Qubo.ph hopes to encourage city dwellers to grow their own garden, one herb at a time.

By Yvette Tan

If you’re active on social media (and who isn’t nowadays) you’ve probably seen sponsored posts for cute grow-your-own herb kits that comes with, among other things, its own earth-friendly pot.

This is Qubo.ph, the brainchild of friends Trisha Cruz (Head of Sales and Marketing), Mackie Bretaña (Managing Director and Founder), and Lee Ann Canals (OIC for Research and Development).

The three UP graduates have day jobs that all relate to green spaces. Trisha is an architect, Mackie is a landscape architect, and Leeann is an educator and farmer. All three have a passion for incorporating more greenery into urban living.

Qubo.ph started in late 2016 as an experiment. “I’d grown frustrated with the state of our city, with how Metro Manila isn’t adapting fast enough to the challenges of urban degradation,” Mackie says. Tired of architecture’s top-to-bottom approach to problem solving (“Let’s build a big thing to solve this problem”), he decided to take the opposite track and work from the ground up.

“Qubo.ph, being a garden kit, is, in essence, sort of a grassroots approach to our urban degradation challenges. It originally started out as a way to incorporate greenery into the lives, homes, and workplaces of people and starting at the most basic unit of society, which is the individual.”

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Bahay Qubo

Its name comes from—you guessed it—the popular folk song “Bahay Kubo,” which lists all the local vegetables you can grow outside your thatched hut. “We wanted to bring that culture back,” Mackie explains. “Gardening is deeply rooted in our culture and it’s sad to see, especially in the city, that people forget their roots, that we came from that kind of society and in a way, we still are an agrarian society. This is sort of like a modern take on farming.”

The previous years have seen agriculture fall by the wayside, which is quite alarming given the constant growth of the earth’s population. After all, everyone needs to eat. Part of Qubo’s aim is to highlight this in a way that feels personal to the city dweller. “With the farming industry not being given the attention it deserves, I feel like our product has the ability to thrust new light and life into that industry and give it the importance it deserves,” Mackie says. “We brainstormed with how to incorporate nature into the lives of people and we arrived at the conclusion that getting people to take care of their own plants, like a tamagotchi of sorts, is the best way to build that connection between people and nature.”

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Gardening Made Easy

Each kit comes with everything you need to grow your own plant. There’s a coconut fiber pot (which goes by the cute monicker ‘cocopot’), a bag of potting mix, a vial of organic fertilizer, a packet of seeds, a popsicle stick for naming the plant, and an easy-to-follow instruction manual. They also sell accessories like tiny gardening tools for folks who want to get into the spirit of small space gardening.

The team is also proud of its after sales service. They are on hand to answer questions, which are often asked on social media. Each kit also comes with a seed top-up guarantee. “If you have a kit and within two months of getting the kit, it doesn’t sprout, we will send you a replacement vial of seeds, free of charge, so you can try again,” Mackie explains.

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Almost Waste-Free

The team’s goal is to make each Qubo kit as sustainable as possible. For example, the potting mix uses vermicast (AKA “worm poop mixed with other stuff”), a nutrient-rich mixture used by many organic farmers, sourced from a supplier certified by the Organic Certification Center of the Philippines (OCCP).

The cocopot and fertilizer are organic as well. “The cocopot is biodegradable. We’re veering away from plastic pots,” Mackie says. “The nice thing about cocopots also is when you have a fully mature plant, you can easily re-pot it into a much bigger pot or the soil without having to take the plant out of the container.”

The company is also working toward zero-waste packaging, which is a bit of challenge. “Getting to zero waste entails other components that make the kit a lot more expensive but since we want to provide it to people and show them that cost shouldn’t be a hindrance to lead zero waste lives, we’re going to be the ones absorbing that lowering of the margins,” Trisha explains.

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An Herb for Every Skill Level

Qubo currently has 14 varieties divided according to levels: beginner, intermediate, and challenging. Beginners can choose from Genovese basil (“That’s the one you find in your pesto”), Thai basil, arugula, cilantro, dill, marjoram, and oregano. For intermediate gardeners, there are sage, fennel, and thyme. Those up for a challenge have peppermint, parsley, garlic, chives, and rosemary to pick from.

The herbs aren’t just for cooking. “We want to show people how they can use these herbs not only in their food but in their everyday life. You can use peppermint if you have an upset stomach,” Trisha says. “Or fennel, which is one of our popular ones, but people don’t know that it was used as an appetite suppressant before.”

“Sage also has some spiritual qualities to cleanse the space,” Mackie adds. “There are lots of interesting things about all these herbs, vegetables, it’s just a matter of education, really. That’s what we’re trying to push for.”

There are a few factors to consider before growing herbs—these are living things, after all. “It’s better if you have a sunny window. The best situation is if you have a garden outside your house. If you don’t have that, if you have a balcony, the next is if you have a sunny windowsill. You need sunlight to grow these herbs,” Lee Ann says. “That’s a challenge for our customers who live in condominiums or apartments that have small windows. You need to put time and love into it. That’s what we also want them to experience—giving the plant attention, and making sure that it’s healthy, getting the right nutrients, and getting the right amount of water and light.”

The team is currently working to lessen these challenges. “We hope to find five solutions to the challenges of space, of watering, lighting, and help people realize that it’s possible to grow your food inside your house,” Trisha says.

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Positive Reception, But Not Without Challenges

The reception to Qubo has been positive from both individual gardeners and corporations who want to make a green statement. “Our biggest (corporate) clients include Google Philippines, Insular Life, Wavemaker Global,” Trisha says. “It’s nice that those companies are receptive to the idea that instead of giving away mugs and pens, you give something that has added value.”

The kits have been making a difference one-on-one as well. People have been posting their plants on social media, as well as the dishes they’ve made using herbs they’ve grown from Qubo kits.

One customer emailed about how gardening helped her when she was diagnosed with depression. “She bought a kit and went through the whole process of preparing a space for the plant, of sowing the seeds, of watering it everyday. It sort of gave her something to look forward to. In a way, it helped her cope with her depression,” Mackie says. “And even though at the end of that short journey that was ended by a cat (knocking the pot over), she was still super appreciative enough that she even went through the trouble of composing an email to us to explain that because of our product, it made our life a bit more bearable. That’s one of many that motivates us to continue with what we’re doing.”

Still, there are stereotypes to overcome. “Based on our customer demographic to date, it’s mostly 25 to 35-year-old women. There’s sort of a bias that it’s a feminine activity,” Mackie says. “It’s actually practical to have a garden in your home, not only because you can get food from it, it’s also important and essential in value formation. Perception on gardening is against us right now, but we’re hoping to change that.”

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Small Starts, Big Changes

Some studies have cited urban farming as important in fighting climate change [ https://www.ecowatch.com/urban-farming-suzuki-2524555512.html ]. “I realized that not enough landscape architects focus on edible landscapes,” Macki says. “And in the trajectory that human civilization is heading toward with climate change and urban degradation and all of that, I think now, more than ever, solutions like edible landscapes and urban farming are going to be even more relevant in the future.”

On a smaller scale, the act of taking care of a plant has made an impact on not just Qubo’s customers, but its founders as well. “Urban gardening has made me appreciate the food that I eat. You realize how much effort it takes to grow a little basil plant,” Lee Ann says. “You realize how hard it is to grow food and you value the food that gets on your table more. When I see a parsley leaf as a garnish, I’m like, ‘I need to eat you because somebody grew you.’ You appreciate those things and you try not to waste anything because you know how much effort it took to grow it.”

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try your hand at gardening. On the other hand, it makes it all the more imperative you try. “Take the first step. A lot of times, that’s the hardest thing to do,” Trisha says. “Take the first step, open the box, and start growing something.”

Contact:

www.quboph.com

https://www.facebook.com/qubo.ph/