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.

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Our Quest for Water: The Journey

 

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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

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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.

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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

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“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.

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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.

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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)

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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 2): Extra Rice Please

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Since we started our project, we were challenged by how we would produce our staple food: rice.  We didn’t have experience. We didn’t know where to start.  We were challenged to produce more yields using organic inputs in a small piece of land to make us self-sustaining.  To make it easy for us, we could have just done the conventional flooded rice planting production and just ask our neighbours to teach us.

But we didn’t want to just do the conventional way, which is wasteful in irrigation water, expensive and destructive because of the use of chemical inputs. So we did a research about traditional and alternative rice planting practices.  We found a system that focuses on higher yields using planting techniques that are totally different from what Filipino farmers are used to.  It’s called the System of Rice Intensification or SRI developed in the 1980s by Henri de Lanlanie, a French priest farmer who lived in Madagascar.  It was then developed further and promoted to other countries by Prof. Norman Uphoff of Cornell University.  Since then, this system has been tried and tested by many farmers all over the world, including the Philippines, resulting to higher yields and better rice quality with reduced water requirements and production costs in seeds, fertilizers and other inputs.

The key elements of the SRI include transplanting single and younger seedlings (12-day old) that are 25-30 cm apart, intermittent water application (2-3 days flooded and 5-7 days dry), and the use of organic inputs.  This way, the system is less expensive because it uses less seeds and water.  And it uses organic inputs that a farmer can make.  In the conventional rice planting practice, older rice seedlings are transplanted (24-day old seedlings) closely together using 3-5 seedlings per hill.  It is also a common practice to continuously flood the fields and thus require lots of irrigation water.

When we started the project in 2012, we were concerned about the health of the rice fields.  To rejuvenate the soil, we planted legumes such as peanuts and mung beans.  Legumes have nitrogen-rich foliage and nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root systems, which make the soil richer.   We did the chop and drop technique, using the leaves of the legumes as green manure.

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From June to November of last year, we focused our work with our first organic rice planting.  As beginners, we did a trial plot of about 500 square meters for our first SRI application and planted the rest of the fields of about 1,000 sqm using the conventional practice for comparison.  But we also applied organic fertilizers with the conventional plot.  We prepared the fields the usual way by plowing with the help of our neighbour and his carabao (water buffalo).  We added compost and vermicast mixture that we produced.  We flooded the fields and did further tilling to loosen the soil. We sprayed Indigenous Micro-organisms (IMO) that we prepared weeks before to help in the decomposition of the weeds.

For our first planting, we originally planned to use a traditional red rice variety but the quality of the seeds we got was not good.  Instead, we planted an inbred variety of white.   Compared to hybrids, inbreds are pureline and the succeeding generations produced by this variety still have the same genetic makeup.

We prepared the seeds by soaking them in a bucket of water with salt.  We discarded those seeds that floated.  We rinsed the good seeds with fresh water and soaked them again overnight.  After draining the water, we placed them in a wet sack and kept under some rice straw for at least 3 days, until they sprouted.  We then transferred the rice sprouts in a prepared bed and let them grow for almost 2 weeks.

When the seedlings already had 2 to 3 leaves, we started making grids on the SRI trial plots using an implement that we made.  This way, it would be easy for us to plant the seedlings with the right distance from each other.  We transplanted one seedling per hill.  For the conventional plots, we transplanted about 3-4 seedlings per hill close to each other.

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We irrigated the fields after transplanting all the seedlings for the first week.  For the trial plots, we followed the SRI method of alternately flooding and drying.  But because it was the rainy season, the recommended schedule of intermittent irrigation was not strictly followed.

During the first month, we focused on weeding the fields especially in the SRI plots.  Weeds grew faster because the seedlings were planted far apart and because of the longer drying schedule.  During the early stage, we made use of a rotary weeder we bought from an SRI practitioner from Tarlac province.  When the rice plants were a bit older and taller, we did manual weeding.  We regularly sprayed the fields with organic concoctions that we produced:  Indigenous Micro Organisms (IMO), Fermented Plant Juices (FPJ), Fish Amino Acids (FAA), Oriental Herb Nutrients (OHN) and Vermi Tea (vermi cast extract from culturing African Night Crawlers). Except for the Vermi Tea, the rest are fermented natural farming inputs, which helps regenarate the soil and adds strength to the soil and plants.

After about four months, we finally harvested.  We were amazed by the results of our harvest even though it was just our very first time to plant rice.  The SRI plants compared to the conventional ones were much taller and had more stalks or stems, panicles, grains and bigger root systems.  These attributes are called the SRI effect.

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The SRI plant on the left is taller with more stalks, panicles and grains.

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The bigger root system of the SRI plant is due to the intermittent irrigation. During the drying period, the roots tend to grow longer and deeper into the ground trying to capture moisture. This also makes the plant sturdy.

Aside from the visual comparison, we did a sampling from both SRI and non-SRI plots.  We randomly picked 10 rice plants from each plot.  We then counted the stalks in each plant.  We picked the shortest stalk in each plant and counted the grains.  The non-SRI had an average of 6 stalks each with about 31 grains per stalk.  On the other hand, the SRI samples had an average of 10 stalks with about 102 grains per stalk. Unfortunately, we were not able to get the comparison in weight (in kilos) because we didn’t have a weighing scale.

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Manual thresher courtesy of the Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera (CDPC)

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The thresher separates the grains from the stalks.

The Psychological Resistance

It’s good we didn’t have the experience in planting rice because we also didn’t have psychological resistance against alternative practices.  But because what we were doing was completely different from the usual practice, we got some extreme reactions especially from our neighbours.  We felt the psychological resistance from them.  Most of them laughed at us while scratching their heads and telling us we really didn’t know what we were doing.  Some tried to help us out by telling us that we were doing it wrong and it should be like this and that. But a handful got curious and talked to us to learn more about the system especially when they saw the SRI effect.

Not bad at all for first timers

For this year’s planting season, we decided to apply the SRI principles for our entire rice field.  We started last July just in time for the rainy season.  We planted five traditional rice varieties: balatinaw from the Mountain Province, Cordillera, kintoman from Benguet, Cordillera, the Vizcaya aromatic white rice from Nueva Vizcaya Province, black rice, and glutinous white rice.  We wanted to know what traditional varieties could be grown in our site.  Although balatinaw and kintoman are both highland red rice, the friend we got them from said these varieties are drought and heat resistant. We later found out that balatinaw is also produced in the lowland Ilocos Region where we are located.  These traditional varieties take longer growing period compared to conventional hybrid varieties.

We are still trying to get other traditional varieties that are more appropriate for our site.  We are particularly looking for brown rice varieties, which according to our research have more health benefits.

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We are now on our third month for this planting season. The Vizcaya white rice, glutinous rice, kintoman and the black rice are already blooming.  The balatinaw variety has just started to grow panicles.

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The SRI is a viable system for producing more yield while helping regenerate the soil.  This system can definitely be applied by Filipino farmers to address issues of food security.  A farmer in India was able to produce 448 sacks of rice grain in one hectare land using this system.  Here in the Philippines, harvests using the conventional practice range from 80 to 150 sacks of rice grain a hectare.  With Filipino ingenuity, who knows, we can break that record and we’ll have lots of extra rice for everybody especially the toiling masses.#