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.

Advertisements

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.

Our Quest for Water: The Journey

 

20150902_085106

Three years ago, we embarked on a quest.

Our quest for water started in 2013 when we were evaluating our first year in the farm.  Our main concern then was the lack of water especially for irrigation.  We realized that the potential of the land to be more productive could not be met without a steady source of water.  Our rainwater harvesting system, graywater recycling system and our other water conservation practices could not sustain the water needs of our farm. We even tried pumping water from the creek using our DIY-ed ram pump but it was still not enough.

We then made a plan and researched on how we could tap the ground water, which we considered the most viable water source for us.  We learned about deep well pumps, how they work and the process of drilling, installing and operating them.  But most of the pump models we canvassed were either fuel powered or electric.  Although these pump units are affordable, it would be expensive to operate.

We did further research on deep well pump using alternative energies like solar.  We found out that this technology was already available in the Philippines.  We then decided that this would be the one for us. So we laid out our options on how we could raise the budget for this.

We thought of entertaining investors but they would require something in return and it’s usually in the form of profit.  Applying for grants on the other hand would require a lot of paperwork. The nearest thing to paperwork that we do nowadays is putting used paper around our plants to serve as mulch. And applying for a loan from a bank was out of the picture. How about indecent proposals? Definitely not!

And so our quest for water was stalled. The plan was shelved.

Crowdfunding: Easier Googled than Done

After months of pondering on how we could raise enough money for the solar pump, we came across the concept of crowdfunding, which was new for us then. We googled and researched, got excited, and knew we could do this. If somebody from the United States were able to raise money for a drinking birthday bash, why couldn’t we do it for a solar deep well pump that would provide water to make the land more productive?  Well, it was easier said than done.

The first thing we did was choosing a crowdfunding platform.  We decided to launch our campaign with We The Trees, which is a crowdfunding platform for permaculture practitioners from all over the world.  We then made a campaign plan and assessed our potential crowd starting with relatives and friends.  We prepared other requirements like the campaign write up and video. We were ready to launch by November of 2014 but then we realized that our campaign period would fall just before the Christmas holidays and people would be busy spending and they would have second thoughts in donating some of their moolah to us.

So we decided to launch our 45-day all-or-nothing crowdfunding campaign in March 2015.  It was a good month to launch because the International Working Women’s Day (March 8) and the World Water Day (March 22) fall on this month.  It made sense because we are women farmers and our campaign was all about water.  A week before our launching date (March 2), we pre-launched the campaign in our blogsite so we could already advise our potential donors. We also talked to some friends and relatives to help and be part of our tribe of campaigners.  We got good responses and commitments.

The first weeks of the campaign were great.  Donations and pledges came steadily.  A lot of our friends and relatives helped us share and promote the campaign to their friends and contacts using the social media.  Even those we just met during the campaign like other permaculture practitioners from all over helped us promote it.  Our friends from the local and national media also pitched in and wrote about it.  Our campaign was also featured in many blogs.

But towards the end of March, we still hadn’t reached half of our goal.  We started to panic and the frequent trips to the toilet had begun.  We had to do something.

We followed up commitments and hadn’t pledged yet and asked our tribe of campaigners to continue to help us boost the campaign.  We asked our good friend Angel Aquino, a famous TV/movie actress and commercial model here in the country, to do a video endorsement of our campaign.  It was a sigh of relief for us when she was able to do it despite her busy schedule.  In a span of a few hours of shooting, editing and finalizing it, we were able to post it.  It was shared and re-shared several times.

And suddenly our campaign gained momentum again.  A few days before the April 15 deadline, we needed to raise a few hundred dollars more.  We were sleepless, fidgety and restless already.  Our friends were sending us messages telling us they were also panicking for us. And suddenly, two days before the deadline, we were able to meet the target of $13,121.  We made it!

Thank You Crowd

successful pic

We were able to raise a total of $14,211 online.  We also received donations offline during the campaign mainly because some donors were not comfortable doing financial transactions online and some were just not techno savvy and didn’t know how to do it.  We had to pledge them ourselves using a friend’s credit card. And we still received donations even after the campaign period. The overall total donated funds were $14,954. We had three group donations and four donors donated twice.

We had a total of 191 individual donors. Five percent of the donors were relatives, 37% were friends and 58% of the donors were those we didn’t personally know.  Donors came from the Philippines, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Hong Kong, USA, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Belgium, Sweden, Greece, Luxembourg and Latin America.

So It Shall be Done

 After raising enough funds, it was time to implement the project.  We had to do it as smoothly and as responsibly as we could with all our hands on deck. We owed it to our donors and everyone who helped us.

The drilling started on May 10, still the dry season in the Philippines, which is the best time to drill for groundwater.  Our target was 80-100 feet to access the main aquifer.  The first weeks of drilling were challenging.   At some point, they had to drill another hole and start all over again. At that second hole, we hit water at about 40 feet deep.  Then at about 60 feet deep, the drillers’ 5-foot drill bit totally broke and was left at the bottom of the hole.  We just decided to drill another hole just adjacent to the other one because it was impossible to recover the drill bit.  And then the monsoon rains came, so the drilling was stalled further.

After three weeks of non-stop rains, the drilling continued.  When we reached about 83 feet, the drillers hit a solid bed rock.  We then decided not to go further.

Simultaneous with the drilling was the construction of two ferrocement tanks with a 5,000-liter capacity each near the drill site.  The shape of the tanks was based on traditional Filipino earthen jars called the banga.  We used the Banga Pinoy design and construction manual for wire-reinforced ferrocement jars by the Catholic Relief Services.  We got the help of two skilled laborers from the community.

Untitled-1

In July, we went to Manila to pick up the solar submersible pump unit, the panels and all the accessories.  After some considerations, we decided to get Lorentz unit, our original choice, because we had a problem with the supplier of the other brand that we considered.

In August, after we prepped the fields and planted rice, we started constructing the panel stand and installed the panels and the controller with technical assistance from RDC-Kaduami, a non-government organization covering Northern Luzon advocating for sustainable agriculture.  They have the expertise and experience in installing solar technology.

In August 16, when everything was ready including the panels, the electrical connections, the tanks, and the pipe line, we installed the submersible pump, lowered it down the pipe line and turned on the controller.  We got so anxious when we first heard the quiet hum of the pump and felt the slight vibration of the pipe line.  And just after a few seconds we saw the first burst of water coming out the pipe.  Everybody suddenly was shouting, cheering, jumping and clapping.  We got so emotional. This moment was definitely the highlight of the quest, seeing water springing from under the ground.

After that, we sealed the opening of the pipe line, installed the distribution line from the pump to the tanks and from the tanks to the fields and built the small bamboo pump house.

We have Water

We now use the water mainly for domestic, livestock and garden use. For drinking we filter it with active carbon. We rarely use it to irrigate the fields because we still want to maximize the water from the small creek and the rain, which we still have every now and then.  We don’t want to just rely on the groundwater because it’s not a sustainable practice.  Aquifers can dry up if overused.

Now we just have to observe the supply of water for at least one year cycle especially during the dry months.  It will be tried and tested these coming months because we’re now experiencing the El Niño phenomenon, which is predicted to be one of the longest and worst.

Endless Possibilities

After three long years of planning, researching, consulting; after three long years of waiting, pondering, manually fetching water from the well; after three long years of our quest for water, we finally have that precious water from below the earth using the power of the sun.  And now the possibilities for us in our small farm are endless.  And for that, we’ll forever be grateful to all of you for being part of this worthwhile quest.#

Thank You for the Gift of Water

ty cover

“Many small people, in small places, doing small things can change the world.” 

– Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015)

Thank you very much for the gift of water.  We are grateful to everyone who helped and supported us in “Our Quest for Water” crowd funding campaign.  We are overwhelmed with the love that we received these past few weeks. Because of this we’ll have that water from the sun.

We extend our utmost gratitude to all those who pledged and contributed (individual and group pledges):

Matthew Orchover, Robert Apostol, Richard Guyguyon Gadit, Cecile Tagle Narcelles, Thoma Hawke, Mae Espejo, Marian Catedral-King, Edna Kidd, Francisco S. Yabut, Bob Voermans, Andrew Millison, Paul Baens, Dominic Tombo, Julia Bernath and Bianca Miglioretto, Claire Padilla Carreon, Lorenzo Giglioli, Cris Brigoli, Sylvia Valdez Sabado, Roda Novenario, Norma Timbang, Liza Sison, Kathleen Maltzahn, Dana Maureen Collins, Bong Ramilo, Pam Quintos-Ariniello, Christian Oliver Francisco, Melynn Mandapat-Pinto and Saro Pinto, Gerry Atkinson, Mike Olado, Barbara Bowen, Chen Mencias, Esther and Joey Pinsay, Issa Isaac, Iona Lacson-Dy, Ulrike Braun, Shirley Ewangan Baquiran, Joanne Alcantara and Boo Torres, Amihan Abueva, Jean Ortiz, Sarah delos Santos, Richard Perkins, Kendi Escandor, Yves Gruber, Kooyah Miggy, Paolo Morga, Kathy Acamine, Ruben Cauton, Bebs Navarro, Kristof Nordin, Ferdie Balanag, Raymond Cruz,   Azelea Ann, Ermelyn Bungcayao Pedrajas, Ruby Recta, Patricia Mencias, Sandy Mabery, Rosa Laroya, Valentin R. Francisco, Riza Tan, Carmel Anne, Grace Torio, Joan Carling, Aliza Tuttle, Red Nina Ledesma, Edith Alikpala, Wilma and Pele Yu, Chat Garcia, Flordeliz Guarin, Dmitri Podaras, Susan V. Tagle and Rina Rosales, Leklel, Fats Lucero, Maria Corazon L. Bouchebl, Simon dela Cruz Tienzo, Beth Bitoon, Liza Castro, Ab Juaner, Gladys Lee, Rachel Malone, Leslie Goit, Ana Tres Montesa, Josephine Heidi Samson-del Rosario, Vivian Aquino, Mau Elma, Joanna Patricia Kintanar Cariño and family, Miggy Miyagi, Valerie Francisco, Honeylane Ante, Krystina PS, Shoda Ladero, Jane Olaes, Lara Barrios, Elaine Scoufaras, Rav Kang, Pinky Lim, Mylene Reinicke, Rocel Felix, Carmela Gollogley, Jo-an and Mike Morallos, Shiela and Efren Soliman, Cecilia Soto, Pau Manlangit, Minnie Caday, MB Tenefrancia, Joy Eugenio Chow, Eric Espiritu, Lingling Claver, Villar Foundation, Egay de Guzman and friends, Emily Liza Antal, Bing Romero, Wilma Cornejo, Mary Ann Jimenez-Peñaloza, Jarmila Cruz and Tatay Bar, Neon Rosell, Miriam Merlin, Kika Longid, Arel and Racquel Salinas, Grace Manuel, DoMaps, Rico Reyes, Nonette Ugalde, Raymond Rovillos, Yvonne Soriano, Raul Anthony Deborah Florendo-Acantilado, Ofelia Victoria Castillo Luis, Stefan Jonsson, Nikolai Buncio, Manny Palo, Bernice See, and to the anonymous donors.

We are especially grateful to the members of FilGuys, an organization of Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong for their support to this campaign. They did their own fund raising campaign and pledged the amount they raised as a group pledge:   Marrz, Irene, Annie, Gina, Eliza, Mhel, Spykez, Marites, Piolo, Janno, Gemma, Ed, Marites, Marife, Bobot, Marivic, Richel, Alex, Analiza, Emar, Emil and friends, Mag Mak, Mary, Lea, Myrna, Torpedo, Iza, Weng, Ester, Ginaly, Maricor, Melanie, Kyle, Pia, Lordgen, Len, Abby, Christian, Coco, Deborah, Azel, Lyn, Nicole, Bea, Marivic, Michelle, Rosa, Richard, and Junel’s Bar and Restaurant.

We extend our thanks to our relentless, determined, persistent and creative tribe of campaigners. Maraming maraming salamat Cha, Edna, Brigs, Santi, and Manang Ber.

Thank you to our good friend and award-winning TV and movie actress Angel Aquino, for taking a break from her busy schedule to make a short video endorsement for our campaign.  You can watch it here.

Thank you Angel.

Thank you Angel.

Thank you to Roda Novenario, Cris Arzadon, Nami Parocha-Dilim and Mc Jonsson who blogged and wrote about the campaign. You can read their articles and blogs here:

Pitak Project: quest for water

Ecofarm launches online drive to raise water funds

La Union’s ecofarm seeks aid for renewable water source

An eco-campaign: water fo Pitak Project

Special thanks to the World Organic News and Funding Another World for featuring us in their sites.

We are grateful for the worldwide permaculture community from Australia, Luxembourg, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Greece, Canada, USA, Latin America among others for their support and for endorsing us and helping us reach out to other permies and their followers.

Thank you to Christian Shearer and the people behind the “We the Trees” crowd funding platform for guiding, assisting and supporting us throughout the campaign.

We are thankful to our friends, relatives and those we don’t personally know who took time and effort in helping us reach a wider crowd by sharing the link in their social media accounts and by emailing potential donors. We also gained a lot of new friends and supporters from all over the world because of this.

manang ber

We wouldn’t have made it without all your support.  You’re all droplets of water that helped fill the bucket.  Words cannot describe how we feel right now. We owe it to you, the crowd in making this quest for water campaign successful.

successful pic

Giving up was not an option for us.  We conditioned our minds in being positive since the beginning, that we could do it. But to tell you honestly, we had lots of emotional ups and downs during the 45-day campaign.  It was a roller coaster ride of emotions, not to mention the trips to the toilet, the blank stares, and the small talks with the dogs.  We doubted reaching the goal every now and then. But when we received messages like “You can do it,” “Thank you for the inspiration,” “Thank you for letting us be part of this worthy endeavour,” and “There’s hope for humanity,” we just went back to being positive again. It was like we had a cheering squad behind us.

What we realized during this campaign is that people still care and are hungry for change.  And that we can do small things in our own little ways, wherever we are, whatever we have, whenever we can, for the future we want to have. We just need to make a radical shift on the way we think and act.  And it feels good that we get to inspire people. There’s still hope for this planet. Collective action can change the world.

Again, MARAMING SALAMAT! THANK YOU! #

(NOTE: We’ll keep you posted on the status of the project.)

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)

20140429_124349

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)

1607009_920561501294267_8971479574928132981_n

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)

20141101_095603

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)

10623371_10152820567912726_4534091725571590214_o

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)

20141201_112015

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.

1533896_10203963478219940_6137481992225107677_n

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.

10689492_10202768252999999_273934481633034952_n

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.

20140703_134106

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

20140623_083744

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

20140508_072939 20141117_094600

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

20141103_092351 20140623_083857

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)

DSC_0017 20141116_080732

French beans and string beans

DSC_0019 20140527_103302

Our current turmeric garden and last year’s harvests

20141103_093528 20131227_153640

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

20141019_093335 20140723_164819

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

20131103_122033 20140430_100126

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

20141004_104339 20141103_092806

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

20141117_094458 20141117_100448

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

20141101_104326 20141117_094916

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

20141103_092439 20141103_092425

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

20141019_090334 ???????????????????????????????

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