Amid skyscrapers, an urban farm sprouts in BGC

The BGC Community farm was constructed in the middle of BGC. (Jerome Sagcal)

The BGC Community farm was constructed in the middle of BGC. (Jerome Sagcal)

The streets of Bonifacio Global City (BGC) are lined with skyscrapers, but take a turn from 5th Avenue into 34th Street and you will find a green patch of land unlike anything else in the business district.

On this corner is the BGC Community Farm, a 1,500 square meter farm right in the middle of this bustling city. This farming project was spearheaded by social entrepreneur Louie Ocampo Gutierrez, president of the Urban Farmers Sustainability Concepts Organization Inc (Urban Farmers).

Rows of planters occupy most of the space on the farm. The largest structure is a greenhouse, which is both a nursery for seedlings as well as a classroom for farming lessons. There is also a vertical farm for edible crops, as well as a row of trellis for climbers and creepers. Before leaving, visitors may check out a farm shop which offers curated tools and items for home gardening.

The greenhouse is dwarfed by BGC skyscrapers. (Jerome Sagcal)

Gardening enthusiasts may take a visit on the farm anytime of the week to volunteer,  learn about farming, or just to unwind and enjoy a glimpse of farm life. Urban Farmers also plan to use the space not just for agriculture, but also to hold workshops on health and wellness.

Prior to the launch of the BGC Community Farm on March 24, 2022, Urban Farmers established their first farm in Bel-Air Village, Makati.

Louie Gutierrez, who is also the founder of jewelry retailer Silverworks, created the Bel-Air farm to help sustain the livelihood of his 500 employees that were displaced due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It started as a private farm, but has since opened for community engagement activities. This move attracted a lot of partners which paved the way for their expansion in BGC.

READ: From jeweler to farmer: Renowned jewelry brand owner farms in the city amid pandemic 

Louie chose BGC as the second farm site because he wanted to attract people from influential companies. He wanted companies to notice the farm and make them realize that urban farming is a viable option for corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects.

Louie said that they need partners because running a farm is no simple task. The only reason they were able to launch a second farm was because of a partnership with Ayala Land. The company lent the BGC property to Urban Farmers after representatives from the company were inspired by the success of the Bel-Air farm. 

Alejandro “Andy” Bana is the head farmer of the BGC Community farm. (Jerome Sagcal)

Things to do in BGC Community Farm

There are plenty of activities to do at BGC Community Farm. There are volunteering sessions every Saturday and Sunday where people could help out on the farm while learning new farming skills. People who are new to farming are encouraged to join as a farmer will guide them throughout the session. 

Skills that will be taught depend on what needs to be done on the farm. This way, volunteers will get to apply their new skills in a meaningful way. Volunteers will be exposed to a wide range of farming activities like soil mixing, composting, transplanting, harvesting, and others.

Volunteering opportunities are available every Saturday and Sunday. (Urban Farmers)

Urban Farmers encourage interested volunteers to register first before going to the farm as slots are limited to ensure social distancing. 

Local residents seeking a space to plant their own crops may consider renting a planter through the “Adopt a Pod” program. Residents pay a monthly subscription to rent a 1 by 1.2 meter planter, which may be used by friends and family.

As most residents will be busy with their jobs, pod owners will get SMS and email notifications about the condition of the plants. As an example, if their plants need additional nutrients, owners will receive a notification stating what fertilizer needs to be applied. This is accomplished through a technology developed by FarmJuan, a farm consultancy firm and one of Urban Farmers’ partners. 

Local residents may rent a planter to maintain their own mini farm. (Jerome Sagcal)

For people who want to help promote the advocacy of urban agriculture, they may want to inquire about joining Urban Farmers. The volunteer group is currently composed of 27 members who help the organization connect with more partners, assist in farming operations, and expand awareness for the project.

Farming in the middle of a city

Louie said that urban farming has a lot of potential for growth. Louie said that there are still a lot of empty spaces in Metro Manila, unlike in other urbanized states such as Hong Kong and Singapore. Louie added that people don’t need to own their own lot to create a farm as they can just grow plants on unused properties. This is how it started from him when he asked the lot owner of the Bel-Air farm — a previously overgrown lot — to convert the land to a farm.

Louie Gutierrez and volunteers of Urban Farmers. From left to right: Nozomi Chiba (MKP, Inc.), Gianne Barile (FarmJuan), Louie Gutierrez, Marian Pacunana (Urban Farmers), Arvi Ubaldo (FarmJuan), Carlo Tansuk (FarmJuan). (Jerome Sagcal)

But there are a lot of complications to farming in the city. Prior to their launch, they actually failed to grow certain plants. Louie thought he could just use the same methods they learned at the Bel-Air farm and apply them on their new site. 

Gianne Barile, an agriculturist from FarmJuan, said that when cultivating a farm in the middle of a city, farmers should consider several factors like the heat tolerance of chosen plants, availability of water on the lot, and land restraints.

Louis added that an additional issue of growing a farm in BGC is that building owners regularly spray pesticides on their properties. This in turn forces pests to retreat towards the farm.

“Maraming (there are a lot of) roadblocks, it’s not a walk in the park,” Louie said to Agriculture Online. “It’s blood, sweat, and tears, but at the end of the day when people appreciate it and get inspired. And then partners start to come in and support the project. It’s like we’re doing something right.” 

Louis added that what drives them to promote urban farming is to make agriculture more mainstream. 

“Ngayong meron plantito, plantita, and community plantry (We have gardening uncles, gardening aunts, and community plantry)— these are all novelties,” Louie said. “But we want things to happen regularly. Hopefully, having a farm like this in the middle of the city, people can always see it. Di lang sya one day, one week (It’s not just for a single day nor week).”

For inquiries, contact Urban Farmers through their Instagram or Facebook page.

Photos by Jerome Sagcal and courtesy of Urban Farmers.

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