CITY OF SAN FERNANDO Twenty-one-year-old student Harold Zapata started with only P1,000, coupled with a little research, and a lot of time due to pandemic restrictions to set up his own hydroponic farm which is now a success story showcasing how young people can engage in profitable agricultural entrepreneurship.

The 3rd year college marketing student from the City of San Fernando took inspiration from a video on YouTube and began constructing a makeshift greenhouse made of wood, bamboo, and plastic screens. Zapanta did not stop his research and joined Facebook groups that are focused on the business of hydroponics to get much-needed advice through reading.

Hydroponics is a climate-smart agriculture technology and the process of growing plants without soil using mineral nutrient solutions in water. The system is a soil-less farming system that includes the process of growing plants with the use of mineral nutrient solution through an inert medium such as perlite, gravel, mineral wool, expanded clay, or coconut husk.

Through hydroponics, water remains in the system and is reused, which, in turn, can decrease carbon footprint. Zapanta began experimenting with at least two methods of hydroponics to be able to raise an initial 80 heads of lettuce of varying varieties. Zapanta started with different varieties of lettuce taking advantage of the growing demand for vegetable wraps from the local samgyupsal market.

He purchased old grape Styrofoam boxes, Styrofoam cups, and coco peat to start his own Kratky Method. The method is a simplified hydroponic system in which the plants are suspended above a reservoir containing a nutrient solution. As the plants access the water, the nutrient solution levels fall. As the solution levels get lower, the roots of the plant grow downwards to access more resources.

Zapanta also set up his own nutrient film technique (NFT) system using PVC tubes and a pump he bought through Shopee. NFT is one of the most popular types of hydroponics systems. It is versatile and modular due to the nature of its components. It works by delivering nutrient solutions to the plants by means of using a water pump. Gravity then guides the water back to the main reservoir. The word “film” is ideally a small amount of water flowing through the channels to allow plants to get a sufficient amount of oxygen.

“I would sell my initial produce at the Capitol (Pampanga Provincial Capitol) among joggers and also would market them with some sellers and restaurants,” Zapanta said, adding his background in marketing has helped him with the goal of selling his produce which now earns him some P15,000 per month.

Saving on his earnings, Zapanta began expanding his production and greenhouse to a 50-square-meter facility which now houses some 500 heads of vegetables of varying varieties. He is able to produce lettuce from a 40 to 45-day cycle. He was able to spend some P50,000 for his expanded greenhouse and stock materials.

The Department of Agriculture has also partnered with Zapanta through the former’s Kadiwa program to help sell the latter’s produce. With his success story, Zapanta had attracted a steady following of patrons and visitors to his hydroponic farm. Zapanta said that hydroponics systems can provide opportunities for employment like consultation, selling of seedlings, and building of greenhouses for those who would really like to venture into the business.

The young entrepreneur believes that hydroponic farming is a flexible farming method that can be implemented and adopted by anyone who wishes to engage in sustainable farming on a limited land space. Zapanta added that after he graduates from college, he will continuously pursue his passion for farming and encourages those who have the interest to engage in agriculture entrepreneurship to try hydroponic farming.