IN THE old days, we get many of the things we need in the kitchen from our backyard. When my mother is cooking sinigang, I look for santol, tamarind, or camias in the neighborhood. If it’s tinola, there’s papaya in almost every home and everyone is willing to share. For other ingredients, we have malunggay and pepper leaves in our backyard, and a guava tree for my favorite bulanglang.

During those days, we rarely buy fruits. They are free. Almost every house in the community has fruit-bearing trees like mango, santol, camachilles and duhat. All you need to do is ask. In a big vacant lot in our neighborhood, there were several caimito trees. When they are in season, we feasted on them. Life was so simple then.

In my mother’s hometown in Lawy, Capas, life was even simpler. There’s a river near my aunt’s house that never runs out of hito and bulig. Whenever our relatives visit us in Mabalacat, they would bring these fishes along with vegetables and bananas. The Quitangil River in our barangay in San Francisco, Mabalacat also has fish and snails. We gather some after playing and bathing in the crystal clear water. Nobody gets hungry even if you don’t have much money.

Today, our way of life has drastically changed. Backyard gardens have given way to concrete houses and apartments. Fruit trees were cut down to maximize space. Today, almost everything needed for cooking has to be bought from the supermarket or the sari-sari store. High concrete walls now separate neighbors. Privacy seems to have given way to "Bayanihan."

However, with the lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the importance of backyard gardening was brought to fore. With limited access to markets, lack of transportation, and lack of money to buy food, people resorted to backyard gardening again. To others, it was all they have. Some started late but planted nonetheless. Kind-hearted individuals, like former governor Among Ed Panlilio, gave away vegetable seeds.

It’s sad that young people today have lost interest in gardening and have no basic planting skills. In our elementary and high school days, gardening is part of the curriculum. We do actual soil preparation, planting, cultivation and harvesting of vegetables. Kids today don’t want to get dirty. They prefer to stay in air-conditioned classrooms.

Pandemic or no pandemic, lockdown or no lockdown, it is time to go back to backyard gardening. It’s rainy season so let’s also plant native fruit trees. Not just for practical reasons, but health and safety as well. Commercially sold fruits and vegetables may contain pesticides and other toxic chemicals.

Lack of space in the backyard is no excuse. Used plastic containers can be utilized for planting. Tatang Narsing Canlas of Barangay Dau was able to grow not just vegetables, but also grapes in his roof garden. All it takes is the will and the time to do it.