I first moved here in 1974 to join my husband, Ruddy, who was in civilian service at AAFB as a maintenance man. I am from Ilocos Sur in the Philippines and come from a long history of farmers. Fields of rice, tobacco, corn, and other crops were her playground as a child.
Since moving here, I have always kept a garden in some form. We were a young immigrant couple trying to make our way, and money was tight and saving it was important. Our first home was a humble quonset hut in Dededo where I started my first garden on Guam. With a modest garden of fresh produce and Ruddy being a skilled spearfisherman, food was never a worry even if finances were.
I worked as a nurse and Ruddy worked maintenance up on base. We eventually were able to buy a home in Dededo, and then land in Yigo where we built our current home and a backyard farm. Every step of the way at every home, we always had a garden. When I retired from nursing to raise our three kids, Shirley, Ruddy Jr., and Norma, I scaled up my gardening even more while being a stay-at-home mom. What started out as a practical hobby in humble beginnings became a source of extra income when we started selling our produce at local various markets, starting in 1979. There was even a time when I was selling 5 days a week as a traveling WIC Farmer.
Nowadays, you can find our produce stand at the Dededo Market every Saturday and Sunday, where we sell our fresh local fruit, veggies, flowers, and ornamentals. When the pandemic happened the family also created a Facebook page to keep in touch with our customers, called The Gulay Garden, a nod to our Filipino farming roots, as “gulay” means vegetable.
I am a smaller backyard farmer, so rather than having only a single or handful of crops, I enjoy having a big variety of things in my garden, even if I lose some economies of scale. It is a lot of extra work tending to so many kinds of plants, but it is so rewarding when I can present so many different options for my customers throughout the year.
Today in my garden, I have fruit trees like sapodilla, eggfruit, soursop, papaya, atis, avocado, tamarind, pomelo, guava, jackfruit, starfruit, starapples, calamansi, different bananas, breadfruit, comanche and more. I love growing greens where you can use multiple parts of the plant: pumpkin, chayote, short beans, bittermelon, sweet potato, different kinds of spinach and more. I also have wingbeans, saluyot, taro, turmeric, local ginger, butterfly peas, katuray flowers. I have many flowers and ornamentals, both for sale and in my personal garden. I also change crops every now and then, so in the past I have grown corn, eggplant, peppers, radish, patola, upo, longbeans, sugarcane, pigeon peas – you name it, I have probably grown it at some point!
I grow because I love that if I need an ingredient, I can just take a few steps to pick it fresh from my garden. Fresh is best, you can really taste how it improves your dish. I can be proud to say that my kids have always loved eating their vegetables, because that is what they grew up with. One of my daughters who lives in the states now always says she misses the garden and the fruits and veggies in it.
But also, farming is in my blood. My parents were farmers and so were their parents and so forth, in the provinces of the Philippines where homes were surrounded by fields.
Earlier this month we observed the third death anniversary of my mom, Felicitas. She came to Guam in 1979 and together with my dad, they also kept a farm and sold at the same markets with me. My mom sold her produce and homemade suman rice cakes all the way up to the day that she couldn’t. She was a hardworking and fierce woman. Even my Dad. I remember him plowing fields with carabao back in the Philippines and he still farms today, so rooted to the earth that he even gardens while barefoot. He turns 96 this year and is very healthy, so he must be doing something right! I farm and garden because of the way I was raised by them, and now my kids have also grown up with the knowledge of working and playing on a farm.