14 September 2006

Help wanted: Urban agriculture

HAVING disposed of the bulk of our sectoral planning sessions, I've been taking a close look at the 2000 land use plan of the city, which we need to update, and its equivalent in Google Earth, hoping to find some clues on how to go about this task.

One thing struck me hard, aside from the urban sprawl that defines Naga's spatial development: in spite of the still sizable allocation for agriculture in the land use plan, our agricultural sector has been largely failing. Case in point: the quadrilateral area marked off in white in the plan remains a barren wasteland in the Google Earth satellite picture (marked off in yellow). Instead, what one sees is what appears to be some form of development right smack at the middle.

A case of land owners deliberately idling their agricultural landholdings in anticipation of potential windfalls from non-agricultural use? Most probably.

But another possibility is the lack of viable choice: the area is a mostly non-irrigated grassland and cannot be planted to palay, unlike others which are set in deeper shades of green which are fed by waters cascading from Mount Isarog.

Can urban agriculture provide the answer? And what can local governments do to make it happen? With no background on agriculture, particularly its urban form, I googled the phrase and it led me to this entry in Wikipedia. But we need something we can see in the flesh. Are there urban agriculture experts in house?


Econblogger said...

Check out this abstract:

Peri-urban vegetable systems

I know Sergei, he's very helpful, you can contact him if you are interested.

Willy B. Prilles, Jr. said...

Thanks for the tip, Roehl. I'll get in touch with Sergei soon.

Joe Padre said...

I live in Anaheim, in southern California, about 12 miles from Disneyland. My small tract house sits on a corner lot of about 5500 square feet. To illustrate the point that the practice of urban agriculture is viable in residential areas, let me give you the inventory of fruit trees, vegetables and ornamental plants I have around the house: 10 malunggay trees, 1 cherimoya, 1 guava, 1 Babcock peach, 1 nectarine, 1 duhat, 2 Washington navel oranges, 1 Satsuma plum, 3 Fuji apples, 2 Satsuma mandarins, 1 hachiya persimmon, 1 calamansi (bears fruit all year), 1 atemoya, 2 Fuyo persimmons, 1 golden delicious apple, 1 jujubi li, 1 Chandler pomelo, 1 gooseberry, 1 chico, 1 Thai mango, 2 litchi, 55 hybrid tea roses, 9 gumamela (hibiscus). On pots: 1 Asian pear, 1 dwarf ylang-ylang, 1 balimbing, 1 katuray, 1 cara-cara pink orange, 2 Satsuma mandarins, 20 Carribean papayas, 1 himbabao (birchflower tree or alukon), 1 Mineola orange, 1 macopa, 1 sapote, 30 banaba, 80 cattleyas, 85 cymbidiums, 3 15-gallon pots of saluyot, okra, 4 cardis. Along the fence: bataw (parda), ampalaya, eggplants, tomatoes, winged beans, string beans (sitaw), 6 banana peppers, 6 jalapeno peppers, 6 habanera peppers, shallot, white camote, purple (yam) camote, patola, squash, upo.

Most of the fruit trees are bearing fruits. (By the way, if you're wondering how I can cram that many trees in my lot, I prune the trees annually to keep them within manageable sizes.)

As you can see, there is something to harvest all year round, including during the winter months which, fortunately, are not really that cold in California; in fact, the weather here is similar to the weather in most areas in the Philippines.

True, there is hardly a vacant space in the back but the temperature there especially during the hot summer days is simply more pleasant than without the green clutter. The discreetly spaced balimbing, Washington navel orange, chico, mango and katuray and the 55 roses and gumamelas in the front make for a pleasant head-turner.

Even as mine could be categorized as "extremely intensive urban agriculture", the point is urban agriculture in some form or another is viable to satisfy some of the vegetable and fruit requirements of urban life. Aside from the obvious impact of the harvest on the grocery budget, the freshly picked fruits that ripen on the tree and the veggies are simply deeelicious! And watching the plants grow and the fruits develop and ripen is therapeutic.

Willy B. Prilles, Jr. said...

Wow! And all that on a 512 sq meter (I had to convert it, using Google, and round it off to have an idea) property. Just imagine what it can do to Naga if even 10% of our 35 sq km agricultural lands can implement some form of urban agriculture.

I am interested to know the motivation behind the effort: it is purely personal, or are there government programs encouraging it, or incentives from elsewherethat made you decide to pursue it?

By the way, we have a colleague here (Benjamin, Jr aka Dune) who heads our EDP and is also a Padre? Any relations? Sometime in Dec 2004, our group spent an afternoon at the free zones of Disneyland after visiting the Garden Grove School District in the morning. So I have a little idea of how the environs look like.

Joe Padre said...

Some of the Filipinos I know probably have a holiday profiling or stereotyping me: I am an Ilocano and, therefore, cheap--that's why I grow my own fruits and vegetables and flowers to skimp on the money I would otherwise have to shell out to buy these things at the store.

My motivation is not even that of the mythical "green thumb" variety. Rather, it is three-fold:

(1) The satisfaction one gets to be able to harvest really fresh fruits or vegetables without the feeling of uncertainty as to whether or not they are sprayed with health-altering chemicals. Besides, the fruits that ripen full-term on the tree are sweeter and the freshly picked veggies cook more quickly and taste much better.

(2) To me--and this is patently dangerous as an addiction--it is a challenge to be able to grow these plants and watch them yield something either one can eat or appreciate esthetically. At first, the challenge was in being able to grow native tropical fruit trees from the Philippines in this environment which is less hospitable to tropical plants. Believe me, I bought mangosteen and lanzones from a Hawaiian nursery via the Internet but was disappointed because they just don't thrive here: the mangosteen died and the lanzones became a natural dwarf because the humidity is probably inadequate. The caimito (starapple) is still a foot-tall seedling after five summers.

(3) I am what you may call a social-skills-challenged person such that at social gatherings, I simply am incapable of relating or retelling a story with the requisite conflicts, drama, suspense and conflict-resolution elements to contribute to the conversation. To camouflage this inadequacy, I use my plants as props and voila, I can pass for "adequate".

The real, pragmatic reason? It's kinda difficult to justify the money one lavishes on fertilizing, trimming/mowing, watering, de-fungizing, weeding, annual winterizing and soil aeration (and God knows what else you do for) the grass set on those vacant spots of the lot surrounding the house.

Finally, one doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out how to grow one's favorite fruits and vegetables, or ornamental plants. If one needs help at all, the information resource is just a cellphone text-message away.

I sense that you're serious about doing something to start the ball rolling. If I were you, I would start with say, 10 residential owners who have backyards with morning sun exposure. Enlist the help of the local agricultural extension specialist to determine the type of fruit trees and/or vegetables that thrive in the area, resolve any backyard soil issues, and provide some basic orientation on fruit-growing and/or vegetable-growing. Locate a local supplier of seeds or seedlings (I buy my vegetable seeds from an online source specializing in Asian vegetables: Kitazawa Seed Co--www.kitazawaseed.com--after the first crop I save enough seeds for the next planting.)

The first year, you'll probably have to work hard to ensure that the backyard "farming" project succeeds. The succeeding year, you could parley the experiences of these initial 10 residential backyard farms as models, and so on. You are going to build on this momentum until you are able to establish urban agriculture as commonplace household buzz words.

(Left the country more than 35 years ago, and this is not a good reason for losing track of my relations. If Mr. Benjamin Padre came from Bangui, Ilocos Norte, we're probably related.)

sumilang said...

i am from new york. i am looking for banaba seedlings i can start planting indoor, then i'll take them to florida to raise. please help me with contacts i can email to get them. thank you.

Willy B. Prilles, Jr. said...

Hi Sumilang. Sorry for the late reply. I'll forward your request to our city agriculturist and other local enthusiasts who may be able to help.