an important lifeline for the 17,000 households in the parish.

“It all started with suffering”, declared Fr. Gaudencio Carandang, the head of the parish of Saint-Jean-Bosco, declared while walking in the garden. “We were giving constant relief to members of our community during the lockdown. They knocked on the parish doors and asked for food, and we could not refuse them. But as the pandemic spread, donations became fewer, and so did relief. [goods] that we could give. You had to think of something to feed them.

When the government imposed the lockdown, the poor who held mostly blue-collar jobs ran out of money and food. Carandang said that was the fate of most of the residents of the parish – the drivers and street vendors who ultimately lost their livelihood.

When the government imposed the lockdown, the poor who held mostly blue-collar jobs ran out of money and food. Carandang said that was the fate of most of the residents of the parish – the drivers and street vendors who ultimately lost their livelihood.

It was then that the priests decided to use the unoccupied field. In October, the Land Reform Department (DAR) distributed free vegetables to the community. Through Fr. Anton Pascual, Executive Director of Caritas Manila and President of Radio Veritas, a partnership has been formed between DAR and the parish.

DAR provided vegetable seeds, fertilizers and basic gardening equipment; the parish brought together the inhabitants of Tondo who wanted to participate in the exploitation of the land.

Farmer scientists from Cavite visited the site a few times a week to teach residents how to properly till the soil and which tools to use for each crop.

Volunteering

What makes the Tondo vegetable farm work is the volunteer spirit of the inhabitants of the 17 barangays it covers.

Every morning the farm is dotted with masked and gloved men and women, young and old, all devoted gardeners.

Image of St. John Bosco Parish, Tondo

On the morning of the Inquirer’s visit, the housewife Sally Funtanares was taking care of the part where the gourds are planted (upo). Barangay kagawad Jun Valdez watered the rows of chayote, stopping every now and then to fill his watering can.

Shortly afterwards, the parish cook, Len Molina, arrived to collect sprouts from the nursery for the priests’ meal.

From time to time, gardeners would go to neighboring tents to share food and drinks they had brought from their homes.

“Before the pandemic, you will find some of the [residents] just play mah jong. Now they are spending their time here. They like it, ”said Norlito Astronomo, head of parish security.

Apart from vegetables, the parish does not collect anything for the gardening project. The land is used free of charge by the community. The harvest is sold to the locals at a low price, and the profits are also distributed to the volunteers.

“It gives me something to look forward to and it takes my stress away,” said Josefina Tandog, a resident of Barangay 109. “Plus, these vegetables are so affordable that when we sold our first crop, even neighboring public retailers market came to buy.

“It gives me something to look forward to and it takes my stress away,” said Josefina Tandog.

Harvest festival

Last January, the community tasted the first fruits of their labor through the “Pick, Collect and Pay” festival organized by the DAR and the parish of St. John Bosco. As much as P17,000 worth of products have been sold.

Image of St. John Bosco Parish, Tondo

Kiosks lined one side of the field and residents presented recipes showcasing their harvest.

“The turnout was impressive. It was a success, ”Carandang said.

Land Reform Secretary John Castriciones, who attended the festival, said residents of Tondo had inspired other local government units in Metro Manila to replicate the garden project in their respective regions.

More than a week after the Harvest Festival, Quezon City launched its own gardening program. The municipal governments of Caloocan and Pasig have followed suit.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Department of Agriculture (DA) has encouraged households to find their place in the sun and grow their own food. And urban communities are starting to see the value of agriculture as the food supply continues to decline.

One less community in grocery stores and public markets can mean fewer people contract the coronavirus – and planting vegetables is cheaper than buying them.

And, of course, it also helps families escape the high costs of vegetables, some of which have risen by as much as 66% from last month.

Food safety

“We need to promote urban agriculture in the metropolis so that when there is a tightening of the food supply in the provinces, there will also be enough in the urban areas,” said the secretary of agriculture. William Dar. “It’s one of the ways to ensure food security, and also a great source of income. “

Six months after the start of the pandemic, the DA said it had responded to the demand of more than 800,000 people in 13 provincial government units, 409 municipal governments and 23 barangays and schools for free seeds and planting material. .

“I have grown more vegetables in my house since helping here in the parish,” said Funtanares, who, at 62, continues to visit Tondo’s community garden on a daily basis. “We are happy to hear that other cities are learning from our work. Gardening has a lot of benefits.

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