The Treetment Project

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“A tree is worth $193,250. A tree living for 50 years will generate about $31,250 worth of oxygen, provide $62,000 worth of air pollution control, control soil erosion and increase soil fertility to the tune of $31,250, recycle $37,500 worth of water and provide a home for animals worth $31,250. This figure does not include the value of fruits, lumber or beauty derived from trees.”
                                                             – Dr. TM Das, University of Calcutta
“Save the planet, one spa treatment at a time.” is the slogan of “The Treetment Project.” Started by Mandala Spa in Boracay Island, Philippines; it is a response to the global call for environmental action and focused on the reforestation of Boracay Island as well as the adjoining town of Malay in Aklan province. Over the last 50 years, 66% of the Philippines’ forest cover has been lost, one of the highest deforestation rates in the world.
The Treetment Project was conceptualized as a corporate pledge of the multi-awarded Mandala Spa, perhaps the best destination spa in the Philippines today. It is a pledge to plant a tree for every treatment and room night booked in Mandala Spa and Villas. The tree would then be planted in government-designated and protected areas and cared for by Mandala Staff, with the tree owners given the option to name their tree and given updates on its growth and development.

Dieter Schrottmann, founder of The Treetment Project

Created in June 2009, The Treetment Project is the brainchild of Mandala Spa owner Dieter Schrottmann and meant to connect guests with nature, one tree at a time. It is also meant to inspire people to care for the planet in the same way that they care for themselves through wellness treatments. It has also become Mandala’s statement of commitment to the environmental sustainability of Boracay Island and its nearby forest area.

Miss Earth candidates join The Treetment Project

From the first seedling planted on July 13, 2009 at the Mandala Spa grounds, the project has grown in leaps and bounds with its reforestation initiative. Partnering with the local government of Malay, Aklan, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as well as Boracay Island Water Company, the Treetment Project has to date planted 14, 320 trees in Boracay and the Nabaoy watershed in Aklan, the source of Boracay’s fresh water supply.

Volunteers hike the mountains of Malay, Aklan to plant trees

It has included in its ranks of volunteers government officials, barangay workers, private citizens, staff of project partners and residents of Boracay Island. The project has incidentally also earned an eco-establishment certification for Mandala Spa from TUV Rheinland, a respected German certification body with over 140 years of experience. It currently remains as the only TUV accredited eco-establishment in Boracay Island today.

Treetment Project tree planting activity in Nabaoy

The Treetment Project is a continuing commitment by Mandala Spa to the environment. It will continue to plant trees for as long as guests come for treatments and stay at its villas. It has generated much interest from other sectors and will involve large corporations in the future, all committed to the preservation of the environment and to corporate social responsibility.

Big things come from small beginnings, they say. Forests, too, will sprout from one small but revolutionary idea. An idea to give back to mother nature, an idea to connect luxury to reforestation. An idea with a lifetime of benefits, just one spa treatment at a time.

“For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.” 
                                                                                    – Martin Luther 

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The Farm on a Cliff

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terraced vegetable plots

“If you can dream it, you can do it.”

                               – Walt Disney

Dreaming and visualization are very much part of a farmer’s work. Around four months before this post, I was brought to a tiny piece of land on a rock cliff at the northwestern end of Boracay Island called Yapak. My good friend, who owned this, was looking at creating a sustainable organic garden to supply his family food requirements at home. While it sounded like a great plan, I had given my honest opinion and said this was close to impossible as a project. Boracay, for one, has very high rates for public water as it was coming from the mainland and pumped on an underwater pipe to the island. We were also planning to build on a rocky cliff, quite a challenge to any farmscaper with enough experience in designing farms.

greenhouse on a cliff

I had already made a farm near the beach, another carved out of forest and even some in bare land – this was to be the ultimate farmscaping challenge. My take on the whole thing was it’s next to impossible but certainly doable. I told my friend this can only work with one design, terraced vegetable beds and green houses for the plants. For the water, we

first harvest

would need a rain catching system with a large tank for the dry season in the summer months of the Philippines. It seemed like an incredible project and I actually forgot about the possibilities of this coming to life.

I found myself on the way to Boracay a little over a month later, in a van full of cargo that the owner had ordered. A waste shredding machine, a box full of African Nightcrawler worms, some pineapple suckers, some seedlings and liquid organic fertilizer we made at the farm. I was on my way to relocate to this island I considered my second home, it seemed like I was relocating a farm with me as well.

shredder and anaerobic composting beds

The worms found a comfortable home with lots of food coming from the nearby Material Recovery Facility. The shredder, the seedlings, the suckers and the fertilizer all went good use around the farm. The farm now had 10 vegetable beds, neatly lined along the cliff-side, and some had a greenhouse over it as well. This was mainly for the lettuce we were to produce here, a delicate crop that can only survive protected from heavy rainfall. We also constructed a rain catching system with enough water for a few months use. We had created a cool little farm on a sloping rocky hillside in Boracay Island.

organic lolo rossa

The rest of our open plots are grown to tomato, arugula, basil, spring onions, zucchini, cucumber, sugar beets and radish. We will soon put up a nursery which will have a nice collection of gourmet culinary herbs like sage, marjoram, oregano, thyme, rosemary and mint.

Three months after we had first talked about it, I was harvesting our first crop of arugula from the garden and had it for lunch. The first harvest, as farmers go, is always a time of celebration. It is usually offered to special guests and enjoyed by the family. There were none of them that day. Just me and a friend, munching on some fresh, crispy arugula leaves, sun-dried tomatoes, a tangy dijon vinagrette and some grated parmesan. It was a real cause for celebration, I suppose. When what seemed impossible is done, when what seemed realistic is surpassed and when nature conquers the odds and works its wonders just the same – it is truly a time to celebrate.

sunday harvest

Amanpulo : One Last Call

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amanpulo sunset

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                ~Lao Tzu

It has been a year of coming full circle for me, coming back to where I started. This time, returning to the roots of my island farming career once more – to the tiny island known around the world as “Amanpulo.” This was where “island farming” was first coined, as a fun status update on my Facebook page which I wrote on my first visit here over three years ago. Ironically, I am also writing this from Casita 30 – the same treetop cottage I was given on my first visit here back in 2008. I was still a novice farmer then, and Amanpulo was my first ever project outside of our farm in Negros Island. I had been learning the ropes of organic farming then, having gone back to my home island of Negros after 3 years of living in yet another little piece of paradise called Boracay.

Casita 30

This time around,  I was in Amanpulo with an organic guarantee inspector, to have our little organic garden finally certified – the highlight of over three years of patient work. We were set to become the first island resort in the Philippines to have a certified organic farm. And as I looked back over three years of painstaking work, I gave myself a little tap on my shoulder even as I was out laying on a beach bed overlooking the neighboring island of Manamoc. We had truly created a gem of a garden here and I was mighty proud of it too.

amanpulo organic garden

It was a truly daunting task when we started this garden in 2008. The island had a tiny garden with a few plots, some clayish soil and some puny little plants in it. The island, itself, has no top soil. Essentially a huge sand bank where plants started to grow, Pamalican Island is barren, dry and has a large number of animals and birds roaming freely around it. We started using kitchen waste for our vermicomposting substrate,, mixing it with shredded garden waste which was collected daily. These were put in compost pits to decompose and fed to worms later to create fertilizer. We started to ferment fruit scraps, fish guts and seaweed – all waste products from the kitchens as well as the beach that were being collected everyday.

amanpulo organic garden

Today, the organic garden supplies a good amount of the vegetables the resort consumes regularly. At several of their food outlets, farm-to-plate salads are served to guests straight out of our daily harvest. The garden also grows native herbs that are used for Vietnamese restaurant. The Picnic Grove serves fresh arugula salad for guests as an addition to their ordered pizzas.

fresh arugula salad

When you grow lettuce in a farm with top soil and adequate sunlight, it may seem quite normal and the work of nature. When you do this less than 50 meters from the beach, in a hot and humid tropical island, that would already be close to a miracle. As the French would say, “Tout es possible,” or everything is possible. What we can dream and conceive, we can truly achieve. Even making a certified organic farm in a barren tropical island in the middle of the Sulu Sea. Nature can put on an awesome show, we just need to be creative enough to give it a unique venue.

aman spa

Argonauta : New Home, New Beginning

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boracay sunset and paraw sailboat

“I have wandered all my life, and I have traveled; the difference between the two is this – we wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.”
                                                                                          – Hilaire Belloc

I came full circle last month again, leaving my beloved Farmville in Negros to move back to Boracay Island once more. It was a quick decision made in the most difficult circumstances. The farm website I had built was gaining ground on the net, we were getting more requests for training and consultancy services. There were inquiries from Japan about exporting organic bananas, Malaysians were inviting us to Kota Kinabalu for meetings. Yet, I was totally focused on one thing – coming back to Boracay. Having lived there for three years till 2007, I had always missed my friends , the people who had become my family in the years I was there. Now there were new projects to be done and new opportunities to explore once more. This was to be a new beginning for me, the next chapter of my colorful and exciting life. And Argonauta was to be my new home.

argonauta boracay

Argonauta ( www.argonauta-boracay.com ) is a quaint boutique hotel perched atop the rocky hills of Hagdan in Barangay  Yapak, on the northwestern end of Boracay Island. Built in 2008 and finished in 2010, it has 20 different rooms, apartments and villas – all having a magnificent view of the Tablas Strait and Punta Bunga beach below. Quite a distance from the world-famous White Beach, it was a side of the island I was least familiar with. Yet, it offered me the best of both worlds I have come to love – tranquility, which I had appreciated in over 4 years living at our farm and bustling Boracay nearby, a place I had grown to love as my second home. Still to be formally launched and opened, this was to be my home and also my work place. I am now consultant for the hotel, marketing it to local tour operators and getting it known on the internet.

boracay sunset color show

Argonauta has luxurious surroundings and room settings for individuals, couples, families and big groups. Located in a gated community, it has all the amenities guests can ask for. It has a small cafe/restaurant that can cater t0 your needs, a large roof deck for small parties and gatherings, a mini-bar and a swimming pool. Soon to be certified by TUV Rhineland, a German guarantee body, it combines in its premises the German brand of quality with the world-famous Filipino hospitality to create a distinct brand of service that is personalized to all types of needs.  It is set to be launched soon as a quality brand in the growing number of  hotels in Boracay.

ocean view from argonauta villa

Home, as they say, is where the heart is. And if this is so, the heart shall always know if it is in the right place at the right time. This is what my heart tells me, I am happily  home once again.

Turmeric Traditions

Turmeric Plant

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has been used for over 4,000 years to treat a variety of ailments. It is widely used as a food coloring and gives Indian curry its distinctive flavor and yellow color. It is also used in mustard and to color butter and cheese. Turmeric has been used in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory, to treat digestive and liver problems, skin diseases, and wounds. Curcumin, its active ingredient, is also a powerful antioxidant

In addition, curcumin reduces inflammation by lowering levels of two inflammatory enzymes (called COX-2 and LOX) in the body and stops platelets from clumping together to form blood clots. . Turmeric is considered to have promising results for fighting infections and some cancers, reducing inflammation, and treating digestive problems.

Ayurveda Traditional Medicine

In Ayurvedic practices, turmeric has many medicinal properties and many in South Asia use it as a readily available antiseptic for cuts, burns and bruises. It is also used as an antibacterial agent. It is taken in some Asian countries as a dietary supplement, which allegedly helps with stomach problems and other ailments. It is popularly taken as a tea in Okinawa, Japan. Pakistanis also use it as an anti-inflammatory agent, and remedy for gastrointestinal discomfort associated with irritable bowel syndrome. In Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan, turmeric is applied to a piece of burnt cloth, and placed over a wound to cleanse and stimulate recovery. Indians, in addition to its Ayurvedic properties, use turmeric in a wide variety of creams for all sorts of skin diseases.

I discovered Turmeric as a guinea pig of sorts. My mother was developing a whole line of organic herbal supplement products and I was asked to try this as a cure for gout which had already plagued me for a number of years. Gout, in itself, is hardly curable. It is caused by high uric acid levels in the body which form crystals in your system and these press against your nerves, causing an intense pain that is beyond imagination. Having taken maintenance medicine for this ailment for over 10 years, I had little to lose in trying this medicinal plant and everything to gain. I took Ashitaba and Turmeric capsules daily and was quite surprised at how my body reacted. There is no known cure for gout, only medicine to prevent it or to control its effects. It seems like a miracle, but I have had no gout attacks for almost 2 years now. Life is back to normal for me as well, I am now able to eat what previously were considered as “dangerous” food. Turmeric works effectively with Ashitaba as a colon and liver flush. It excretes any excess uric acid the body cannot process, thus controlling gout by keeping these values at a reasonable level within the body.

I still take Turmeric daily and my blood tests show a normal cholesterol level, and just a slightly elevated uric acid level. But I am free from gout today and what was previously thought as an incurable ailment is now a controlled condition, allowing me to live a normal lifestyle and eat what I wish. Truly a miracle for me, and all borrowed from folkloric traditions in Asia – specifically Ayurveda, an Indian tradition of traditional and alternative medicine. In Sanskrit, Ayurveda means “the complete knowledge for long life.” In western medicine, ayurvedic practices are considered as Complimentary Alternative Medicine (CAM) which is meant for use as a complement rather than a replacement to traditional western medicinal methods.

It is more than that for me and for those who suffer from gout. It is a miracle that enables us to live normally, thanks to Indian tradition and ayurvedic practices. After all, 800 years of civilization can’t possibly be all wrong.

Coming Full Circle: The Boracay Solid Waste System

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” It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness……..”

                                                          – Old Chinese Proverb

Barangay Balabag, Boracay

I recently came full circle, bringing a team of Talisay City employees involved in solid waste management to the Balabag Material Recovery Facility – a project I had helped initiate way back in 2005. I had heard so many good things about this facility, now a national showcase for solid waste management practices in the country. I had not been back for a long time, though, and was overjoyed to see what they had done with the seed we planted long ago. Back in 2005, Boracay had an open dumpsite and no solid waste management system. “Boracay Lives!”, a partnership between the Canadian International Development Agency and the Boracay Chamber of Commerce and Industry built the first structures in this facility in 2006, donated its first beach garbage truck as well as its first shredding and wood chipping machines. It also helped in a massive Information and Education Campaign with Barangay Balabag Captain Glenn Sacapano at the helm of this huge challenge which we started with the odds stacked against us. In the years that followed, this small initiative was eventually supported by the Department of Tourism, Boracay Foundation , Inc. as well as a number of large corporations and has grown in leaps and bounds. Coming back five years later, I was truly amazed at what this facility had now become – a source of pride for Boracay and for the people that had started and supported this project.

Turning Over The First Beach Garbage Truck, 2006

Today, the Barangay Balabag MRF processes the segregated waste from close to one million island visitors each year and over 30,000 island residents. It is also a self-sustaining operation as income from recycled products, compost fertilizers, garden tiles, charcoal brickets and even rosaries from waste

Garden Tiles from Crushed Glass, Residual Plastic and Cement

products maintains salaries for its growing staff and enables them to improve on the faciltiy. The Malay, Aklan local government also recently completed work on its sanitary landfill, enabling the facility to start transporting its residual waste gathered over a five-year span while the landfill was being worked on.

Shredding Biodegradable Market Waste

Compost Biodigesting Machine

Charcoal Brickets from Charcoalized Bamboo

Waste Compacting Machine

Vermicomposting Beds

Rosaries made from Recycled Cigarette Cartons

Glass Crushing Machine

The Boracay solid waste management system has truly come full circle, also in an island that continues to grow in tourist traffic, residents, hotels and waste generated. With its new sanitary landfill in the mainland, it has achieved what almost all municipalities in the Philippines never get to do. It is estimated that only 3% of all municipalities in the Philippines are compliant with Republic Act 9003 on Ecological Solid Waste Management. It is a tribute to the people of Boracay and those who support them that they are part of this small minority today. What started as a seed of an idea from forward-seeing stakeholders years ago is now the backbone of keeping clean and green the Philippines’ premier tourist destination. As Boracay lives, its people continue to ensure its sustainability individually and collectively. Living true to the island’s common slogan, ” For Boracay……….I Will !”

See related Post entitled Boracay Lives!

Exploring the Sulu Sea: One for the Bucket List

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MBCA Isla Hinugtan

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

                                                                                                                                           – Mark Twain

Taking a break from the island farming and organic stuff, I recently joined an adventure trip organized by one of my closest friends to explore this remote part of the Philippines called the Sulu Sea. My Italian friend, who has lived in Boracay for 30 years, is a passionate sailor and explorer. We were sailing buddies from my Boracay days and shared this passion for the sea, among other things in life. On a recent visit to our farm in Negros, we “talked” about a possible trip on his boat for a “few” days, while looking at maps of this place on the internet. We were set to explore the Cuyo Islands, a cluster of around 42 isles with rich marine life, beautiful beaches and quite a bit of history. Ironically, I have been going to North Cuyo for years now tending to a farm in an isolated white sand gem of an island called Pamalican, otherwise known around the world as Amanpulo. Naturally, I always flew to this island from Manila as it was the only way to get there. Or so I thought.

Sunset in Hinugtan

I had never been out at sea for over a day and had never lived on a small boat before, although I was never short of invites. When I lived in Boracay, I was working a  project and could not spare the 4 days one would need for a dive safari. This trip was to be one for the bucket list. Something I’ve always wanted to do but never did before. It turned out to be an awesome five-day experience, something we will still be talking about for years to come.

Day 1

Hinugtan Beach

I reported to our breakfast assembly promptly at 8am, still dazed from the previous night’s party with some island friends for my birthday. I had spent my birthday travelling 9 hours to Boracay from Bacolod to make this trip and it was great to end it with an unplanned gathering of my island family. Our first day turned out to be the shortest boat ride we were to do for the whole trip. We ended up in Hinugtan Beach, my friend’s private beach 45 minutes by boat from Boracay, the boat needed some last minute repairs so we had to stay the night. I was not going to complain, It was a great day  to catch up on my sleep which was the first thing I did when we got there. It was also nice to see the new structures they have built. It is now open for day trips to tourists from the island. And we had this place to ourselves for a whole day, preparing for the long trip early next day. A farmer, a painter, a restaurateur/sailor, an engineer, a mechanic, a cook, a captain and 2 boat helpers. We had an excellent mix of people for this one.

First Class Section

Day 2

Hitting the sea at the break of dawn, we rode the North East winds straight into the direction of Cuyo Island. This was an island I had heard much of, and what I heard was that there was nothing there but good cashew nuts and the best windsurfing spots this side of paradise. What I knew was that it was 12 hours by boat from the nearest port and that didn’t encourage me at all. Not until this trip, at least. It was a 9 hour boat trip that day which brought us to a small island called Cocoro just northeast of Cuyo Island. There were 2 fishing boats and 3 houses with little kids running around the

sunset in Cocoro Island

beach. We decided to dock in this seemingly quiet island for the night, checked out the isolated beach and the curious lava rocks on the farthest end. As the sun set, we started seeing bright lights around the horizon. Fishing boats with nets attracting schools of fish on a moonless night. Then there were fishing boats coming in and out of the area all night, with blinking red and green lights. Think rave party without music and just engines pumping. The highlight of the day was Paolo seeing whale sharks out in the open sea, when i was dozing off at first class.

Cocoro Island, Palawan

Day 3

The plan of the trip was really to trip on the plan. By then, I had realized this was a trip of pure serendipity. We were guided by Google Earth, Windfinder, GPS and nautical maps but the sun really determined our course. We had decided we would not travel at night so at 2 hours to sunset, we

Cuyo Island, Palawan

would search for an island to drop anchor and explore the place, then stay the night. The plan for this day was to go to a beach resort in a place called Quijano in Cuyo Island. As we neared the island , however, we discovered why there was good windsurfing here and naturally, no place to dock. We detoured and went to the town of Cuyo for provisions, gas and water. At this point the plan had changed in the middle of the sea already. Over dinner, my friend Paolo tells me he’s read on the internet about another island called Manamoc in North Cuyo, about 5 hours from the town. He says it was written in this article that this was one of the most beautiful islands in that side of this area. I said I had been to Manamoc a number of times already, it was the island next to Amanpulo. As a consultant for Amanpulo, I worked on their solid waste management system  and did a  seminar in Manamoc once. In fact, I knew most of the people in Manamoc as most of them worked in Amanpulo. I was also familiar with these islands, called the Quiniluban Group, as we had done some environmental impact assessments on some of these neighboring islands. I told him of this huge stretch of white beach in Manamoc where I had been, we were headed there in no time.

Fort Cuyo

Cuyo is a such an interesting island itself. With just about over 20,000 people, it is one of the oldest, most remote and unexploited islands in the country. Home to a fort, which shelters a church and a convent in its high stone walls, constructed during the Spanish period to protect its population from Moro pirates, Cuyo has one of the most ancient forts in the Philippines. Fort Cuyo was constructed and finished in 1680, to protect this town from Moro pirates. The original complex of stone and mortar was a square with four bastions. The present complex, which occupies 1 ha, is a solid rectangular edifice with walls 10 m high and 2 m thick. It has a tall belfry and watchtowers; its canons, which face the sea, are now fired only during town celebrations. It is considered as one of the most ancient and unique forts in the Philippines. Unique in the sense that you can find the church, the convent and the Perpetual Adoration chapel all within the fort. In 1762 one of the British ships that invaded Manila fired at the Cuyo fort but it was not damaged at all. Another fort was started at Lucbuan seven kilometres away on the east side of Cuyo island, but it was never finished. . More than that, the people are genuinely  warm and friendly. In 2005, I hired a woman from Cuyo as our assistant in a project I managed in Boracay. She was one of the most hard-working people I’ve worked with. She also happened to be the neighbor of the tricycle driver so I visited her house. I introduced myself to her mother as she was not around and got a whole sack of bananas and cassava from their own farm as a gift! The woman I hired now teaches at the local university and taking a master’s degree in education. I did see her again for a brief moment just before we departed, naturally catching her by surprise with my presence there.

Sunset in Agutaya Island

After fresh water showers, some good food and new provisions, we ended the day with sunset in Agutaya Island. another beach with a few people and no name.

Day 4

This was going to be an exciting day for everyone. We were headed for Manamoc Island, would do a short stop in Amanpulo and dock in neighbouring Tayay island for the night, just before the long haul back to Boracay. The Manamoc sand bar is indeed one of the most beautiful I have seen. Coming up at low tide, guests of Amanpulo would do picnics here for the afternoon, a speed boat taking them there and a beach umbrella set up together with mats and a picnic basket. We spent some hours exploring the empty stretch of white sand beach as one of our garden workers in Amanpulo, a fisherman on his day off, delivered 3 kilos of red snapper right where we were on the sandbank.

Manamoc Island sand bar

After the red snapper became lunch on board, we were off to Amanpulo. Perhaps one of the most exclusive resorts in the Philippines, they do not allow people to tour their property unless you were guests. By this whole stroke of serendipity, I was a “consultant” and knew the manager personally.

We were allowed to visit but with sunset closing in, soon had to leave for yet another island to dock for the night. You can read more about Amanpulo in other sections of this blog. Our day ended in a tiny  gap with a natural harbor  in between the islands of Concepcion and Tayay, a small uninhabited sandbank. Some fishermen friends contacted by the Amanpulo crew, guided us in and gladly bought some ice for us. You really don’t know how valuable that is until you’ve been out at sea for four days. We were even lucky enough, it was the town fiesta and music was pumping all night. Not that I even noticed after such a long day, but it was good to wake up at 5am  to the Black Eyed Peas’ “I’ve got a feeling….” before the long haul home.

Amanpulo

Day 5

Leaving little Tayay Island for the trip back to Boracay, this was supposed to be our last day at sea. We had the wind forecasted down for the day and the waves were supposed to be smaller. It became

Tayay Island

an 11 hour trip and we did not even reach Boracay! We were going against the wind and just could not go against nature. This time, we probably went for 6 hours with no sight of land. As what seemed to be a boring trip dragged on, we got the best treat of the journey. A family of over 30 dolphins swimming and playing with our boat for over 30 minutes. By now, I was imagining islands over the horizon and dreaming of cheeseburgers when I would doze off. We ended up in the island of Sibay, Antique at sunset to spend another night at sea. No cheeseburgers there at all. Thank God for pasta!

Day 6

The thrill of a voyage is just as intense at departure as it is upon arrival. Never have I been so happy to see Boracay again. Five and a half days at sea, 10 islands and hundreds of kilometers. One awesome voyage. A shower never felt so good in my whole life. One for the books. Check it on the bucket list.

As I parted with my friend Paolo, he gave me a good hug and bid me a safe trip home. I was off to Bacolod the next day and again scheduled for another trip 5 days later. Of all places, back to Amanpulo again to do some work. Sounds a little bit crazy but believe me, it is so much fun! I’ll even do it again!

“We shall not cease from exploration and the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started….and know the place for the first time.”

                                                                                                              – T. S. Eliott

Wormilicious : Podcast on Vermicomposting in the Philippines

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African Nightcrawler

A few months ago, a friend of mine encouraged me to check out this website called LinkedIn. Never having been a big fan of social networking until a few years ago, I was hesitant in immersing myself in yet another virtual community. I did not take long for me to catch on. This seemed like the professional version of that phenomenal network called Facebook. Here on Linked In, though, I came to join discussion groups of people involved in the same industry I was. On the Vermicomposting Network, I met Cassandra Truax, CEO of Wormilicious, a vermicomosting farm in San Antonio, Texas. I got an email from her asking to me to be a guest on her website podcast, specifically to talk about Vermicomposting in the Philippines and our own farm. Arranging a call through Skype, she interviewed me for close 25 minutes where I shared the work I do, the farm I live in and the organic agriculture industry in Negros Island and the Philippines. It was an excellent way of sharing ideas through the use of the internet, I thought it would be worth sharing here too. Please click the link below and open Podcast 11, it should play automatically if things work out well. Happy listening!

http://wormdiaries.organic-raised-bed-gardening.com/category/podcast/

Antonio’s : Organic Farming Evolution

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Around the turn of the century, my parents were constantly travelling around the Philippines teaching vermicomposting and organic farming. As it was, one of their clients constantly took them to Batangas, around a three-hour drive from Manila. And a convenient stop was  Tagaytay, a beautiful city set along the ridge of the world-famous Taal Volcano.

taal volcano

Also in this place was a small organic farm started by a young couple who were close friends and relatives of mine. My parents would often come to visit this farm, share their technology and exchange ideas as the owner, then a new chef, would cook for them in a tent by his garden. They started composting with African Nightcrawlers soon after and evolved into a productive farm producing high-value organic vegetables, a business that is continuously growing to this day.

This farm eventually evolved into what is known today as Manuel Pedro Farms. It supplies organic vegetables and herbs to restaurants and hotels around Manila. They also have free-range eggs and free-range chicken that they sell to specialty stores, specifically to families with special children that need chemical-free diets.. In a recent visit, the owner was getting excited about her organic pigs that were about to give birth in a few days.  Today,  Agnes Escalante is known around organic farming circles as the “Queen of Mezclune,” a reference to the gourmet mixed vegetables she grows out of three farms she now operates around Cavite province. Perhaps the jewel of all that is the original farm in Tagaytay City. Their family now lives there, as well as a thriving restaurant which is  making its mark in the Philippine culinary world.

Antonio's devoted organic vegetable plots

It still sits on that old sloping property in the sleepy barangay of Neogan . An organic farm planted to baby gourmet greens and herbs. This one, though, now simply devoted to supplying only one client. Not just any client, but arguably one of the best restaurants the Philippines has ever seen.  Named after its charismatic chef patron, it is simply called Antonio’s.  Incidentally, it also happens to be ranked number 5 on the 2010 Miele Guide to Asia’s Top 20 restaurants and has been there 3 years running, the only Philippine restaurant on the list last year. Just the next one in a growing list of awards he has garnered throughout its evolution. It would take another page to describe the food he serves, and I would be completely biased because he is one of my closest friends. Dining in Antonio’s is not a meal, it is  an experience. Enough said, you have to try it to believe it. Last year, Tonyboy was judged by his peers as the best chef in the country. An industry honor deserving of a humble gentleman-farmer, who happened to create an organic farm that evolved into the culinary landmark that we see today. Antonio’s. An organic farm fully evolved.

Manuel Pedro Farms, Cavite

Getting Trashed : Farming from Farming Waste

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amanpulo

Most of the attention is often focused on the big name projects I’ve been doing as a farming consultant, all for good reason. Beautiful islands with pristine white beaches are always easier to notice, they also seem to be the most challenging work I get to do. Tropical islands, by nature, are not ideal places for farming. In these places, people are more inclined to live like their ancestors have for years, off the bounty of the sea. Naturally, agriculture is a foreign language to them and usually arouses much curiousity.

Organic farming, more often than not, is even more amazing for them. To grow crops using nothing much but kitchen and garden waste is quite extraordinary, more so in islands in the middle of nowhere where there are no crops to begin with. Still, it uses the same principles, to bring back to nature what came from it in the first place. And using it in a way where high science meets low technology is the essence of organic farming.

 

San Miguel, Iloilo farm site

vermicomposting beds

Organic farming runs in my blood. My parents, both retired corporate executives, had started one of the first organic farms in the Philippines in the 90’s. They also started the first breeding farm for African Nightcrawler Worms in the country and our farm, was and still is the leading training center for this technology today. I also happen to live in this farm, having made it my home since 2008. All I know about farming I learned living here, pure interactive hands-on training. As a trainer, it was only natural for me to eventually evolve into an organic coach. While the high profile resorts get the most attention, I have made other farms in more obsucure areas out of the public limelight. With different conditions and different methods to adopt, they are little success stories that continue to educate me in the possibilities of using varied farming techniques. They are all part of the farming adventure as well, this post is all about these small farms in Panay, an area of vast rice plantations where we recycle agricultural waste to grow vegetable crops.

constructing the nursery

In a little town called San Miguel in the  province of Iloilo, there’s a curious new project we started in October 2010. It’s called  Sunnyvale Eco Farm. Less than a hectare, it’s one of the few organic farms producing high-value salad greens in Iloilo. It is the object of much curiousity in this little town of vast rice plantations and abundant rainfall, mainly because we work only with waste products from these rice farms. We pay people to gather rice straw, something they would burn as standard practice. We also pay people to deliver waste rice hull from the milling process, again something that is given for free and often burned as well. And ironically, we pay people to bag and deliver carabao and cow manure to the farm, something they have never ever heard of. When we were starting to clear land and farmscape the area, people would pass by and ask what we were actually doing there.

four months after breaking ground

Today, Sunnyvale Eco Farm is a small scale organic vegetable farm with big scale possibilities. It supplies a number of restauratns and hotels in Iloilo City but most of its produce is sent to Boracay, ending up in high end hotels like the Shangri-la and Discovery Shores. It seemed not so long ago that we broke bare farm land to make the first plots in this property, it is a fully functioning and productive farm four months later. Just another farmscaping adventure . And lots of surprises. All in a farmer’s day at work.

organic salad greens

Nabaoy River, Malay, Aklan

Nabaoy riverside houses

In the mainland across Boracay is the little known barrio called Nabaoy. A forest reserve with a few rice farms scattered around the lowland areas, it is well known for the river that runs through it. It is the same river that supplies the water for the world-known island called Boracay. Years ago, when the island was enjoying its early growth years, a golf course was constructed in an attempt to bring it to international standards. Lacking a sustainable water source, Boracay could not environmentally sustain its rapid expansion then. It definitely could not sustain a golf course which needed daily watering to maintain it. In a gigantic effort to make the seemingly impossible a reality, an underwater pipeline was constructed to bring in water from the Nabaoy forest reserve to the Boracay. Today, it sustains an island with close to a million tourists coming each year and over 30,000 residents with fresh running water.

farm nursery

Soon after that, Nabaoy attracted island residents longing for more tranquil surroundings away from a booming tourist destination. In a small parcel of land next to the river delta, there is a small organic farm called, simply, Lazy Greens. Started by an entreprising restauranteur eager to produce his own vegetables. Again, it became an object of curiousity as we gathered the agricultural waste around the area for use in the farm. Rice hulls, a waste product of the milling process is charcoalized and used as a soil conditoner. Carabao manure, which was left to decompose everywhere, was collected to be fed to the African Nightcrawlers. And the rice straw that farmers would burn after crops was gathered as food substrate for vermicomposting.

Lazy Greens Farm

Today, Lazy Greens produces arugula, lettuce, parsley, coriander and papayas. All organic and mostly for use in Dos Mestizos (www.dosmestizos.com), the only Spanish restaurant in Boracay and a popular dining spot. It is also used and sold in its newly opened delicatessen, Gusto y Gustos. Whatever excess produce it has, it sells at the Saturday Community Market for local residents to enjoy. High science, low technology. Converting agricultural waste to fertilizer, planting crops fertilized by waste. Just as nature intended it, healthy crops from healthy soil. Small surprises. Big results. Don’t panic, we’re doing it organic.