Just as how Filipinos can be seen all over the world, Philippine agriculture isn’t just limited to our country’s borders.
The versatility and adaptability of Filipino farmers and vegetables are proven by an OFW gardener who has an abundant garden at the rooftop of his home in Doha, Qatar.
Forty-four-year-old Michael Forcado is an OFW who has lived in Qatar for almost 15 years. Not only is he a finance manager, but he is also the brain and brawn behind the gardening education page, Vegetable Gardening and More.
Gardener from an early age
From a young age, Forcado has been exposed to gardening. In his childhood, his family moved to San Fernando, Pampanga from Manila.
At a vacant lot near their home, they were able to plant various vegetables such as patola and upo. His grandmother had also been a vegetable vendor, so vegetables had been a constant part of his diet and life since childhood.
“At an early age, I already knew that there was income from vegetables,” Forcado said.
Once he had become an adult, Forcado went to the UAE to establish the finances of his family and worked as a finance manager at a company. But he hasn’t forgotten his love for gardening.
In 2017, Forcado, with his wife and two sons, started a garden in his then home. His house had a backyard, and his family were able to plant and grow malunggay from the limited space. The same year, Forcado also explored hydroponics.
“I started planting because we were fond of vegetables,” Forcado said. “Plus, buying them was expensive.”
Forcado had exposed his sons to gardening, and it had been a bonding activity for them as a family.
Years later, the Forcado family moved to a bigger home. They currently occupy the whole third floor of a rented villa which comes with a roofdeck.
Forcado was determined to turn the 80 square meter roofdeck into a new garden. The roofdeck, of course, didn’t have any soil, so Forcado had to make ways to make the area good for gardening. He continuously gathered soil and compost in order to make a home for his crops.
Qatar has two seasons, which are summer and winter. Forcado chooses what to plant in accordance to the seasons, and at the time of the interview, the summer season was beginning.
“I can grow a lot of vegetables during the winter, like lettuce, pechay, radish, onions, and garlic,” he said.
Aside from what he mentioned, Forcado had also just finished with the cycles of tomatoes, kale, patola, ampalaya, and other vegetables he planted during the winter season. Now that it’s summer, Forcado is planting corn, malunggay, papaya, talbos ng kamote, and other crops.
“But the challenge is the heat,” he said. He added that he is slowly trying to grow more crops indoors.
Forcado has truly maximized the space of his roofdeck to plant as many Philippine vegetables as he can, but he actually had difficulty sourcing these seeds.
As it was a foreign land, seeds of the vegetables we, Filipinos, know and love are not easily found. “There are no kangkong seeds or pechay seeds here, so these had to be taken from the Philippines,” Forcado explained. “Fortunately, there is also a group here in Qatar who share seeds, too.”
Aside from Philippine vegetables, Forcado has also grown local crops of Doha, such as fig trees, jute, molokhia, and more.
Forcado works an eight to five job as a finance manager so his time dedicated to farming is relatively limited, but he still keeps to an everyday garden routine.
“We wake up early in the morning anyway so I take up to an hour to garden in the morning and then another hour after work,” Forcado said.The first thing he does is water the crops, and then check if there are any vegetables good enough to harvest for their breakfast that day. He also inspects the plants to check if there were any insects damaging the plants.
On weekends, which are Fridays and Saturdays in Qatar, he is able to dedicate more hours to monitoring and tending to his crops.
He has two types of gardens: the traditional soil garden and hydroponics.
For his soil garden, Forcado composts their home’s organic waste and purchases dry cow manure to fertilize it. “An initial application is good for one growing cycle,” he said. “If [I am] regrowing, then I apply fertilizer every three weeks.
His hydroponics garden is for kangkong. He applies a commercially made fertilizer blend that is rich in NPK to boost its health and growth. Every harvest, Forcado applies this blend and is able to harvest kangkong every three to four weeks.
But aside from inspecting, monitoring and fertilizing his gardens, Forcado has a special secret to the healthy growth of his crops.
“You have to greet all the plants,” Forcado said. “The secret is that you really take good care of them. TLC so that they can bear much fruit.”
His wife and his sons also have their own roles. His wife cooks the vegetables they harvest, while his sons help him with watering and vlogging.
Vegetable Gardening and More
The same year Forcado started gardening, he also started a Facebook page to document his gardening journey.
“I only started with three followers: my wife and my kids,” Forcado said with a laugh.
He named it Vegetable Gardening and More, and his first ever post was a gallery of his first produce from his garden.
He was able to grow the page by sharing it on his personal accounts and promoted it to his family and friends. He wasn’t just showcasing his produce, but he was also making educational content to guide other gardeners to the correct or better way of urban gardening.
“It was able to grow even bigger when a global gardening group noticed the page. It was a hydroponics tutorial,” he said. His page was also noticed by local media in Qatar, which helped grow his following from Qatar residents.
“The advent of [Facebook] reels also helped it grow,” he said. “It’s because of reels that it was given the opportunity to show ideas in short form videos.” Forcado’s videos even sometimes reach around four million views.
There were a lot of events that helped Forcado’s page grow, and he’s gone from three followers to a whopping 300 thousand. Additionally, despite being in Qatar, Forcado’s biggest audience is from the Philippines. However, he does put in subtitles for his foreign audience.
“The focus [of my page] is sharing of knowledge. Tutorials, how-tos, and mixed in with cooking, which is why [the name] has “and More,” he explained.
Pinoy gardening pride
“I’m really proud that what used to be a vacant rooftop is now a lush garden,” Forcado said. “And to think we’re even in a desert.”
Every time people visit his home, they are amazed by Forcado’s garden and his ability to have grown it in a climate such as Qatar’s.
Forcado is also proud that his garden is not just for his family’s consumption. “It’s not just for us,” he said. “If you need vegetables, then you can come. I’m happy to know that we are able to share these vegetables.”
Forcado started a Facebook page to document his gardening journey in a foreign land, but now he uses his growing online presence as a way to encourage other Filipinos to start their own.
“Wherever we are, we, Filipinos, will always find a way,” Forcado said. “If we want to plant, then we can do it anywhere.”
Photos courtesy of Michael Forcado (Vegetable Gardening and More)