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P-Patch gardener, Rocel, shares her family heritage of farming and the importance of garlic in Filipino cuisine

In celebration of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month, we are hosting a series of profiles and stories to amplify and honor people, businesses, organizations, and projects connected to the history of Seattle’s AANHPI community.

Rocel, Rainier Vista Sunrise Garden

What is your ethnicity and generation in the United States? 

I am Filipino American. We migrated here. I only have one brother left back home right now. My parents and my two sisters are here, and a lot of relatives-aunties and uncles are all here. It’s like a second home away from home. Actually, it’s sort of become my first home because I’ve been away for over 20 years.  

How long have you/your family been gardening at your P-Patch? 

I have been at the community garden since 2014, although I’ve been gardening all my life! I’m happy to be part of the P-Patch because we don’t have a big yard, so this is an opportunity for me to grow more. And to be with people, to be with the community. I like the social connection and sharing the culture. When we have a potluck, people of all different nationalities come and bring their cooking tools and special food. It’s amazing! The garden is really diverse, and we all share what we are growing. I learn from [other gardeners] and they learn from me too. It’s nice to share your culture and tradition. I’m proud to be Filipino! 

Is there a vegetable/plant you like to grow that connects you to your culture? 

Rocel observing garlic plants in her community garden plot

I haven’t planted my favorite yet this year which is a type of yam, but we only eat the leaves, the shoots, because by the time it grows it’s already winter. It is a vine and a very powerful veggie for Filipinos, and also Chinese, but they have a different name. Regular onions and green onions too, and garlic is one of my favorites. When we cook there is always garlic and onions sautéed, that is the base. Garlic is a favorite in popular Filipino dishes like lumpia, pancit, adobo…you can’t have chicken adobo without garlic! We use pepper leaves in a dish called sinigang. Sinigang is a sour based stew with tamarind and you can eat it with fish or pork or ribs. The pepper leaves are a garnish that adds flavor. We use the green onion for pancit, which is a rice noodle chow mein.   

How does growing food help you maintain a connection to your heritage? 

Farming is the main livelihood back home, especially in the province area where I grew up in Luzon, on the main island. Rice is the main staple and that is where it is mostly produced. My parents own a rice farm, and we also have coffee, coconut, cacao, pineapple at the higher elevations. My father is an agricultural major in entomology. He works for the Department of Agriculture back home. Now he is my consultant for bugs or infestations in my garden. My mom is a dentist but she took care of the orchids on the farm. Oh my, I miss that! I grew up watching them maintain their yard and their farmland with help. Gardening here gives me a connection to my childhood away from home.