Above is a picture of South Central Farm, which was an urban community garden found in Los Angeles, California, before the tenants were evicted to give way to a warehouse. South Central Farm was a place where urban farmers ran a cooperative, a food bank, and a place that ensured the financial and nutritional security of dozens of families. In the wake of relocating squatters/informal settlers post-Ondoy, I think that an urban farming collective is a great idea.
Many social inequalities are manifestations of insecurities. There are insecurities in shelter, food, and opportunities that force many people to migrate to urban centers. Relocating them to distant tenement housing may seem like a good idea, but without providing them the seeds to make their own opportunities, the tenements will be multi-storey equivalents of slums. Yet with an idea like the urban farming collective – or even the Edible Schoolyard – we can provide less-privileged citizens with an avenue to address their own social insecurities, help the environment, and provide opportunities and hope where none seem to exist.
Many squatters are from the provinces. They came to the Metropolis not because they’re too lazy to work the land, but the land they work on is a) not theirs, or b) they don’t have the opportunities or tools to improve their lot in life. The urban farming collective is a hand-up for opportunities, not a handout.
The urban farming collective starts with finding places that can be cultivated. We can start with relocation areas, or we may even try out floating gardens or vertical urban farming platforms that provide a semblance of green to the graying, polluted cityscape. The example of South Central Farm shows us that, at least in the Philippines, there’s no shortage of places to plant and cultivate sustainable crops, considering that our culture is practically dependent on fresh food. Those places can then be equipped with proper irrigation, waste disposal, sewerage, water supplies, and electricity.
Instead of merely relocating squatters, we can set up small community gardens run by collectives and cooperatives. Government provides the seeds and tools which they otherwise cannot provide, and they start farming. Dues to the community and the prices of the lots are paid by selling the fresh or processed produce through small community-run cooperatives run by better-educated folks who don’t have problems racking up numbers. That way, families can afford to send their children to school, to buy basic necessities, and to improve their lots in life.
Proper education should also ensure the survival and profitability of the farm, so that everyone in the collective can be assured of a decent living. Courses like farming and agriculture, when taught with the proper guidance and motivation, can stimulate the younger generation to take up the plow and start farming. Cash crops may be grown, but I like to think that there’s a lot of room here for indigenous crops that not only taste good and are good for the body, but also fetch a good price among consumers who want variable, affordable food choices. If Government won’t step up, then the private sector can donate or lease land for an urban farming collective, provided that the land is tilled, that crops are sold, and that the farms remain productive.
It’s more complicated than that, but at its most basic, this simple illustration hopefully highlights the need for community and collective action to ensure survival. It’s not a handout, but a hand-up to address social inequalities and economic insecurities. The idea can be further improved and polished, and there may be a lot of flaws in it, but this sure beats the idea of merely rounding up squatters and relocating them to congested housing projects that don’t open up the opportunities that we all look for, we all strive for, and we all deserve.
Article XIII of the 1987 Constitution states:
Section 1. The Congress shall give highest priority to the enactment of measures that protect and enhance the right of all the people to human dignity, reduce social, economic, and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good.
To this end, the State shall regulate the acquisition, ownership, use, and disposition of property and its increments.
Section 2. The promotion of social justice shall include the commitment to create economic opportunities based on freedom of initiative and self-reliance.
I guess that when it all comes down to it, policy – especially for the sake of national development – should tie in with the basic precepts of human dignity. The poor, like everyone else, strive for things that we all want to achieve, no matter where we are in the economics of things. By addressing problems the environment, food insecurity and the insecurities in housing and employment, an urban farming collective can get us back on track, and provide every citizen with a fair shot at survival and a better life.