By Marifi Jara

 “…not in bloody concrete, nothing can grow in concrete.”  – The Constant Gardener (film)

MY fondest memory of my late paternal grandfather, Lolo Cadiong, a GI (genuine Ilocano) school teacher, is his Sunday visits to our home with his bayong full of vegetables harvested from his own garden. I also remember him on Christmas day, during the family gathering, making all of us his grandchildren line up for a gift of a crisp P20 bill per child (I’m not sure if the older kids got more) withdrawn from his pension.

The funny thing is I can’t recall a single item I ever bought from the cash but I vividly remember the malunggay fruits and leaves, the okra, eggplant, and string beans he brought.

In their own retirement years, my father gets teased by my mother about all his effort exerted and time spent waiting to grow vegetables when it is not really expensive to buy them from the market in San Fabian, especially on market day Mondays when there’s a flood of supply. But of course mom gets such a thrill nonetheless when it’s time to harvest, cook and savor their homegrown veggies.

Based on a Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) survey as reported by the National Nutrition Council (, 67.7 percent of Filipino households have vegetables or fruit trees. I don’t quite understand why our food and health officials qualify that number as “only”. I think that is quite an impressive percentage at about 7 homes out every 10 growing greens and fruits, especially considering how the overwhelming mindset is that development=urbanization=concreting.

The FNRI also reports that “Filipinos eat only about 2 servings of vegetables on average or about 110 grams. The vegetable consumption has been declining since 1978 when Filipinos still ate 145 grams per day. The data is alarming considering that low fruit and vegetable intake is among the top 10 selected risk factors for global mortality based on a World Health Organization Report.” Again, I would not think a decline to 110 grams from 145 grams is “alarming”, but let’s take their spin for what it’s worth, which is that the focus of the Nutrition Month celebration this July is promoting vegetable consumption and encouraging backyard gardening in homes, schools, and communities.  “Pagkain ng gulay ugaliin, araw-araw itong ihain!” is the battlecry.

Aside from the program for backyard gardening in public schools (what about the private schools?), there’s now a bill proposed in Congress to make “meatless Mondays” in campuses. It’s a notable proposition (and I can understand the alliteration if that was intended) but why not make it Wednesday, halfway through the week. Starting off school on Mondays with just vegetables on the lunch menu would probably make education less exciting for children who, universally, think veggies are disgusting.

In the communities, perhaps our senior citizen groups could lead backyard gardening by coordinating with different groups: the owners of empty plots for the use of their idle land aside from the available public spaces, the Sangguniang Kabataan for the warm bodies for the actual gardening work and maintenance, and the other barangay officials for the sourcing of seeds and setting up a small market day for the community where the harvest could be traded and the funds set aside for community projects or activities.

I can imagine my Lolo Cadiong giving sage advice: Development does not always have to mean going the way of a concrete jungle. Progress is not just about building, but growing.

(Shameless plug: I have been on the lookout for the longest time in second-hand bookshops for John Le Carré’s novel The Constant Gardener on which the movie with the same title was based. A copy would be a most wonderful gift for my 40th birthday at the end of the year. Wink 🙂

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