May 052010

Last week, we introduced vertical gardening to the women of Pulang Lupa. Vertical gardening is the growing of plants  in an upright five foot metal-plastic cylinder that is filled with soil and an irrigation tube. Plants grow out the sides of the cylinder, thereby maximizing space and bypassing the mercury-contaminated soil found in Pulang Lupa. It was developed by Philippe Girardeau and the local community of Boayan Island in the north of Palawan. (To read more about vertical gardens, see Marcus’s earlier blog entry) We were all a bit nervous about how the sessions would go and we wondered, “Will the women in Pulang Lupa really be interested in vertical gardens?” Will they listen to our explanation and want to have their own vertical gardens?”

We had planned to introduce the vertical gardens to the Wednesday group early in the week, but we had to cancel that session because of really hard rain. By Friday though, the weather had cleared and we headed to Pulang Lupa with our demonstration vertical garden ready. By the time we started the session, there were 11 mothers present. I introduced them to Marcus and Leonar, the two people who have been constructing and experimenting with the vertical gardens. Marcus and I started teaching the women about the vertical gardens by explaining some basic information about how the gardens work. A few of the moms were listening but I noticed that some of the women didn’t seem all that interested.

We just kept going and started telling them about the compost and rice hull charcoal that makes the soil extra fertile I listed the best plants that can be grown in the towers (mostly leafy greens but tomatoes and beans as well). I also explained the vitamins and minerals contained in the vegetables that can be grown easily in the vertical gardens. I noticed more of the mothers listening at that point, especially when we explained the advantages of vertical gardens, such as needing less water to feed the plants, the mercury-free soil, and the fact that the gardens take up much less space than a plot of land with the equivalent surface area. By this time all the women started asking questions and getting excited.

I was so happy to see the ladies so enthusiastic about and interested in the vertical gardens. After we answered all the questions the women had, we held a raffle, with the prizes being two vertical gardens with free seeds to plant! (We will eventually loan the vertical gardens to every household that wants one in exchange for a small deposit that will be returned to them if they stop using the garden but the ones we raffled off we are giving away for free).

The mothers were so excited! Before we drew names from the raffle, we asked if anyone did not want to be included because they weren’t interested in having a vertical garden. Nobody raised their hands. Before we drew the names of the two winners, I even saw some of the mom’s praying that their name would be the one picked out! When we announced the first winner, the mother who won the raffle had a wonderful smile on her face and she was so excited to get her prize. We drew a second name and that mom was so happy too. We only had time to set one garden up that day so we asked the two winners to decide between the two of them who would get her garden that day, and who would get hers the following week. The first winner didn’t even look at the second one and she just shouted with a smile, “I was the first winner, I should get my garden today!” We all laughed and we could all see how excited she was.

At that point Marcus and Leonar left the group to set up the vertical garden at the first winner’s house. I stayed behind with the moms and as they started eating their merienda (snack), I told them that whoever wants to have a vertical garden should just tell me and Ami early so that we can start preparing their gardens and deliver them as soon as possible. One woman was so eager to get planting that she asked if she could order three gardens! Another mother asked if she could help us make hers so she could have it sooner. It was really great to see how happy they all were and to see their enthusiasm for this new technology that will enable them to grow safe and nutritious vegetables to add to their diets.

This week we will have a vertical gardening session for the Wednesday group. We’ll also raffle two gardens off for that group, and will continue setting up all of the winner’s vertical gardens. I’m so thrilled that there’s so much interest in this project and have a feeling that before too long, most households in this community will have their own vertical gardens to grow nutritious food to feed their families.

To see more photos of the sessions and the set-up, click here.

Roots of Health