“Urban farm” are two words you do not expect to be associated with poverty stricken Tondo. But on a rooftop in the middle of the district, this is exactly what you can behold.
By Yvette Tan
The hydroponic structures are cylindrical, their surfaces marked by holes from which different plants grow.
This is a project of Urban Greens, a tech company whose urban gardening kits make growing vegetables indoors a snap. They partnered with Bless the Children Foundation, which organizes a program that feeds about 1,500 children in Tondo. “We wanted to set up these urban farm systems on their rooftop for them to grow their own healthy greens. In Tondo, it’s very hard to have access to healthy yet clean food,” says Urban Greens CEO Ralph Becker. “We are anticipating that providing greens to be part of their regular feeding programs will make quite an impact for them.”
But the project is more than just about getting more veg on the children’s plates—it’s designed to help them learn responsibility as well. The older kids, whose ages range from 12 to 18 are encouraged to take ownership of the growth of the towers. “Every day, we ask them to report back to us, to take readings of the nutrients and Ph levels. They do the harvesting, and we go there every two weeks to do our own assessments,” Becker says. “We empower them and teach them how it’s done.”
The results have been optimistic. “When we went back last time, we were quite surprised because the kangkong looked quite small. And then we found that they actually harvested it a couple of days before, and that was great. That means they were just so excited about it that they harvested it and cooked it up. They made it as a part of their meal,” Becker shares. “The kangkong they harvested was already starting to regrow. So from a concept, it’s a complete win.”
Even more encouraging is that the effect off the towers have gone beyond just providing the kids with an extra source of nutrition; it’s encouraged their desire to learn as well. “In the beginning, we put in towers with basil, dill, and mint, and of course like nobody could name any of the plants, but now these kids can identify everything. We could see them taking, eating, and tasting them. We have kids becoming plants specialists. They are getting a gusto and a flavor for this. That’s the most rewarding you can see,” Becker says.
Urban Greens is hoping to be able to help more underprivileged kids in this manner. “What we are looking now is for corporate partners who want to come in as part of their CSR program and sponsor some of the towers that we can then set up on their behalf,” Becker says. “It’s a strong educational and long-term project.”