Zamboanga hospital’s urban garden shows that fresh, healthy food can be affordable and accessible


Yvette Tan

In December 2020, the Zamboanga City Medical Center (ZCMC) started planting urban gardens on its premises under its new Medical Center Chief, Dr. Afdal B. Kunting, with the help of Kids Who Farm (KWF), a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching urban gardening for food security.

Measuring about 15-20 square meters each, the urban gardens have three locations: In front of the hospital kitchen, behind the Psychiatry building, and in front of the TB-DOTS clinic, the latter mainly dedicated to papaya trees.

The gardens were constructed from upcycled materials, including containers from the laundry section, sacks from the dietary section, old lumber, and donated plastic containers. Construction officially began in February 2021. They had their first harvest by March.

Even though they cut costs by using upcycled materials, funding, not to mention manpower, remained a challenge. The hospital needed money to purchase materials such as “garden soil, fertilizer, seeds, coco peat and hydroponic solution.” Fortunately, there were many who were willing to help. For example, the Department of Agriculture gave them free seeds, and the Philippine Coconut Authority gave them free cocopeat. 

The gardens are composed of container gardens, which grow herbs and vegetables like pechay, eggplant, okra, tomatoes, string beans, kangkong, basil, garlic chives, and lemongrass; a hydroponics are that grows lettuce, eggplant, and kangkong, and papaya trees planted inside tires for support. It is maintained by gardeners and personnel from the hospital’s dietary section. 

Though small in size, the gardens have made a big impact on the hospital.  The harvests are used in patients’ meals, while excess harvests are brought home by the staff. The hospital also sells lettuce to help with the garden’s upkeep. It’s also altered the mindsets of the hospital staff in a positive way, helping them realize that healthy, fresh, naturally grown vegetables can be affordable and accessible. Dr. Kunting shares, adding that two of the biggest benefits the urban gardens have brought to the hospital are, “healthy food (and) engaged staff.”

Buoyed by such encouraging results, the hospital plans to expand the garden to the roof deck of their new tower and the flower beds in the parking lot. Plans include growing grapes and melons, as well as teaching session on natural and container farming to encourage patients’ guardians to grow their own food at home. 

Dr. Kuntung and the rest of the hospital staff have been very pleased with the hospital’s latest addition. “There are many benefits to having an urban garden,” he says. “Give it a try.”