Thriving during the El Niño, Prepping for the La Niña

These past months, we kept ourselves busy despite the onslaught of the El Niño phenomenon that was predicted to be one of the worst and longest ever.  And while we say goodbye to drought, we brace ourselves to the upcoming heavy rains of La Niña.

During the first weeks of the year, we prioritized installing the water distribution lines to the fields and gardens before we could plant anything.  With the help of the RDC-Kaduami, our non-government organization partner, we’re able to set up the lines using International Boat Containers (IBCs) for storage, irrigation pipes for distribution and plumbing fixtures including sprinklers.

Unlike the past dry seasons, we were able to plant some crops this year because of the availability of water.  Because we were still observing the first year cycle of our groundwater source, we decided not to plant rice, which requires more water than other crops.  Instead, we planted the fields with legumes such as mung beans, peanuts and bush string beans. We also had some native corns.  In our vegetable gardens, we planted pechay/bok choy, eggplant, lettuce, white radish, tomatoes, long chillies, bitter gourds, okras, patolas, squash, patani, sweet potatoes, yams and some herbs like basil, oregano and rosemary.  And just after a few weeks, we started harvesting.

We worked in the fields and the gardens early mornings and late afternoons.  During the hottest part of the days, we stayed under the shades and built our cob oven, two-burner rocket stove and a cob wall of our semi-outdoor kitchen.  We started this build project in February and finished it in April.

We now bake our own bread and pizza! And we can cook two dishes at a time with only one set of firewood.

While we kept ourselves busy working in the farm, we also had a number of visitors and volunteers these past months.  But the most special was the crew of the show Green Living, a national TV show that features sustainable practices all over the country.  They came and shot a feature on us and what we do.  We had a great time during the shoot. The feature will be aired on June 28 (Tuesday) at 6PM on ANC, to be replayed on Wed (June 29) 1:30am, 2:30pm, Thurs (June 30) 3am, Sun (Jul 3) 9:30am, 9:30pm.

Last May 3, we were invited by the Commission on Audit (CoA) to share our stories during their 117th year anniversary celebration.  We were personally invited by Commissioner Jose Fabia who’s also a certified permaculture designer and a weekend farmer.  According to him, he wanted the commission’s officials and employees to learn permaculture and its advantages.  His dream is for government employees to have an option when they reach retiring age and for more Filipinos to learn to love farming again.  And he sees it through the practice of permaculture.

And now we’re geared towards preparing for the rainy season and the forecasted La Niña these coming months.  The tools are oiled and ready to be used for digging some swales and catchment ponds.  Trees are set to be trimmed off of dead branches, to be chopped and used as firewood.  The clearing of the dead bamboos and clumps has started.  The materials are gathered for securing existing pens and coops and for building new ones.

Although we’re prepping for the rains, we’re also set to grow more food.   The compost materials sitting and brewing for a few months are ready for harvesting.  The tree seedlings slowly growing in bags will be transplanted.  The mature and dried vegetable seeds are set to be planted.  The raised beds and trellises are being repaired and readied for the next batch of veggies.

Here’s to more bountiful harvests for the rest of the year.  We’re praying to the gods and goddesses for everybody to be safe during this rainy season.

Births and Deaths: Celebrating Life

Most people may think that when you’re a farmer your job is to simply grow food. We now realize after a few years of this kind of life that it is just part of the pie and that it is beyond the daily chores of tilling, sowing and taking care of the livestock. The past few weeks have taught us that when you work with nature, celebrating life and accepting deaths makes most of that pie.

The months of April, May and June are our birthday months, April 16 for Cye, May 2 for Ranie and June 15 for me. This year, we decided to celebrate along with Cha, Cye’s sister whose birthday also falls on May.  But we didn’t just want to have a typical party all by ourselves.  We wanted to give more meaning to our special days. We decided to have a children’s party with our neighbors’ kids, something that we didn’t experience when we were young.  And instead of asking our friends for gifts for ourselves, we asked for their pre-loved items that we could give away, like toys, clothes, books, school supplies and then some.  We were surprised to have received a lot, not just used items but some brand new ones.

It took us a few days to sort the gifts we received.  Special thanks to Cha who took time to solicit these items from friends.

We were all excited on the day of the party last May 16. We danced, we played, we ate, we partied! We didn’t just give away gifts to the kids but we were also able to give books, toys and school supplies to the village daycare center.  Even the parents received some gifts. It felt good to have shared with the community especially the kids, all farmers’ kids.

On the same week of our birthday bash, we also celebrated the birthing of our livestock.  Ka Ambing, our goat, gave birth to two kids, a boy and a girl. While Biiktorya, our native pig, gave birth to nine healthy piglets. And just days after, our native hens hatched a total of 27 chicks. Witnessing births first hand and helping give life are simply amazing.  We wouldn’t have done it without our friends in the community who coached us on what to do in assisting the mothers, especially Biiktorya.

You can just imagine how tired we were that week of birthing.

But as we celebrate life, we also mourn the passing of our neighbor and close friend, Zaldy Laroya. He practically helped us kickstart the farm the past three years. He helped build our bamboo hut, mud house, Pinoy banga (ferrocement tanks), pump house among others.  What we loved about Manong Zaldy were his willingness to teach us his skills especially in building with bamboo and his eagerness to learn new things from us.

It was Manong Zaldy who observed, in August of last year, when our bolo bamboos dominant at the farm started to bloom. He told us it’s a rare event and that elders usually say when bamboos flower, “thirst and hunger will follow.”  It made sense to us that time because we were in the middle of the El Niño phenomenon, which was expected to be one of the worst El Niño ever.  Eventually we found out that bamboos live for 40-100+ years and die after blooming.

We are now challenged to harvest the dead bamboos and clear the clumps. But as what permaculture has taught us, problems should be seen as opportunities.  We now see the death of our bamboos as an opportunity to make a part of the forest a “bambooseum” where we can diversify and plant other bamboo species and another part where we can start a food forest. We dedicate this bambooseum project to Manong Zaldy.  He will forever be part of The Pitak Project family.

While I ponder on these events, I put wonderful rich soil in bags and pinch a seed into each while watching seeds earlier sown sprout and grow to become trees. I now see the meaning of life and death in a different perspective.  I know there is a better life for humankind – new beginnings, new economies, new priorities to restore ecological and social health. And if we cannot live to see it, then we will die trying to achieve it.

Water from the Sun

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It’s Day 17 of our crowdfunding campaign “Our Quest for Water” and my eyes are sore. Budoy, one of our farm dogs, is beside me watching my tears while chomping on cherry tomatoes and papaya wondering why I’m not dirty and fetching water. I asked Budoy, “what do you say when you see three holes on the ground?” He just barked. The answer: Well, well, well!

I wish it’s as simple as depositing our humanure in our waterless composting toilet.  But it took us a year to plan a crowdfunding campaign for a solar powered deep well pump system.  After observing the wet and dry season for two years and doing other interventions such as gray water recycling, rainwater harvesting, digging a shallow well, swales and a mini dam, we know we need a deeper well powered by the sun to pump groundwater during the dry spell.

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Our dry fields

Crowdfunding is not easy. A realization comes to mind inspired by the Moneyless Man – “We live in a culture that values belongings more than belonging… Our culture needs to radically change. Which way it goes depends on what we give our precious lives to, and what we support.” To follow his thread, there are two things being crowdfunded in two different platforms. One has $649,199 pledged towards it with a goal of $100,000 with 39 days to go.  The other has $2,351 pledged towards it with a goal of $13,121 with 28 days to go.

One is for a phone app that locks and unlocks your doors wherever you are (that is if you have a home).  This is truly convenient and innovative.

The other is for a solar powered deep well pump for a small permaculture farm to thrive, a farm run by women who are investing in nature and giving back to its community. With

We get inspiration from our plants that despite the lack of water, are blooming and thriving like this young santol (cotton fruit) tree.

We get inspiration from our plants that despite the lack of water, are blooming and thriving like this young santol (cotton fruit) tree.

access to water it needs, it can be a farm that is productive the whole year round and showcase the potent of the sun as energy source. It can be a farm where people of all ages can come during summer to learn to build natural homes, a farm that can be self-reliant and can have a potential to share its surplus.  It can be a farm and a community that can have access to water in the event of drought and a disaster. It can be a farm and an alternative school that aspires to share and learn with others on how to address our needs that doesn’t cost us the earth.

This water from the sun does not cost $100,000 to become a reality, only another $10,770.

So why do I have teary eyes Budoy? Because I realize that this campaign is not just about the water and the well. This is about people and the future we want to build. We now know that our friends, families and whoever they can reach to spread the word will help us dig that well. We continue to have support for the campaign and we’ve gained a lot of new friends and have found many like-minded people and groups around the world. So let’s sleep and rest our weary eyes Budoy .

P.S. Making a pledge is easy and you can do it here.

Inspiring Us Back

Last year was great for us in terms of our exposure to the worldwide web.  We got inspirational feedbacks, insights and messages of support from all over. According to WordPress, our blogsite was viewed 4,300 times in 2014, viewers coming from 80 countries in all.  Most visitors came from the Philippines of course but the United States, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Singapore, Germany, Bangladesh and other countries were not far behind.  Some of our posts were reblogged in other sites including the World Organic News (their site is currently being updated), Toemail and Idealistic Rebel’s Daily View of Favorites.  We were also featured in some blogs like in Bahay Campina and Travel Dive Connect.

We now have almost 7,000 hits and 28 blog followers.  Our Facebook Community Page has reached almost 600 “Likes.” And these first few weeks of 2015, our blogsite has more than 500 new views already.  Our listing in the Worldwide Permaculture Network is getting a lot of “Likes” as well.

Here are some of the feedbacks we got from our viewers and followers:

“Congrats. I’m amazed about what you did in a short time.  We also have future plans to develop a permaculture farm in our property in Polilio Island (Quezon Province, Philippines).  It’s a very remote site so still need to learn a lot to be self-sustainable.  Thank you for your information and keep writing about it!” -Pascal and Marigien Bos-Manlugon (Belgium)

“Congratulations on your successful SRI trial.  I have worked with the SRI team at Cornell since 1999 and now help the company Lotus Foods in California connect with SRI farmers to market rice in the US.  I just wanted to let you know that red and black rice are the healthiest rice, healthier even than brown rice.  Pigmented rice [varieties] have very high antioxidant levels.  I started a bibliography on research related to red and black rice. It’s my prediction that in the future, people will return to eating healthier rice. -Olivia (California, USA)

Aside from inquiries we received, we also got some messages of support since we started the project:

“I just want to say thank you for creating a sustainable way of life model and sharing it with the world through the internet. More power to you!” -Eric (Quezon City, Philippines)

“This is just a short message to let you know how inspired and enthused we are watching you (via your website) developing your wonderful project.  We intend to emulate your endeavour and just as you were before you got started, we have ZERO skills in building and being self-sufficient.  Please pray for us that we may gather the courage and start living the life of our dreams.” -Enver and Lerma (Ireland/Philippines)

“I just saw your site and read the articles and think you guys are doing great!  Your humanure toilet especially made me smile.  I have my own humanure toilet but acceptance is still low (just me), everyone else is a fecophobe at this point.  Anyways, I wish you guys all the best.” -Rommel (Mindanao, Philippines)

And here are some of the messages from those who visited us and volunteered in the farm last year:

“Thank you so much for sharing your bit of paradise with me.  Thank you for the generosity of your time in speaking of your experience but also listening and giving guidance as I contemplate on how to follow in your footsteps.” -Maria (New York City, USA/Batangas, Philippines)

“Visiting your haven of wonders made me think and realize a lot of things. Thank you for your selfless efforts in sharing your vision with us. My short stay made me feel very healthy and gave me peace of mind and tranquility. I will come back to build with you again. The SRI insights are pushing me to convince my family to adopt the method. I wish you all the best.” – Clyde (Hungduan, Ifugao Province, Philippines)

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Clyde and Maria

“I came to visit with a certain expectation of what to see.  I can say that my expectations have been surpassed!  What you are doing here is not just amazing, it’s inspirational.” -Alex (United Kingdom)

“Thank you for welcoming us into your home.  I’ve learned so much about sustainable living.  I’m inspired by your passion and dedication.  I’ve never felt so connected to the earth as I did when we planted rice and cleaned ourselves off in the river.  I’m going to take what I’ve learned and apply it to my life back in the US.” -Ai (San Francisco, California, USA)

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Ai

“I’m very impressed by your visions, dedication and tenacity in not only pursuing your dreams but creating one that is fluid, flexible and that will grow with you literally over time.  Your bravery in leaving behind a former lifestyle is not to be underestimated, and your inspiration to prove that the Philippiines can truly be a sovereign, self-sustaining land for our people is revolutionary in a daily, concrete and tangible way.  As a city girl, comfortable with cars, concrete, traffic and consumer goods, caring for the earth as it cares for us is not something I practice, but now hope to integrate into my urban existence somehow when I return to the US.” -Kristen (San Francisco, California, USA)

“The stories and experiences you’ve shared about The Pitak Project opened my eyes and made me imagine a place like this of my own, somewhere I can live simply and peacefully.  I hope someday, every farmer would replicate the system that you do here, I’m sure no one will get hungry.” -Mariz (Benguet, Philippines)

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Mariz and Kristen

“May The Pitak Project enlighten a lot of people into realizing that self-sustainability is just rght under our feet.” -Cha (Quezon City, Philippines)

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Cha

“You have a significant adobe brick upon the foundation of my house of dreams! I find words to be somewhat inadequate to enunciate and define the golden moments you have shared with me.  The whole experience at the farm, including those preceding the meeting, has bound me to thee.  May our organic advocacy be further strengthened over time, and this shall never be the last visit.” -Jesi (Negros Occidental, Philippines)

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Jesi

Because of our exposure, we were also invited in some speaking engagements to talk about our project in different provinces of the country, including Occidental Mindoro, Bicol, Nueva Ecija, Batanes, La Union, Ilocos Norte and Baguio City.

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Kalikasan (Environment) Youth Leaders’ Congress in Baguio City, organized by the Philippine Information Agency Region 1 and Cordillera Administrative Region. Photo courtesy of Cristina Arzadon.

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Climate Change Advocacy Campaign Media Forum in Currimao, Ilocos Norte organized by the Philippine Information Agency Region 1. Photo courtesy of Joanne Namnama Parrocha Dilim.

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Basic Environment and Tourism Course in Sorsogon, Bicol Province organized by the Blue Water Consultancy.

We are grateful for all the support we are getting. It feels good that we inspire people from all over despite our limitations and struggles. This in return inspires us to strive better in what we do to build a better world. How shall we live? We hope The Pitak Project gives a real and viable answer.#

What we’ve been up to (Part 3): Sowing the Seeds for the Future

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In between mixing mud, tending the animals, making tools, composting, cooking meals, running errands, accommodating visitors and napping, we are also occupied with growing all sorts of plants.  We grow food for us and the livestock, herbal plants, legumes as green manure, and materials for building.  We now have a variety of vegetables, herbs, fruit trees, shrubs, bamboos, cover plants and flowering plants.

A Food Forest and Kitchen Gardens

Food source tops our list of priorities of what plants to grow.  Our goal is to produce our own food and veer from buying as much as we can.  We’ve started to establish our own food forest, an edible forest that works as a natural self-sustaining living forest ecosystem.  It’s a permaculture practice to design a food forest with layers such as the canopies, understoreys, shrubs and bushes, herbs, groundcovers and climbers.

Aside from the already existing fruit trees within the farm like guyabano (soursops), buko (coconut), suha (pomelos), native cherries and bayabas (guavas), we’ve planted more guyabano, mangoes, marang (johey oak), santol (cottonfruit), sampalok (tamarind), rambutan, lanzones (langsat), chico (sapodilla), avocado, duhat (black plum), aratilis (strawberry tree), atis (custard apple), calamansi, chestnuts, kaymito (star apple), langka (jackfruit), dalandan (Philippine orange), bread fruit, some varieties of bananas, papaya, and vines such as passion fruit and grapes.

Banana circles

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A young marang tree and one of our many productive papaya trees

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We’ve made a small kitchen garden, which is a vegetable plot that is near the kitchen for easy access when preparing meals.  We plant it with pechay (bokchoy), bitter gourd, onions, a variety of chillies, black pepper, pandan, mustard, lettuce, French beans and some herbs like oregano, basil, mint and rosemary.  We also have small patches of gardens for other annual plants like turmeric, ginger, eggplant, okra, string beans, corn, patola (luffa/loofah), upo (long melon/calabash gourds), kundol (white gourd melon), string beans, tomatoes, watermelons and pineapples.  And we plant peanuts and mung beans interchangeably with rice.

Green leafy vegetables and a blooming kundol (white gourd melon)

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French beans and string beans

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Our current turmeric garden and last year’s harvests

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We have perennials like malunggay (moringa), red katuray (hummingbird tree), calamansi, dragon fruit, cacao and coffee.  We also have root crops such as sweet potatoes, cassavas and taros. We also have wild vegetables around like saluyot (corchorus), native bitter gourd and singkamas (yam beans).

Malunggay (moringa) and cassava plants

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A salad of red katuray (hummingbird tree) flowers and boiled cassava

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Saluyot (corchorus) and bitter gourd growing wild around the farm

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Aside from these, we’ve discovered adlay (Job’s tears), a tall plant that bears grains.  Filipinos usually use the grains to make beadworks.  It is now being promoted by some non-government organizations as an alternative to rice and corn.  It can also be used as livestock feeds.  A friend gave us some seeds for planting.

Our first batch of adlay plants

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Growing Livestock Feeds 

So far we have a goat, some chickens (native and bantam), a couple of native pigs and ducks.  We only feed them with organic feeds.  Although the chickens and ducks are free range, we still feed them every now and then with corn grits and rice bran, a by-product of rice milling process.  We buy the rice bran from a neighbour for a very cheap price.    The pigs get to enjoy boiled leaves of taro and sweet potato and some vegetable peels.  They also love eating fresh leaves of papaya, banana and ipil-ipil (white leadtree). We also found out that madre de agua (Trichanthera gigantea) is also a good animal fodder especially for goats, ducks and pigs.  We’ve planted some already around the farm.

Friends helping us plant some madre de agua

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Our neighbours taught us to feed the pigs with boiled chopped buga, a yam species, which grows wild in the forested part of our farm.  It can also be consumed by humans and can be prepared as halaya (pudding).  After some research, we found out that buga is indigenous to the Philippines and that it is already a nearly threatened species.  That’s why some local groups of scientists are advocating for its conservation and propagation.  With this information, we are now geared towards planting some buga in our farm.

Plants for Building

We use bamboo for our main building material.  We use it as posts, walls, frames, trellis and livestock housing. We already have a variety of bamboos in our site namely bolo (Gigantochloa levis), bayog (Dendrocalamus) and bikal (Schizostachyum dielsianum).  We’ve planted more bayog because it’s one of the best bamboo species used for posts.  We are planning to plant other bamboos that we can use for building like kawayang tinik (Bambusa blumeana), kawayang kiling (Bambusa vulgaria) and giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus).

We’ve experimented on so many possible ways of using alternative building materials, including using natural paints.  We’ve researched on paint recipes using natural ingredients like starch, flour and linseed oil.  To add color, we tried using workable plant pigments.  We’re able to use the seeds of achuete, which usually used here in the Philippines to add color to some local dishes, and it was a success. The paint came out the shade of yellow-orange.  We’ve already planted a couple of achuete trees a few months ago and they are already blooming.

Young achuete tree already in bloom

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Green Manure

Aside from animal manure, we use green manure as fertilizers.  These are foliage from plants that are nitrogen-rich like legumes.  One of the most common green manure used by Filipino farmers is kakawate or madre de cacao (Gliricidia sepium).  We’ve planted some particularly on the eastern side of the farm to also serve as a living fence to prevent the neighbor’s carabaos from entering our fields.  We also use the kakawate leaves to rid our livestock of fleas including dog fleas.  We’ve also planted some sunflower plants to use as green manure.

Other beneficial plants

To attract beneficial insects like bees, we’ve started growing flowering plants around the farm.  On the other hand, to naturally repel unwanted insects, we’ve planted marigolds in our vegetable gardens and citronella and lemongrass around the living area and the rice fields.

Aside from some food plants that are also used as herbal medicines, we have an assortment of herbal plants.  Sambong or subusob in Ilocano (Blumea balsamifera) can treat colds, kidney stones, urinary tract infections and can lower blood pressure.  We’ve planted tuba-tuba (jathropa), which is also commonly used by Filipino traditional healers. We also have wild pansit-pansitan (Peperomia pellucid), which can lower uric acid levels, treat fevers among others.

Citronella around the rice fields and wild pansit-pansitan

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All of these we did in just two years, with limited resources, without prior farming experience, with irregular water supply, using only organic inputs and with the help of friends, neighbours, volunteers, learners and families.  If more people engage and practice permaculture, there would be stability, resilience and abundance.  If peoples’ needs are met in compassionate and simple ways, without exploitation, abuse, inequality, injustice, oppression… this would be a better world.  And we believe it’s not too late.

*Photos by Cye Reyes

What we’ve been up to (Part 1)

It’s been a while since our last blog and maybe a lot of you are wondering why we haven’t posted anything.  One reason is that work is always wanting at the farm – it’s true, nature’s work is never done.  And besides, our site is a dead spot for any internet service.

First news: We are growing.  Ranie, a 14-year old kid from Baguio City joined us in the summer of last year.  He’s a son of a very close friend whose family is struggling financially.  Since his father died, the family struggled to make ends meet.  Last year, we invited Ranie to spend the summer vacation with us in our farm.  Because he grew up in a city, it was a big change for him but he adapted quickly. He enjoyed staying in the farm doing what kids do like climbing trees, trekking and swimming in the river.  He also enjoyed helping us out in some farm work.  He specifically loved taking care of the animals especially the chickens and the dogs. Before that summer ended, he asked his mother’s consent if he could stay with us and continue his studies in the nearby public school.  He got his wish.  And now, he’s a full-fledged free range child who’s connected to the earth and nature.

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Since we started, we had a lot of volunteers and visitors from all over who were eager to learn and know more about The Pitak Poject. They came and helped us build, plant, harvest, cook and do the dishes.  We were overwhelmed that our blog audience, supporters and believers still continue to increase.

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Also part of our growing family are the animals.  We now have a handful of chickens, a pair of native pigs, a goat and some ducks.  And farm dogs too.

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Early this year, we were visited by some friends from the media.  We were featured in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on January 22, “Eco-friendly Earth House Rises in La Union Village.”.Rappler, a social news network, also featured our very own Cye Reyes with a quote on empowered love last Valentine’s Day.

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Here’s her full quote: “Our love for the natural environment should be reflected on the way we treat and value its beauty and grandeur. Nurture it like how a mother nurtures her child, with care, kindness and compassion. Cherish it like how you cherish your loved ones, with respect, thoughtfulness and gratitude. Care for it like how you care for yourself, with dignity, importance and appreciation. Give nature unconditional love and it will give it back in return.”  See the Rappler feature here.

We were also visited by the ABS-CBN Regional Network Group from Baguio City and featured our waterless composting toilet in their news show TV Patrol Northern Luzon.

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And last March 13, our Pitak/Mud House was featured in GMA News TV’s Motorcycle Diaries ni Jay Taruc.  Although it was just a short feature, we along with the community members organized a full bayanihan, a Filipino tradition where neighbours help each other like in planting, harvesting and building houses.  While the women cooked local delicacies for lunch, the men prepared the materials for the demonstration on mixing and applying mud to the walls.  Everybody participated in the demonstration, even the kids.  We all had a blast during the shoot. Watch it here.

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We were also featured in several blogs.  One such feature was by our friend Roda Novenario through her blogsite Travel Dive Connect.  Check out what she wrote about us here.

And the most important update we are thrilled to announce is that we already have a certified permaculture designer.  Carol Galvez got certified last February in Kho Phangan, Thailand under the instructions of Richard Perkins of Ridgedale Permaculture (Sweden).  We are thankful for our friends and relatives who contributed for her course fee, airfare and some pocket money.  Since her certification in the Permaculture Design Course (PDC), she has been busy designing and planning for our site.

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