Square foot urban gardening may be a livelihood for drug users

A SELF-TAUGHT farmer makes a revolution in the agriculture and farming practice using a method of planting crops in a space as small as a square foot.

Honorio Cervantes initiated the square-foot urban gardening method which has caught the attention of national agriculture organizations and farming enthusiasts. The method itself has a reputed potential of bringing bountiful farming in the urban setting.

"The principle around this method is that you organize your crops by segregating them using one square foot divisions in 4x4 feet wooden boxes. With that little space, you could already grow different kinds of crops,” said Cervantes.

“This is very practical especially in households in urban areas where there is little space for growing crops," Cervantes added.

More than this, Cervantes is making a proposal to the local government to make the square-foot organic farming an initiative to be included in the rehabilitation program of drug personalities and dependents in the near term.

The Cervantes Farm in Barangay Pagatpat, this city, started in 2014.

“It started as a hobby,” said Cervantes.

Over the years, he witnessed the problem of malnutrition in most of this city’s urban areas as well as the high prices of vegetables in the market. Cervantes began his research on how to maximize backyard space to use as a farm.

"At first it was such a big vision because I really started out on my own. I realized that if other people can come up with their own projects, I think that I also could in order to help other people out," Cervantes said.

With that vision, Cervantes bought a 300,000-square meter farm lot for P300, 000. He started planting various vegetable crops under the guidance of the book that he considers as his core manual - a book entitle All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.

"When I saw that book, I realized its potential to help out greatly in my project so I bought it and followed it religiously,” said Cervantes.

“The difference is that the book applies the square foot gardening technique in gardening plants whereas I chose to plant vegetables for my project," Cervantes said.

Since then, Cervantes' farm grew to be an agriculturist's wonder because of his innovative way of managing his farm.

Cervantes strictly applies organic methods. His fertilizers and even the water that he uses for his crops are from animal droppings.

His farm produces vegetables such as spinach, upo, okra, radish, cabbage, chili, ube, oregano, alugbati, sitaw within such a small area. He continues to experiment on new crops to grow in his farm such as the onion bulb which he says, can only be planted in Luzon.

It was not long before the Agriculture Training Institute (ATI), an extension office of the Department of Agriculture, discovered his farm and his methods and decided to hire him to give lessons for its Farming Field School on vegetable production every Wednesday.

Cervantes has 30 students in this program. Most of them are indigenous beneficiaries in Northern Mindanao. Cervantes believes that aside from the theories that schools discuss, it is good that these students really get to experience and apply these farming techniques. He also allotted some spaces in his farm for his students to plant on.

"I do think that if we only teach these young people about farming even with small spaces, we are reducing empty stomachs in the society, “Cervantes said.

“As a farmer, I have this movement I call FAITH which means 'Food Always in the Home'. I believe that my project can achieve this with wider dissemination to people." Cervantes added.

Cervantes further discussed that with the application of this farming method, a farmer can have a yield of an estimated cost of P300 per one 4x4 wooden box with 24 one square foot divisions.

He said that a farmer can easily earn thousands with more of these wooden planting boxes. He added that if one will compute it, his kangkong produce can give him P16, 800 in the span of only 19 to 22 days.

Since he started this method, his farm has been receiving recognition in national agricultural award-giving bodies. One his most notable awards is the 'Agribida ng Bayan Award' in Davao last year. Also, institutes such as the Xavier University College of Agriculture, Bukidnon State University, and the Commission on Higher Education are employing his services to give lectures about his farming technology.

Now, Cervantes goes beyond what he knows in farming. He is studying more about organic soil mixture and is also incorporating his research in his farming methods and lessons.

By 2017, he will make another of his 'Square Foot Urban Garden' in Camiguin.

On the other hand, Cervantes has also proposed that his farming method will be replicated as part of the rehabilitation program for drug dependents while the government has been pushing its active campaign on war on drugs. He said he is willing to be part of the rehabilitation program to teach former drug dependents on how to successfully grow their own square foot urban gardens.

A retired city police director and a barangay kagawad, Cervantes is aware of the inevitable dilemma of drug dependents who have already surrendered. The square foot urban gardening may be a venue for recovery and reconciliation with one’s self, he noted.

"It is amazing how far this project has come. Agriculture specialists, agriculture majors, and even common farming enthusiasts are now coming to my farm just to have me discuss this method to them,” said Cervantes.

“I sure do hope that this farming practice can make a difference in the society," Cervantes said.
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