Urban farmer teaches fellow youth how to produce food on TikTok

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Bea Suavengco is using TikTok to champion a new narrative for agriculture and encourage young Filipinos to start producing their own food through urban hydroponic farming.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 1) — In a country where agriculture is known to be concentrated in rural areas, a 21-year-old farmer is trying to change that narrative by teaching fellow young Filipinos about urban gardening through what might be the best platform to reach them: TikTok.

Bea Suavengco, also known as “Urban Farmer TV” on TikTok, is an agriculture student specializing in crop production at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

During her free time, she posts videos about hydroponic farming on the social media platform where she has now garnered more than 72,000 followers and at least 773,000 likes.

"I wanted to show people, especially the youth, that agriculture is not about tilling the land, but agriculture now is using modern technologies to produce food," Suavengco said.

‘Growing food in small spaces’

When lockdowns were first imposed during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the national food supply was among the top concerns of the country, especially delivering food to urban areas amid strict restrictions.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar said they were worried about food security in urban areas dependent on food produced in the countryside. "With the supply chain disruptions, urban areas with sparse lands used for agriculture were menaced by the rising costs of food."

This is what Suavengco aims to address. She wanted to let people be aware that they could always have food in their homes without worrying about where to get them.

So in 2020, she built a vertical hydroponic garden in a 5 sqm space on the rooftop of their family home in Taguig where she produced at least 100 pieces of vegetables monthly with only the use of nutrient water.

Suavengco grew several shallow-rooted leafy vegetables, including different varieties of lettuce, bok choy, spinach, pechay and even strawberries, which thrive in environments with low temperature.

Eventually, she began posting videos about her hydroponic garden on the popular short-form video platform TikTok, accumulating an average of 100,000 views for each video and inspiring more and more people to follow her steps.

"I started making videos on TikTok kasi (because) I have this passion to teach people that they can actually grow their own food at home even with small spaces. It's my way to empower people and encourage them to join the movement," she said.

A breadwinner of the family, Suavengco also works as a full-stack plant expert at a US-based hydroponics company.

A farm in the city

As her passion for urban gardening grew, Suavengco envisions building sustainable farms in highly urbanized cities.

In June 2021, she and her friends joined the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) The Young Farmers Challenge Fund, a competitive financial grant assistance program where they won and received a total of ₱400,000 grant to start their innovative project called City-Farm.

Suavengco described City-Farm as a social enterprise in Taguig that aims to provide fresh food for the community. It also serves as a "garden classroom" where people can learn more about urban gardening and hydroponics.

"City-Farm is a community-ran farm. May iba't ibang group na pumupunta (different groups come) to help us manage the farm. At the same time, we provide them, sharing benefits and other incentives for helping us and the farm," Suavengco said.

Suavengco said as of now they are still working on filling City-Farm with more plants before they officially launch it to the public. She also admitted that they are facing challenges in sustaining the farm and marketing their crops.

"I realized, as an agriculture student and team leader, I know how to produce food pero limited ‘yung knowledge ko (but my knowledge is limited) about agriculture entrepreneurship," she added.

Suavengco has recently qualified for the Fulbright Exchange Program, an international educational exchange program sponsored by the US government, where she intends to expand her knowledge in agriculture and entrepreneurship to further develop City-Farm.

Urban farming and the environment

One of the things people could do to help the environment and mitigate the effects of climate change is to start growing their own food, Suavengco stressed.

"Maraming benefits ang urban gardening and growing our own food. One of it is that we could help reduce ‘yung food carbon footprint. Second, kapag maraming green spaces sa city, it actually minimizes pollution as they also act as a natural cooling system," she said.

[Translation: There are many benefits of urban gardening and growing our own food. One of it is that we could help reduce the food carbon footprint. Second, when there are many green spaces in the city, it actually minimizes pollution as they also act as a natural cooling system.]

The DA also lists the abundance of wildlife—such as increase in the number of natural pollinators like bees, birds and bats—as among the benefits of urban farming.

Other benefits of urban farming, according to DA, include providing impoverished communities with a steady and practical supply of food and helping local governments reduce the consequences of disruption in any part of the food value chain.

For Suavengco, saving the environment does not need a drastic change, but a collaborative effort among people.

"Imagine if marami tayong gumagawa nito (urban farming)...‘Yung small acts na ginagawa natin is something that I believe will contribute to the Earth. 'Wag mong isiping 'it's small, walang magagawa sa pag-solve ng climate change' because in reality, meron," she said.

[Translation: Imagine if many of us do this (urban farming)...The small acts we do are something that I believe will contribute to the Earth. Don't think 'it's small, there is nothing that can be done to solve climate change' because in reality, there is.]

To learn more about hydroponic gardening, follow @urbanfarmertv on TikTok.