15 Things I learned from Organic and Natural Farming Seminar at Herbana Farm

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“If we follow the rule of nature, we will not make mistakes; if we follow the rule of man, we will make a lot of mistakes.”

Those were the words of Gil Carandang referring to climate change that affects the lives of millions of people. He showed us, seminar participants, how man can destroy his environment; and how man can restore nature – through organic farming. A discussion about the natural elements of nature in farming, made me aware how it affects our environment, plants and animals, particularly us humans. While he was giving a 3-day Intensive Seminar on Microbial Organic, Natural Piggery & Free-Range Chicken at Herbana Farms in Laguna last April 24-26, I listed down the things I learned from his lecture-demo.

Here’s my list, in random, of Gil Carandang’s ideas and teachings:

  1. Natural elements in organic farming are: earth/soil, water, wind/air, Fire/sunlight/heat, beneficial and indigenous microorganisms, & bionutrients.
  2. On Ecological & economic sustainability: “Pag mataba ang lupa, siguradong masagana ang ani (If the soil is fertile, yield is bountiful).”
  3. The two-fold problems of farmers: Issues on Soil Fertility and Pests & diseases.
  4. Three uses of food plants are: to be eaten, to sell, and to be given back to soil fertility.
  5. 8 Ways to fertilize the soil: the use of organic matter, compost, animal manure, green manure, mulch, organic fertilizer, Biological Indigenous Microorganisms or B.I.M. a mix of both Korean and Japan technologies (EM in Korea, IMO in Japan), microbial Inoculation, and crop rotation.
  6. How to identify legumes is through pods. If the seeds came from pods then it is a legume i.e., beans, peas, malunggay (moringa oleifera), ampalaya (bitter gourd/Momordica charantia), sampalok (tamarind/Tamarindus indica), and peanut (Arachis hypogaea). They share the same characteristics in terms of water consumption. They need less water, thus better plant them during summer. Plant them during rainy season and the roots are subject to either too much moisture or fungal infection/diseases, that in no time, they rot and die.
  7. Seaweeds, aside from being rich in minerals, have natural growth hormone called auxin.
  8. Kangkong (water spinach/ Ipomoea aquatica) like seaweeds, has natural growth hormone (they grow and spread out even without fertilizers) – best to use as Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ) -a growth promotant for leafy vegetables like pechay (Brassica rapa).
  9. Those who use synthetic growth hormones are prone to hormonal imbalance which could cause cancers like breast cancer.
  10. Flea beetle is the name of the pest that punches holes on pechay leaves, difficult to get rid of, due to its habit of fleeing, thus making it difficult to raise pechay compared to lettuce.
  11. Meat is hard to digest. Once stocked up in your body, it makes your body acidic. Once our body is acidic, it means ailments.
  12. If you drink fermented Takip kuhol (Gotu kola/ Centella asiatica) extract every day, you can grow old more than a hundred years.
  13. Spraying diluted solution of lactic acid bacteria serum to the plant and soil helps plant growth and makes them more healthy.
  14. On becoming an Organic Farmer: “Kung gusto mong maging organic farmer, bawal ang tamad, tanga, at takot.” (If you want to become an Organic farmer, you are not allowed to be lazy, fool (who hates to think and analyze things out), and coward (afraid to try new things in farming).
  15. On taking care of Nature: “If we don’t take care of nature, one day we will be like dinosaurs – extinct.”

Those are just a few things I learned from the 3-day seminar and it’s just a tip of an iceberg; there’s more to it, and I think it’s unfair to share it all in here. Best to attend the seminar yourself and you’ll see how the seminar could really make you think more, rather than simply welcoming the wealth of knowledge, and be called an Organic romantic.

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Other activities include lecture–demo on how to grow your own beneficial indigenous microorganisms (B.I.M.), how to make your own concoctions of probiotics, make yogurt, ferment plant and fruit juices or extract biological nutrient from raw materials readily available in your area, and make your own natural feeds for chicken and pigs. On the other hand, a tour around Gil Carandang’s mini-farm gave us a glimpse of how a 1,000 sqm lot could be enough, and even more than enough to sustain a family’s basic needs. Another mini-tour around a vegetable garden at his “Herbana Farm” introduced us to other forms of organic farming technologies which we could also adapt later on in our own respective farming activities.

To sum it up, it was a rare kind of seminar loaded with viable information on the use of beneficial microorganisms and different techniques in organic and natural farming, that anyone could experiment based on the idea of adaptability and sustainability. The seminar was intensive and holistic in approach that anyone could start his own farm anytime soon. Now the door is wide open for us to explore the real world of organic farming – time for us to grow our own food, save some money, start a healthy living and help save lives.

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Q&A with Gil Carandang

The fact that he is known as the Father of Organic Farming here in the Philippines, Mr. Gil Carandang deserves an interview as to what organic farming is all about and how it could benefit the people.

A fearless advocate of Organic way of farming, he answers challenging questions that we figured out conventional farmers would throw on him.

How did you get into Farming?

Farming? Been into farming in the early 1970’s sugarcane and vegetable truck gardening. But only in the mid 1990’s organic farming. At that time, I was still living in the US. You know, it is what they call “mid-life crisis”. I started to ask: “Is there anything better to do, and more meaningful than a 9-5 job?” At that time, the environmental movement is pretty loud and popular. So instead of “go save the owls, plant a tree”, I picked organic farming. I decided to take a workshop in organic farming by the bay area in San Francisco (Willits, California), and attended seminar-workshop of John Jeavons, proponent of “Biointensive” mini-farming.

What made you choose farming as your career?

After the said seminar-workshop, all the participants were asked: “How do you see yourself in the next 10 years?” I said, will transfer what I have learned to others, especially the Filipinos when I return home to the Philippines. Thus, this career direction, is the path to sustainability – organic farming.

Why organic farming?

Organic farming does not use poisons. It enhances our degrading environment. It creates a “living soil”. It creates life not “death and destruction”.

How about natural farming?

Even before, we, Organic Producers and Trade Association of the Philippines (OPTA) brought Dr. Han Ryu Cho of the Korean Natural Farming Association in the Philippines’ agricultural setting; I have already read the book “One Straw Revolution”, and met the author Masonabu Fukuoka, a farmer-philosopher of natural farming that influenced my direction to natural farming. This pretty much set the philosophical foundation of natural farming for me. Together with it, is my exposure to the EM technology (Effective Microorganisms) of Dr. Higa. Unfortunately, EM technology is not an open technology. Indigenous Microorganisms (IMO) technology I learned from Dr. Cho (I attended 3 of his Philippine workshops) is what really brought me deeper into the world of microbes used effectively in agriculture.

What’s the difference between organic and natural farming?

There is really not much difference in organic and natural farming in essence, for both approaches respect the natural systems. I guess natural farming is more profound in its natural point of views and very specific in lots of its natural approaches to farming. In fact, my friend Steve Diver (ATTRA) used to say that natural farming is quite similar to Biodynamic farming of the West. Sometimes, I say organic farming refers to “organic matter”, deliberate farming of organic matter like composting, non-usage of chemical inputs, non-GMO, etc.

Natural farming is more profound in using models based on natural systems mimicry. But really in essence, the very specific focus of most schools of thought of natural farming (there is at least 13 schools of thought in Japan alone) is the focus on the role of microorganisms in farming- in basic problem of the farmer which is soil fertility, pests and diseases. The study of beneficial microorganisms is central to most of the natural farming schools of thought, two of which most popular are Dr. Higa’s EM and Dr. Cho’s IMO.

I may say that sustainable agriculture is interpreted in the West as Organic farming or even Biodynamic farming, while in the East, it is referred to Natural farming.

Why Organic and Natural Farming rather than conventional farming?

Organic and natural farming respect life. It enhances the soil, rather than degrades it. It creates life rather than death. Really the soil, is the basis of life. As my mentor John Jeavons would say: “the first 3-6 inches of the land is what keep us alive”. This is the layer of the land where we effectively grow our food. Organic and natural farming enhances the soil, while conventional farming degrades the soil with the use of chemicals among others.

What can you say about the state of Organic and Natural Farming in the Philippines?

I am very bullish about organic and natural farming in the Philippines. It has gone a long way since. I project, it shall be mainstream in a couple of years. Historically, in the US and Europe, organic became a mainstream because of 2 things: 1) government support; 2) produce placement in the supermarkets.

In the Philippines, we now have the organic law, RA 10068, the organic act of 2010. The implementing rules and regulations (IRR) has been crafted and shall be “institutionalized” come 2015. More people are getting more conscious and concerned about food safety and health. And more so, people are now getting more “politicized” by the degrading environment of which one of the major culprits is conventional agriculture. Organic and natural farming is here. It shall be the norm of the future. We have no choice but to follow the path of sustainability. Conventional agriculture is not sustainable, organic and natural farming is.

Just a follow-up question, what can you say about the Government’s stand on these?

The government stand is very clear. With the passage of the law, RA10068, the government now allows another alternative farming system like organic farming available to the farmers. It has allocated some budget for its promotion in the country. It is the start, the beginning towards the path of sustainability.

Do you think Organic or Natural farming has a future here in the Philippines? What are the challenges and possible solutions?

I hate to hear the question if there is a future for organic or natural farming in the Philippines. Organic and natural farming is the future! As I always say: “Whether you like it or not, the norm of the future is organic and natural. We have no choice; it is the only logical path. There is no more ideology of the left, the right and the middle. There is only one ideology, and it is the ideology of the environment. Organic and natural farming is sustainable agriculture. The path to sustainable food systems is the path for our survival”.

Challenges and solutions? Status quo will always try to remain. I remember, a professor in Benguet State University mentioned several years ago that chemicals worth in excess of Php 500 million is being dumped, and used in the La Trinidad valley every year. Sometimes, you can smell the chemicals as you walk through the strawberry fields! It is the greatest challenge. But times are changing, global warming is real. We need to change our attitudes and ways of how we grow food. Seventy percent of modern ailments are directly or indirectly can be attributed to the food that we eat. Modern food is so much laced with chemicals and GMO’s. When people’s mind change and start to value not just human but environmental health, then people will start to see the value of clean safe food. And this will be the beginning of the market demand. Thus, we need to create more ecological farmers to provide sustainable foods for the consuming public. This is the greatest challenge and opportunity.

Being the Father of Organic Farming in the Philippines, what are your advocacies and what advise can you give to those who want to follow your footsteps?

I always say that each and every one of us should learn how to grow our own food. One day, it will save your life. I have always advocated for people to follow the path of sustainable agriculture, be a farmer or support the organic farmers. Just I remember one of my colleagues in University of California Santa Cruz would say: “I buy organic. Every time I buy organic, I make a political statement. This is how I want to spend my dollars, in support of farmers who take care of the environment, who are concerned about my health and the health of the environment”. After all, our advocacy is really not in service of humanity but in service of Nature. If we take care of Nature, Nature shall take care of us.

My advice is simple: “Be part of the solution to our degrading environment”. Be an active participant in healing the Earth through sustainable agriculture – organic and natural farming. BE AN ORGANIC FARMER. OR SUPPORT THE ORGANIC FARMERS. Follow the path of sustainability!

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