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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.