Updated: Nov 28, 2022
Text by Anton Miguel De Vera
Images by Anton Miguel De Vera & Bernie De Vera
On a cool summer day, before closing the period of my summer vacation, I was asked to buy Dahon ng Ampalaya (bitter gourd leaves) to go with the Suam na Mais, a Filipino soup dish filled with corn, the ampalaya leaves, and some pork. Not too far from home is a Filipino-owned community farm in Otto-Webergasse, at the corner of Naufahrtgasse, 22nd District of Vienna. Whenever I go to school and back on board the 93A Bus going to Aspernstraße, I'd pass by the Barangay Center farm but I have never really checked out the place myself.
With this opportunity, I decided to water two plants with one hose. Why not interview the people behind the Barangay Center and get some vegetables on the way out? So I met up with Cristina Unlayao, Chairperson of the Barangay Center in Austria. We spoke about the events before founding the Barangay Center, in a mix of Tagalog, German, and English (TaGeLish?).
Cristina Unlayao (far right) and neighbourhood volunteers having an afternoon coffee and snack under the kubo.
Together with her husband and children, Cristina Unlayao migrated to Austria in 1989. Ever since, she has been helping compatriots here in Vienna in whatever way she can with all the knowledge and resources available to her. As a result, Cristina wanted to make a social place for all-Filipinos and locals alike. With like-minded and like-hearted Filipinos, the vision of a social community center for Filipinos crystallized - a social place for all-Filipinos to gather and enjoy each others' company: inter-regional, inter-faith and charity-based.
Founded in 2011, the Barangay Center Philippinisches Gemeinde Zentrum was established with the purpose of creating a social community center for Filipinos and assisting Filipinos-in-need in Austria and in the Philippines.
So how and why did the Barangay Center turn out to be a farm, you may ask?
In 2016, after seeing the vast potential of a community garden for the organization (based on Cristinaʼs experience of starting a family garden with the LoBauer:innen organization) the Barangay Center decided to lease 2,500 sq. meters of land from the umbrella organization Kleine Stadt Farm in Vienna. It painstakingly converted the land with an L-shaped parameter into a community farm filled with typical Filipino crops like okra, kangkong, ampalaya, upo, and many more.
Through word of mouth and social media, it has been able to inspire garden novices as well as experienced ones, families with children, old and young, to support each other and work together. A core group keeps an eye on the garden as a whole, including the division of labor and finances.
There are now around 35 families who see the garden as nourishment for the body, mind and soul.
The Halamanan has a track record of helping other in-need especially for our kababayans in the Philippines. It offers meaningful and fruitful leisure activities on a day-to-day basis with a multicultural "extended family". On top of that, it raises funds through summer festivals, harvest festivals and other events to support self-help projects and post-calamity rebuilding projects such as:
• an extracurricular encounter and nutrition project for children in the slums of the Philippine capital Manila (2015-2018)
• a school program on agriculture and livelihood development for indigenous children in Mindanao who have been displaced from their homes by the government and big corporations (2018-2019)
• a nutritional education and feeding program for the benefit of children in Panay (2019-2021)
• food packs for those affected by Typhoon Odette last December 2021 (and to help rebuild lives, proceeds from the 2022 fundraisers have been earmarked to finance the making of a bangka (boat) with complete equipment like flashlights, boots, and nets.)
The members of the Halamanan community garden are indeed happy that they are doing more than "just" gardening together. They are part of a garden that is helping in many ways!
What's more, the Barangay Center has even more to give in the future, with the participation of younger generations alongside pensioners in developing the Halamanan in the spirit of bayanihan.
From an author's perspective, I think the farm provides a good foundation for Filipinos of all-ages to gather and kwento (to tell stories/to talk to each other) outside the busy city life. A place where you can get closer with nature and find Filipino crops in Austria. The farm itself gives a warm and homey feeling when entering it. It really feels as if you arrived in the Philippines in the middle of the Austrian country-side. I look forward to visiting the farm once again when spring or summer comes around.