Monique Obligacion and Rocco Mapua didn’t know anything about gardening when they first decided to grow their own food in 2016. And in the heart of Makati, farming isn’t the first activity that comes to mind—after all, space is limited, conditions aren’t ideal, and the array of supermarkets and restaurants normally has us spoiled for choice.
But as the pair grew increasingly concerned with the global climate crisis, they decided to try farming in the city, inspired by the US-based Food is Free Project that encourages people to grow food in their backyards.
“We had zero experience growing anything,” Monique says. “One day, we just went to the hardware store and decided, ‘Let’s buy a pot and some seeds and see if it works!’” Rocco adds.
"If we need other herbs, we can just go back upstairs to pick 'em!" Monique and Rocco's homegrown ingredients are a staple part of their plant-based cooking.
With an old laundry cage on their apartment’s rooftop as a makeshift greenhouse, they began growing edible plants, using tools and seeds gifted to them by friends and family. Within four years, their garden has grown to six times that size, with eggplants, spinach, carrots, and other fresh produce, herbs, and edible flowers. They’ve also started growing oyster mushrooms, using their spare bathroom as a nursery.
Though not (yet) widely practiced in Metro Manila, urban farms have gained attention over the last few years, which started when the Department of Agriculture encouraged the practice in a bid to increase food security in low-income urban communities. And since lockdown measures began in March of 2020, urban farming has never been more relevant as a viable solution. In fact, during those many weeks, the pair have only had to step out for food twice, to purchase what they were unable to grow themselves.
“We felt very secure because we were growing, and continue to grow most of our food,” they shared. “We [also] eat a plant and fungi-based diet so it is a lot easier for us to live more sustainably and be more self-reliant.”
As they began gardening, they also created Manila Grows Food, an online resource that provides information on local urban agriculture. Made for city-dwellers who want to learn food gardening, the community grew quickly over the quarantine period.
“We had zero experience growing anything.”
“We noticed a huge spike in membership requests, and a lot of our members became more active in discussions,” they said. “Those who had been lurking in our community finally started working on the gardens they’d been contemplating for the longest time.”
Through Manila Grows Food, Monique and Rocco hope to kickstart a local Food is Free movement that makes clean, fresh produce more accessible to more people, as well as encourage others to lead more eco-conscious lifestyles. Whether it’s through tending to their garden or teaching others how, both Monique and Rocco are happy to do their part to help the cause, and encourage more to do the same through their cooking. Their naked breakfast burritos are a real crowd pleaser, turning even the staunchest carnivores into plant-based believers.
This story was originally published in GRID Vol. 09.