I started with kangkong, then some pechay. That was in 2009. But I wanted to level up and plant my favorite Arugula and Romaine for my salads. So I did the following:
1. My staff, partners and I attended a Natural Farming seminar. Flor Tarriela holds it periodically in her Antipolo farm. The seminar is conducted by couple Andry and Jojo Lim of Davao. I usually post the dates in my FB account and send it by email to friends who ask.
2. We hired a consultant to best plan my little pilot farm. I let him go after a few months as it was getting quite expensive to maintain him. Instead look at our farm and copy our model. Look at other farms.
3. I sent my staff to the full four-day course on Natural Farming and Animal Husbandry and also sent him for a one week practicum course in Negros’ Fresh Start organic farm courtesy of Chin ChinUy.
4. We checked the water supply. Our little farm of 500 square meters needs about two drums of water every day. We instead put a pump and dug a deep well water system. This may be your major expense depending how deep they drill to touch water.
5. Keep a team who can water the plants every day, sow seedlings for continuous production of different vegetables.
Then, we planned on what to sell at our stores and what we loved to eat at home.
I realized we did not want too much mustard leaves, but wanted more pechay. I realized Arugula was the most popular vegetable in our store then. Now, its kale. or kailan or variations of it.
So when people come to the farm to admire what we have done, we tell them it’s doable. It’s not too difficult a task or hobby especially if you love vegetables. We also started to grow herbs like tarragon, and allowed our lemongrass and pandan to spread naturally.
As I traveled around the country, I would take home seedlings of plants or trees we did not have like Pomelo from North Cotabato, Kadyos or Pigeon pea from Negros, and even herbs and grass like “sang-ig” or le¬mon basil which grows wild in Cebu.
When I get the chance to buy heirloom seeds abroad I get different kinds of Kale, Arugula and tomatoes. Or even a Mesclun salad of different herbs. It helps that our elevation is about 500 meters above sea level. We are able to grow many “cool weather varieties”.
The challenges are many: Super typhoon Glenda came and wiped out every plant we had and almost every coconut tree around the vegetable plots. We had no harvest for almost two months after that but you rise up and go with the flow. You plant again and restore the farm to normalcy. We started to put some greenhouses to at least reduce our risk of being wiped out again.
It is a challenge to have staff who are as “organic” and natural as you are so you need to be a little “hands on” and be there at the site. You cannot run it remotely. You need to know what they are planting and what they harvest. Furthermore, organic uses soil as a medium. If you want the easier “hydroponics” or Aquaponics, that is your choice. We chose to use only soil and only natural inputs or fertilizers.
I remember Senator Kiko Pangilinan’s challenge, too. He planted way too much for his needs and had to find markets for his produce. We were discussing his options, then Glenda the typhoon came. That solved our oversupply problem. I think he has learned to plant less volumes now.
Do not fall prey to commercial goals and compromise your organic and natural philosophy. You must be steadfast in your desire to keep everything natural and organic. Absolutely no chemical fertilizers, and no chemical pesticides.
That is why we want you to start small. Start with what your family can consume and maybe what your family can give away to friends. Do not attempt the big numbers right away. Natural is perishable. Organic is usually smaller than usual and you have to change your expectations about size of your pechay or ampalaya.
The musts are : creating a compost pit for vermiculture and also for domestic waste.
You can produce your own fertilizer. You can produce your own Fermented Plant Juice, too. And all the rotten, damaged or otherwise uglier parts of the vegetables go back to the compost pit. Nothing is wasted. You can buy starter African Night Crawlers from vermicompost suppliers like Pam Henares and Agnes Escalante.
And that is how one can start a small vegetable farm. You can have a look at our neighbors’ farms, too in Amadeo, Cavite. We belong to an association named Amadeo Organic (AMOR) that will soon get its organic certification from the Department of Agriculture (DA). Then we can certify all our produce and all our value-added products, too.
And it all started with wanting to grow our own food.And you can do that, too.
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Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra , Podium, Centris QC mall, Davao City and Cebu City. She also is President of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc.,. She often speaks to corporates, youth and NGOs on social entrepreneurship, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit” Juan. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org