Filipino Oblates Launch “Project Grace”

By Fr. Eduardo C. Vasquez, Jr., OMI

The acronym G.R.A.C.E. stands for Garden Ready Always for Consumption of Everyone.

This is the name of the project initiated by the Oblates at the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Caloocan City in the Philippines, in response to food scarcity brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and its resulting lockdown.

It was on March 12, 2020, when the Philippine government announced to the public that the whole region would be placed on lockdown for at least 30 days to contain the spread of the Coronavirus. But this 30-day lockdown was extended for many months.

It was this context that gave birth to Project G.R.A.C.E.

Food availability in every home through container gardening is the main goal of the project. In an urban setting the big challenge is the limited space and lack of availability of garden soil. Almost everything in Caloocan City is cemented.

To address this challenge, I made an appeal to people to start planting vegetables in their homes using recycled containers. I also called for donations of scrap containers that I could use for planting.

Many people responded to my appeal. They brought many kinds of containers to the parish such as empty soft drink bottles, egg trays, coffee containers, ice cream containers, old vehicle tires and everything that can be used for planting. One parishioner immediately donated packs of vegetable seeds to be distributed to people who were interested in gardening.

Some people also started to donate funds for the installation of a rainwater reservoir, solar equipment and the construction of a greenhouse in the church compound. Politicians, private citizens and other civic organizations also donated cash and aquaponic facilities. The support was indeed overwhelming.

Many people in their houses and in their village also began to plant vegetables, and this snatched the attention of those in the media. Project G.R.A.C.E. became popular because of the media coverage made by both local and international media outfits.

Within six months, the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace became an urban organic farm model in Caloocan City. The vegetables that can be found in the church compound are spinach, eggplants, okra, moringa, lettuce and other herbal plants. The vegetables are used to feed the hungry on the streets and offered to volunteers who help in the parish feeding program.

Farm animals such as goats, sheep, pigs, ducks, chickens and rabbits are now also being raised in the church compound to make people aware of the interconnectedness of God’s creation. The whole compound of the church is now designed in a way that demonstrates a food ecosystem. The manure of the animals is used as organic fertilizer for vegetables and these vegetables are also used to feed humans and animals.

With the untiring support of the people, Project G.R.A.C.E. will continue to grow and inspire the people to produce their own food and to care for our common home.