Winnipeg holds Upo Festival in celebration of Filipino vegetables

Winnipeg’s first Upo Festival has plenty of room to grow.

Leila Castro organized the Upo Festival, a celebration of the Filipino culture. For those who don’t know about the festival, Castro says it’s a counterpart to the Rural Manitoba Pumpkin festival.

“It’s a vegetable that’s very common in the Philippines and, just like the pumpkin that can grow to be really big, the upo can grow very long.”

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Upo, or bottle gourd, is a vegetable with a variety of uses other than consumption. A matured upo can be used as a utensil, container and even a musical instrument.

But the term ‘upo’ is a lot more than just something you grow in the Philippines — it’s also a respectful way to say ‘yes,’ according to Castro.

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“Our joke is if kids don’t respectfully say ‘yes,’ we tell them to eat upo so they’ll learn how to respond respectfully.”

Upo wasn’t the only vegetable on display today. A sitaw (SEE-TAU) contest was a main event at the festival.

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Castro says the sitaw, a variety of string beans, can grow over 37 inches long and someone did bring in a sitaw reaching that length.

“The reason for this event is we want to promote wellness in mind and body, especially during the pandemic.”

Castro says the festival is a healthy reminder that you don’t have to sit in your house and wait for the pandemic to end, but you can get out and grow some healthy vegetables right in your backyard.

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“Gardening not only promotes physical and mental wellness but it brings people together.”

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Castro helps manage a social media group with over 51,000 Filipino members in Winnipeg and she says people are offering seedlings to others so anyone can grow ethnic Filipino vegetables.

“The third and fourth generation kids here are only exposed to the vegetables they see at markets. We only have three months to enjoy Filipino vegetables and we want our children to taste part of our culture and hopefully they take on the practice themselves to share with their children.”

Castro says this year’s festival is being well received and she’s “hoping to have an event ten times bigger next year and hopefully by then the pandemic is going to be gone.”

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