There are many concerns regarding the age of today’s farmers, as well as the assumption that the youth are not inclined to take on farming as a career.
However, Anna Beatriz Suavengco, the person behind Tik Tok’s Urban Farmer TV, breaks that assumption. As an agriculture student in University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), Suavengco is driven to lead the youth towards choosing agriculture as a career.
However, taking an agriculture course isn’t Suavengco’s only contribution to agriculture; She also leads and manages City Farm, a 200 square meter urban farm in Brgy. North Signal, Taguig, where the local youth takes center stage.
Suavengco started City Farm with her two friends, Aissha Cruz and Jerome Sombilon. But as the only one with a background in agriculture, Suavengco is the lead farmer of 30 volunteers from different youth organizations. Altogether, there are over 30 people who farm and tend to their planted lettuce, herbs, and other vegetables.
Little garden growing big
Suavengco’s exposure to farming started early in life.
“I grew up with my grandmother in Mindanao,” Suavengco said in Tagalog. “There, life was simple. We didn’t have a lot, but there was never a time we went hungry because we had a small backyard, a small farm in Mindanao.” That started Suavengco’s passion in agriculture.
Like many others in 2020, Suavengco found herself locked in her home during the Covid-19 community quarantine period. It was then that she decided to make use of her knowledge in hydroponics and turn her home’s five square meter rooftop into an edible garden.
“After a month, that space became an edible garden that had hydroponic lettuce, hydroponic leafy greens,” she said. “And since I thought it was cute and I was happy with how it turned out, I made a Tik Tok about it and uploaded it. But I didn’t expect that it would go viral.”
Suavengco’s Tik Tok video gained over 700,000 views in just two days, and the subsequent Tik Tok videos she made also gained the same level of popularity.
Encouraged by the support and good feedback, Suavengco thought of scaling her small edible garden into something bigger.
In 2022, she formed a team and applied for a grant from the Department of Agriculture. They received P400,000 to start a city farm at Brgy. North Signal, Taguig.
Suavengco and her team gave their new venture a straight-to-the-point name: City Farm. City Farm is a social enterprise that aims to grow green cities around the globe, starting in Metro Manila, Philippines. They are backed by the Department of Agriculture and the Local Government of Taguig.
City Farm is tended by Suavengco, her two co-founders, and 30 volunteers representing their own local youth organizations. The volunteers are representatives from the LGBTQ community, eSports organizations, and more.
This community-run farm focuses on leafy vegetables and herbs. The crops they grow are sold to the local barangays and are well-received. Every harvest, they simply advertise it on Facebook and invite people to come to the farm and harvest their vegetables.
Their best sellers are lettuce and basil. They sell lettuce for P100 per three heads and basil for P80 per 100 grams.
Challenges of a farm in the heart of the city
Farming isn’t easy. Farming in a hot, city climate is even harder.
“The biggest challenge of City Farm is probably the adverse weather,” Suavengco said. “Since it’s located in the city, on a rooftop, it’s so hot. We had to do something to control the environment.”
Since they had limited resources, the best thing they could do was misting. Every afternoon, they spray cold water around the area to hopefully reduce the humidity.
Their second challenge was root rot. Since City Farm is a hydroponics farm, the roots of their plants are submerged in water. “There were times that the [roots] rotted,” she said. To address this, they had to put in preventive measures. “Before we start everything, before we plant we make sure everything is clean. The area has to be [consistently clean] so there would be no build up of bacteria or fungi that could cause the disease.”
That wasn’t the only time that City Farm battled with disease. They also had to deal with leaf spots which spread across all their plants. They used natural fungicides to help control the disease. However, it was a costly battle and the only thing they could do in the end was to “rest” the farm for a while.
Suavengco was quick to respond to every past challenge and continues to do so. Right now, she is addressing the fact that the community running the farm don’t really have in-depth agricultural knowledge.
To help with this, she invests in their training and patiently demonstrates the farming practices needed by the farm. She is currently working on a digital manual to guide incoming volunteers.
Suavengco also admits that there is difficulty maintaining the farm financially. The rising prices of fertilizer and seeds were hitting them hard. “We really have to level up our sales so we can sustain our operations,” she said. She also continuously applies for grants to gain funding for the farm.
As a youth-led farm, the City Farm is open to donations and volunteers willing to help the urban farm.
The Netflix of Gardening Education
Suavengco is heavily invested in City Farm, but she doesn’t forget to upload content on Tik Tok.
She consistently creates and uploads content everyday. She makes a minimum of three Tik Tok videos a day tackling questions her audience has or to simply share quick tips in urban gardening.
Her passion in agriculture education is boundless. Now, she is working towards an extension project of City Farm called the Urban Farmer TV: Netflix of Gardening Education.
“I realized that I want this gardening education to be digital and creative,” Suavengco said.
She is planning to create an online course on urban gardening and farming and establish it at Thinkific, a website for online learning. Her courses will be available worldwide, but her target audience is North Americans interested in sustainable lifestyles and is planning to price it at $9.99 per month.
She’s got it all figured out. The only thing she has to do now is raise funding to incorporate the course in the United States of America (USA), and she’s doing that by currently working full time at a company.
Suavengco plans to price her courses, but she won’t stop being Urban Farming TV on Tik Tok. She is sure to continue providing farming and gardening tips to her Filipino audience.
Big responsibilities for a young farmer
Suavengco is a youth leader full of passion and action, but it doesn’t mean she’s never been overwhelmed.
“At first, I honestly don’t (sic) feel qualified at all,” she admits. “As an agriculture student, I have limited knowledge and skills on business and entrepreneurship, and when you’re running this social enterprise project you need these skills and knowledge.”
“What I did last year, I applied for different programs to help me acquire the things that I need,” she said.
Suavengco was fortunately accepted into the Fullbright Global Undergraduate Exchange Program in the United States. It’s a fully-funded scholarship program from the US Department of State to study at Illinois State University for one semester.
So from August 2022 to December 2022, Suavengco paused City Farm’s operations and flew to the USA to gain the skills she needed. Contrary to her course in UPLB, Suavengco enrolled in business and entrepreneurial courses at Illinois State University.
She was also able to connect with key individuals who provided her insight and ideas on how to spearhead her projects. The program also improved her communication skills to become a better and more effective speaker about her projects.
“I used that opportunity to learn more about business and entrepreneurship in America, which, hopefully, I could use here in the Philippines,” she said. “Now that I’m back, I’m just really so excited and passionate to apply it to the community project and tech startup (online courses) I’m building.”
From a young farmer to another
Suavengco is personally alarmed by the issue of aging farmers with not much of the youth interested in continuing the legacy. This is why she is driven to inspire others of her generation to choose agriculture.
“I believe that we have to work together to champion a new narrative. Agriculture is not just about tilling the land or staying under the scorching sun,” she said as she mentioned that the youth’s perspective on farming is dull and boring.
“[We need to] inspire them and show them that agriculture now is about growing vegetables in a 24-storey vertical farm. Agriculture now is about flying drones to grow crops in a vast land. Agriculture now is about using smart technologies to grow food in a limited space.”
As part of the youth herself, Suavencgco believes in her generation’s potential.
“I believe we all have that power to do something for our community, and it doesn’t have to be big,” said Suavengco. “We can all literally make an impact using the tools and skills that we have right now.”
Photos courtesy of Anna Beatriz Suavengco (City Farm)