Hunger among Filipino people has risen largely since the start of the pandemic. That’s why many have explored planting and farming more, even our fellow Filipinos situated in urban areas. In fact, a priest from Caloocan City, Fr. Eduardo “Ponpon” Vasquez Jr., encourages and pushes planting or urban farming in his community to provide food for the people, which can later on result in food sufficiency in every home. Fr. Ponpon is the rector and parish priest of the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace. He originally came from Camarines Sur where agriculture has been their main source of livelihood. In fact, his mom was the one who taught him how to plant rice.
Fr. Ponpon shared that this is the first time in Philippine church history to have a demo farming programs approved by the Department of Agriculture. He took Iba ‘Yan host Angel Locsin on a tour around their demo farm. The first area they visited was the Aquaponics zone, which is a combination of growing huge fish and planting without soil. It has 700 fingerlings of tilapia fish and lettuce, which is fertilized by the fish poop. People in the community donate recyclable materials, such as egg trays and biscuit containers which can serve as pots for the plants.
Fr. Ponpon shared that he was asssigned for two years in South Cotabato where he shared his knowledge about organic farming at a learning site called the Oblate Galilee Farm.
He did the same thing when he was transferred to a parish church in Caloocan. The vegetables they got after the first time they harvested were given to the frontliners in the community who gave those vegetables to the homeless people. Later on, when they were harvesting more vegetables, they decided to give it to the street children and the people. They started their feeding with 60 beneficiaries until the number of people they helped grew to 500.
Fr. Ponpon has definitely helped many of his parishioners by teaching urban gardening. One of the people he helped was Vilma Aguillon, a single mother. She shared one of the most difficult phases of her life was when her husband passed away. She didn’t know what to do as her husband was the only one working for their family during that time. More importantly, she needed to earn money to provide for the college education of her son. That is why she decided to sell merienda food like kakanin, puto cheese, and suman. And because of Ate Vilma’s hard work and persistence, her son was able to finish college. Through Father Ponpon’s urban gardening seminars, she learned how to plant different kinds of vegetables and how to make organic fertilizers as well. To give back to Father Ponpon, Ate Vilma decided to distribute seeds to her neighbors and also share her knowledge about urban gardening to them.
The Iba Yan team gave her a free eye check-up and brand new eyeglasses from the Asian Eye Institute. Ate Vilma also received relaxing foam, which she can use while resting, a ligtas bag, a tablet and a pocket Wi-Fi for her children’s online classes. To support her business of selling merienda, Iba ‘Yan team also gave her a business starter package, which comprises of baking and cooking tools and different ingredients for the snacks she will sell.
Sixteen-year-old McEmil Tatel, another student of Fr. Ponpon, shared he would always watch the farming priest every time he gives lessons on urban gardening. McEmil shared that he first learned how to plant sili and pechay. Since the start of the online and modular mode of schooling, he has been experiencing difficulties in keeping up with his studies as he doesn’t have a gadget that can help him in studying. Aside from this, his family has also been greatly challenged since the start of the pandemic. The income of his father from his trade as a tricycle driver isn’t enough for their family’s everyday expenses. His sick brother hasn’t been even checked up, therefore they still don’t know what the real illness of his younger brother is. With all of the family and personal problems of McEmil, he couldn’t help but try to commit suicide during the lowest point of his life. But what stopped him was the love and care he has for his family. Moreover, he felt the love that God and the people around him have for him. And Father Ponpon was the one who made him realize that.
Iba ‘Yan gave his brother free medical check-up, courtesy of ABS-CBN Integrated News and Current Affairs. McEmil also received groceries, sacks of rice, ligtas bags, a tablet and a pocket Wi-Fi for his online classes, and a small business package for his parents.
Lastly, to help Fr. Ponpon with his urban gardening project, Iba ‘Yan provided more plant seeds from the Bureau of Plant Industry of the Department of Agriculture and Bantay Kalikasan of ABS-CBN Foundation. The team also gave Fr. Ponpon more gardening tools, supplies and groceries for their feeding program, and 200 relief goods from Sagip Kapamilya. Last but not the least, the barangay captain showed Fr. Ponpon the community garden that was created through the help also of JP Albao of Juan’s Garden & Landscaping Services. Their community was also given 100 urban agriculture starter kits from the Agricultural Training Institute, gardening tools and recyclable bottles, and more seeds, which came from the Department of Agriculture.
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