Going agripreneur

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By Betsy Gazo

Kaleidoscope

Thursday, April 3, 2014


MY NEW friend, Andrew Peñalosa, a young, talented architect, stood in my backyard and surveyed the scene before him. He was at my residence to check on my renovation plans.

Aside from being an architect, Andrew is also a member of this farming family headed by his father Ramon Peñalosa, one of the pioneers in the Negros organic farming movement.

So, he turned to me and said, “You can do vermi-composting here.” He pointed out the piles of brown leaves carpeting the ground which make up one of the essential ingredients in the processing of vermin-cast.

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To a spot where strong sunlight shines on throughout most of the day, Andrew suggests planting eggplants. He then rattles off figures that follow peso signs.

If peso signs aren’t enough to catch my attention, then the assurance of healthy organic food from the garden to the kitchen definitely will.
What deters some people from utilizing whatever space they have at home is the lack of gardening knowledge. The word “agriculture” which means “the cultivation of a field” discouragingly summons visions of managing wide expanses of land when the term also actually includes backyard gardening which the Peñalosa Farm encourages.

As a guest of Andrew (yet again) at his family’s farm in Victorias, I cannot help but be charmed and motivated to take his advice seriously.

The area is—believe it or not— merely a hectare and only 4,000 square meters of this is developed, i.e. with plants and livestock.

Upon entering the gate, upright poles wrapped with soil-filled plastic sheets on the left and a concrete wall on the right show off lettuce leaves sprouting through the plastic sheets and thriving on pots (empty plastic bottles/containers) stuck on the wall.

A later tour of the farm will show not only herbs and vegetables growing there but also shed houses for hogs and poultry, and even a man-made pond for ducks.

Andrew (0917-3633885) proves to be an effervescent host; he must have taken after his father, Mon, who is the perfect spokesperson for integrated natural farming.

Dubbing himself an agripreneur, Mon can talk nonstop about organic farming and discuss probiotics swine-raising with so much enthusiasm that he could get the Dalai Lama to breed hogs.

At the buffet lunch, Mon says that everything that we are served (except for the ethically-farmed Luzon cream dory) is sourced from their farm.
We know how important it is to know where our food comes from. And it is also important to know that farmers need not belong to the poorest sector of our society.

The family’s advocacy is to educate people that there is money in the countryside and no Filipino should be hungry in his native land.

Our lunch of green salad with honey mustard dressing, squash soup, chicken binakol, pechay fritters with red onion sauce, fish fillet, pork chop, and buko pandan salad is a testimony of how much better organic food tastes.

It may be psychological but knowing how our food is grown makes it tastier and I also mean that preserving our environment is better for our conscience.

The piece de resistance of the Peñalosa Farm is the 4-storey mixed-material building that can house up to 60 participants in the various live-in seminars held there.

The edifice itself is a showroom for Andrew’s talent in harnessing nature and incorporating pieces from old houses into the construction.
The ground floor, for instance, is airy and bright anytime of the year. Ventilating blocks are positioned to take advantage of the amihan and habagat winds. Bedrooms upstairs allows up to eight persons.

Clean, modern common toilet-and-baths can be found on every floor. It’s not only the mind or the body that gets nourished here but also the spirit. At the topmost floor is a little chapel for meditations and spiritual renewal. One tenet that the farm believes in is that “a farmer who does not know how to pray is a not a good farmer.”

I discovered that the agricultural sector is poor because of lack of knowledge. If I had know-how, I could enjoy the figures that follow peso signs that Andrew had told me about. Peso signs are what Peñalosa Farm want farmers to have more of.

Anyone interested in scientific, probiotics, integrated organic farming may sign up for a seminar. A four-day live-in lecture and farming demo costs around P10,000 and includes accommodation, and meals.

If one day is all you have, there will be a seminar to suit your schedule. Applying everything you learn here rewards your investment hundred-fold returns and gives you an edge over traditional sugarcane farmers.

Diversification is the key to surviving the free trade movement in 2015. Mon Peñalosa says that unproductiveness springs from the farmer. It is up to the farmer to make his soil productive. With a country as blessed as ours in natural resources, and the fertile volcanic soil on our island, there is no reason not to be blessed in return as long as we take care of our environment.

Knowledge is power. Ignorance is expensive.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on April 03, 2014.

Lifestyle

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