By Xandra Bisenio
Green is the combination of blue and yellow. Among the many meanings of blue are open spaces, freedom, and inspiration. Optimism, energy and joy meanwhile are some of the things yellow is said to symbolize. Despite the odds, a mix of these are what IBON researchers saw as communities took the first steps of establishing Tanimang Bayan/Tanimang Pampamayanan (urban gardens as termed by Save San Roque /community farms) in various areas on the outskirts of Metro Manila.
We traversed various terrains and went to different kinds of communities. Common among the poor or lower-income households in the Tanimang Bayan sitios is the desire for an adequate standard of living. Many lack secure housing, have to pay rent, are indebted to ‘land rights’ owners, or are informal settlers. Most homes are made of light or makeshift materials and are located far from the centers where the health facilities, schools, markets and groceries are. Many have to make ends meet especially during the pandemic when jobs are scant or irregular, and earning a living is a bigger challenge. Fathers and mothers and some of their working-age children are mostly contractual construction or warehouse workers, tricycle or pedicab drivers, riders, sari-sari store and food cart vendors, domestic or commercial service personnel, and sellers of assorted merchandise. Some are jobless. Some are persons with disabilities (PWDs). They are hopeful to learn more about urban farming.
The Tanimang Bayan/ Tanimang Pampamayanan are inspired by the victories of Bungkalan or collective land cultivation in various regions across the nation. Farmers’ and farmworkers’ communal actions have yielded not only stronger unity from the collective and principled assertion of the right to till and to make productive especially idle land. Bungkalan has also brought greater harvests and a bargaining point for farmers to sell at better farm-gate prices, compelling middlemen and buyers to make direct purchases of produce at producer-set prices. Some Bungkalans have caught the ire of powers that be and as with other people-powered initiatives, receive various kinds of threats. But Filipino producers persevere, sure that they can prevail with the tangible and moral benefits of collective farming for the community and future generations.
The urban communities look forward to planting vegetables and herbs as a community so they can produce the food that their families need for nourishment. Primarily this is to counter hunger not only in the home but in their own and in other communities. Partly this is also for medicinal and ecological purposes. Life is hard, and even harder with the pandemic prevailing. But they have each other to depend on, and have partners that help with various start-up and medium-term needs: space, seeds and tools, urban farming trainings, documentation and more linkages that bring in knowledge from the farms and connect the small communities to so many others with the same goals.
What land can be cultivated in a mostly urban setting? The possibilities are finite because of land ownership concerns. But informed action wields spaces for cultivation: Some are borne of generosity by religious institutions. Some from negotiation with owners or even government units that empathize with the families and their plight. Some from the community’s assertion or decisiveness over idle spaces – even a front lawn, relocation housings’ flower beds or abounding patches, an office’s rocky 1.5 x 4-meter front, church walls, or alleys lined with soil-filled pet bottles are production spaces.
There is a lot to hurdle. Orientations and unification sessions, trainings, gathering tools and inputs including the maintainance of negotiated space, and taking the first steps are for everyone. As relocatees, struggling families, church groups and as disabled persons, these communities are determined to grow food in the backyard or in shared lots regardless of size. This will not only bring food to the table. In time and with due perseverance, selling and sharing of produce may be possible.
Communities are free to decide what, when, how, and where to produce. It is for them to decide how to go about their work and how to divide and distribute the harvest. There are no fees nor rent to pay, no owners or bosses. The groups agree on their objectives, assess their situation and needs, and discuss and arrive at an action plan together. They divide the work among themselves and look forward to accomplishing their goals together.
These green beginnings add to communities’ sources of vigor and hope. These may be small at the start, but are already big in the community members’ hearts as they look forward to the day of the first harvest and beyond. For some of them, this is also a story of helpful community pantry initiatives evolving into community action for sustainable food production and other livelihood initiatives. They also look forward to the day when they will be productive enough to help other communities, recognizing the bigger, common fight for food security alongside other changes that Filipinos need as a people and as a nation.
Photos also from: Maricar Piedad, Dishan Pilar