Friday, 17 March 2000

Going organic
By Gina Mission




How to start a mini-herbal garden, according to Domini Torrevillas

Start with a locally known plant like pandan or tanglad. These are available at local wet markets. Make sure that the bunch you buy still has roots.

Choose a sunny spot in your yard. Loosen up the soil with a spade or with an all-around kitchen knife. Dig holes in the soil and pour water into them, then stick the plants in. Tamp the soil lightly.

Don’t water the plants immediately after planting to prevent the soil from hardening. But do water them every morning thereafter. Avoid "over-watering", though. Look in on them upon coming home from work each day, to check on their progress. Treat them gently and well.

After a few weeks, you can begin to snip off leaves to add flavor to your meals.


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Hooray for tradition: Organic farming, which avoids the use chemical fertilizers and pesticides, is drawing the interest of many Filipinos.

Going organic--that's the way an increasing number of Filipinos are headed. This simply means growing herbs, vegetables and other crops the natural way, without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

.....Organic farming, they call it. By most accounts, it's cheap, it's easy and definitely, healthful because the produce is free from toxic chemicals.

.....Some do it as a hobby, others as a means of livelihood or as a way to have a steady supply of fresh health food. Still others go into it as a momentary diversion from the stresses and pressures of urban living, Whatever the motivation, the lifestyle of a growing number of people has gone "organic".

.....Organic living was the topic last Thursday (March 16) of the third in a series of lectures in celebration of Women’s Month organized by the Sentro ng Manggagawang Pilipina and Quezon City’s Program for Gender and Development. (ProGAD).

....."Learning the many uses of medicinal and edible herbs would help women in many ways,"  ProGAD’s Larraine Abad-Sarmiento said.

.....Actually, organic farming or gardening, including the planting of herbs for medicine, food or food seasoning, is nothing new in this country. It has only been pushed to the background by "modern agriculture," with its heavy dependence on chemical-based farm inputs, which have been found to pose risks to human health.

....."Our great grandmothers were planting and using herbs,'' said writer and farmer Domini Torrevillas, one of the lecturers.

.....Even today, especially in rural areas, common ailments like colds and cough, fever, diarrhea, muscle pains and cuts are still treated with decoctions and poultices made from herbs and other medicinal plants.

.....Herbs are also used to spice up dishes. Lemon grass (tanglad to Filipinos) is used in recipes with chicken and fish, or dishes using coconut milk such as laing and ginataang langka. Pandan leaves are used to lend fragrance to steamed rice or to wrap chicken slices cooked in coconut milk. Coriander (wansuy), onions, garlic, ginger and chives (kuchay) have been in use in Filipino kitchens for a long time.

.....Thanks to the growing awareness about health foods and chemical-free vegetables, people are again taking serious interest in organically grown herbs and vegetables.

.....And the interest doesn't end at the dining table or the medicine cabinet. "There is a growing interest not only in using herbs, but also in growing them," said Torrevillas.

.....To Sarmiento, this trend is very promising, especially when taken in the context of organic farming. "There is a House legislation, which the Department of Agriculture is highly supporting, that promotes the use of organic fertilizer even in rice farming," she said. "But the problem is, local producers can supply only 10 per rent of the agricultural demand for organic fertilizers."

.....Why did traditional farming practices, including organic farming, fade into the background? Because such practices were considered inadequate and thus below standard when measured against "modern agriculture."

.....However, Jeff Palmer, in his book Nitorogen Fixing Agroforestry for Sustainable Soil and Water Conservation, wrote that "modern" farming methods, even though scientifically proven, are often out of reach of the majority of the world’s farmers and can actually cause a decrease in productivity if not used properly.

....."Over-fertilization with some commercially produced nitrogen-based fertilizers may cause negative production in the long-term future due to sterilization of the soil, acidification, etc.," Palmer wrote.

.....Cautionary words like Palmer’s could have spurred the comeback of traditional ways of farming.

.....Because it looks new after being neglected or even forgotten for so long, Sarmiento conceded that there is still a great need to educate people on the practicality and usefulness of organic farming, a view shared by Torrevillas.

.....Torrevillas dispelled the misconception that one has to have a vast tract of land to go into organic herbal gardening. Or that one has to go into it full-time, to the exclusion of other activities.

....."You can grow your own garden," she said. "If you have no land for a garden, you can buy pots to grow herbs in."

.....It isn't true, either, that busy career people cannot do it, she said. "A three square-meter garden would require only 15 minutes of work every day. Even less for herbs-on-pots."

.....All that is needed for organic planting to regain its old glory, she stressed, is a complete re-education of Filipinos in the way they look at farming or gardening, "and a readiness to give that tender-loving-care treatment to your plants."