First of three parts
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, that hasn’t stopped many people from being generous and from wanting to help. For the people featured in this series, “Marianas Strong” is just no catchword. They are living it, the embodiment of what makes the CNMI and the greater Marianas strong.
Victor Cabrera got started off on teaching the basics of farming when he was asked by fellow gardeners for some advice and tips in 2013. Cabrera, who hails from a family of farmers, now teaches “Exploring Agriculture” at Hopwood Middle School.
Cabrera learned the value of responsibility at a young age. “I’ve been farming alongside my parents and siblings since I was very young. My father was a certified horticulturist and farmer. … Farming and being self-sufficient have always been a part of our culture. …Growing up, many of my friends farmed after school and on the weekends and there were many local farmers on island who helped build the farmer’s market co-op,” he said.
“I wanted to bring that back and lower our dependence on imported goods. I want people to get back into the habit of subsistence farming. …I want people to be addicted to producing food. …They don’t have to be self-sufficient but at least supplement some of the produce they buy with things they can grow very easily,” he added.
Besides agriculture, Cabrera is also into apiculture, and he is a willing teacher to anyone who is willing to learn and pursue a hobby in beekeeping.
Since this COVID-19 social distancing thing started, Cabrera and his wife, Angel, have started making YouTube video tutorials called “Saipan Supplemental Gardening,” where they hope to share their knowledge of gardening with others who would like to start their own little garden.”
“Other than YouTube tutorial videos, I don’t really offer classes but I would like those that view our channel or meet with us in person to walk away feeling motivated and ready to try gardening for themselves. I want people to not be afraid of gardening and failing but use those mistakes made as lessons to improve their technique,” he added.
Cabrera and his wife grow almost everything, from herbs and vegetables, to fruits, and they like to experiment with varieties to see what grows best in Saipan’s climate.
“I hope the people we meet and talk to, as well as those who watch our channel, to share what they learned with their family and friends so that more and more people are able to produce more goods. I want them to have a sense of motivation and willingness to try new things in terms of gardening and not be held back by making mistakes,” he said.
“My favorite moments are when people share pictures of the garden they have started on social media because their excitement and pride in their work is something I find priceless and it is better than a pat in the back or a certificate of participation. Knowing and seeing that another family is growing some of their own food is a good start because I know based on personal experience that it will slowly increase in size and I also know that they will end up sharing their produce with family and friends, which means more people will become interested in learning and starting their own gardens,” he added.
Isla Montessori teacher Susan Book, together with her two daughters, Georgia and Jaxon, have sewn hundreds of face masks for the community for free.
“This started as a project with Georgia. She received a sewing machine for Christmas and we hadn’t had time for real lessons yet. We pulled it out and looked up a template for a mask and around the same time, I saw Rep. Sheila Babauta’s post about her idea for Guardian Masks. I immediately reached out to her as we had fabric to donate and we could also sew,” she said.
“In times like these, there is always a feeling of ‘What can we do for others?’ in my family. How can we share with those that are in need? It was ingrained in me from childhood. You always help your neighbors and when you have plenty you share and it was also a way of feeling purposeful. That was what I enjoyed seeing in my daughter. From being sad and upset about the changes happening, she found a purpose, she was helping and, as she lined up the masks she made, she said, ‘I did that,’” she added.
When people wear their handmade masks, Book wants them to think of safety, community, and a feeling of solidarity. “Again, it’s a sense of purpose, a feeling that we are still making a difference in our community even if we are distant. I also love seeing a finished product. … We did a special batch for Saipan Cares for Animals. I had just posted on Facebook that we were sewing and I was made aware that they had posted a need, so we made a special batch for those that are caring for Saipan animals during this time,” she said.
“I just love seeing my daughter’s sense of community and for her to see her efforts as valued. She is almost 10 and is at an age where she will remember and she wants to make a difference. She called her friend the other day wanting specifics for what kind of mask, color, etc. that she could make for her. Could this be the new friendship bracelets?”