FISH pond on top of the hill? Why not? And while you relax in a nipa hut, you can catch big-sized tilapia in the pond below or you can pick and eat the ripe durian fruit or pomelo hanging beside the nipa hut.

What a refreshing sight, a relaxing feeling to be in that environment. I wish I could stay there for good and feast on the fruits and the roasted tilapia fresh from the pond, or savor the tinolang native chicken paired with boiled sweet potato and banana and drink coconut water while watching the river below the hill which is almost covered with lush fruit trees and vegetation.

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I thought it was just one of those interviews, as part of my job, but no! I came home feeling inspired, refreshed…

Magsasakang Siyentista (MS) Severino Ambag may be in his middle 50’s, but he looks younger than his age. The looks could be attributed to his healthy lifestyle, eating only fresh fruits and vegetables for his breakfast, plucked fresh from his farm which he and wife Inday passionately maintain.

And Mang Ver, as he is fondly called, is not an ordinary farmer; he is an outstanding farmer, and a model farmer at that! What he teaches, he practices.

No wonder he easily got the nod of the selection team as the MS for the Farmers’ Information and Technology Services (FITS) Center in Jimenez, Misamis Occidental.

And what farming technology does he practice? Diversified organic farming, and his vision is to influence 60 percent of the farmers in his area to also go into organic farming.

Mang Ver used to work as a security guard. But having been brought up in the farm and was fortunate to own hectares of lands, he resigned from being a security guard and went into farming while working for the Panaon Agriculture Office as agricultural technician.

Before his stint with the agriculture office, Mang Ver was connected with a Foundation and was assigned in the coastal area of Mt. Malindang. His work exposure inspired him to all the more adopt new farming technologies that will preserve Mother Nature.

It was in 1992 when he started tilling the hilly land which back then was unproductive. Applying the Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT), he planted fruit trees and vegetables in his 7.5-hectare land using grasses as hedgerows. His creativity moved him to try an innovation of the SALT technology, like the application of not one, but double or even triple hedgerows to protect the soil from siltation and to have more legumes to feed his livestock.

He complemented the SALT farming by going into poultry-raising so he could use the chicken manure to fertilize the fruit trees and vegetables in his farm. The manure-yield from his poultry, however, was not enough, thus, he had to buy sacks of chicken manure from Ozamiz City.

He stopped raising poultry and instead raised goats whose manure he would use for vermiculture. He learned about vermi-composting when he was a volunteer for the “Eco-Tao-Kalikasan” movement based in Manila. He was sent to Kalibo, Aklan for a training on vermi-composting. It was there that he was able to secure two kilograms of African night crawler, the best variety of earthworm for vermi-composting.

The initial two-kilogram African night crawler earthworms from Aklan sustain his vermi-composting through the years. He has started to sell earthworms to rich farmers in Misamis Occidental, but most of the time, he would give away to others, who are also interested to adopt the technology. Oftentimes, too, he would use the earthworms during the trainings and seminar on vermi-composting that he conducts or when he is invited as the resource speaker.

He is also into goat-raising, started with 12 heads, applying the zero-grazing technology. He feeds the goats from out of the legumes and other agricultural wastes from his farm and the goat manure he uses to feed the earthworms, for his vermi-composting. The surplus goat manure he spreads directly to his farm.

As an agricultural technician, Mang Ver often organizes trainings on Natural Farming Technology Systems (NFTS) for barangay technicians of which vermi-composting is one of the topics. His purpose is not only to show to the farmers how the African night crawler looks like, but also to encourage the training participants to start vermi-composting themselves. To date, there are now about 30 farmers in Panaon and another 30 farmers under the Social Action Center who are into vermi-composting.

Mang Ver is so passionate about organic farming that shuns from the use of pesticides and resorts to bio-pesticides like panyawan sprays and goes for the use of Indigenous Micro-organisms (IMOs). He is very proud that after about eight years of organic farming, the once unproductive hilly land has been transformed into a lush orchard, full of pesticides-free vegetables and bushy grasses that livestock and farm animals gorge on. He happily stressed that though there is no rain for the whole year, his fruit trees and vegetables can survive as he also has initiated a good water management innovation.

For Mang Ver, his farm is a family partnership. He is ably assisted by his wife Inday who, like him, loves farming. His family largely relies on their farm produce for their daily consumption. The couple also shares their blessings with their neighbors and friends.

Because of his model farming practices, Mang Ver’s effort did not go unnoticed. He capped the “Food Always in the Home (FAITH) Award for the provincial level. The recognition, with an attached cash prize, all the more inspires Mang Ver to go out of his way and promote organic farming. His farm has become a model for indigenous farming by the farmers in Misamis Occidental under the Social Action Center.

But what Mang Ver and Inday enjoy most is when people come to visit their farm, as it has become a favorite tour site for Lakbay Aral by farmers from neighboring towns and barangays. People from UP-Los Baños even came to visit his farm and document his farming practices.

I could just imagine that while Mang Ver happily tours his farm visitors, Inday would be waiting at the nipa hut, ready with the visitors’ logbook. And as some visitors are signing the logbook, Mang Ver would hand in fish nets to others; let them catch the tilapia pond below the nipa hut. Beside the nipa hut, Inday has started the fire where the caught tilapias are to be roasted and feasted on.

That’s what we had! And the next time I visit Mang Ver’s farm, I want to ask him: “What is your greatest fulfillment as an organic farmer?”

Of course, I have an idea of what his response would be, but as a development journalist and broadcaster, I want to hear the words straight from Mang Ver’s mouth, record them, and keep them in my memory. That way, Mang Ver’s farming passion stays with me, and someday, who knows, I will be as passionate as Mang Ver, the once-security guard, turned organic farming guru.