Visiting the Demo Farm of Mr. Esemple in Zambales – the 66 year-old Organic Farming Specialist

It’s been a while since I left this blog on a hiatus that it needs a lift and so, here we are bouncing back again to life with our farm adventure.

Entrance to the Demo Farm

Entrance to the Demo Farm

It was already late in the afternoon when Dennis and I get into the Victory Liner bus bound to Iba, Zambales. It was a 4 – hour trip from Caloocan Bus Terminal and the moment we reached Castillejos Market, it was already dark. Kuya Mario, a therapist who was staying and learning from Mr. Esemple, fetched us.

At less than 30 minute-tricycle ride, we were already in the farm. Paving our way in the gleam of the farm house’ lights, farm dogs barked at us but stopped soon after Kuya Mario asked them to. So, we found ourselves inside the house shaking hands with Mario’s wife who would give me an excellent massage later, and Mr. Esemple’s nephew who was just a new trainee under his supervision. After our simple dinner of fried fish, they showed us the room where Dennis and I can have our night’s rest.

Related: Exploring Finca Verde: The Farm of Organic Greens and Herbs of Dos Mestizos

The next morning, Mr. Esemple who also came a night before and a few hours later than us, waste no time with his gardening routine and showed us around. As lively music filled the air around his farm and having traveled alone from Caloocan, he showed no signs of lethargy. At almost 67, Mr Esemple still tills the soil and hauls his crops. Whenever he is in the farm, he feels rejuvenated. For him, this place is a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city life.

The gate’s sign were unnoticed the night we arrived at the farm as it was just too dark to notice it. Finally, this is it…

Signage

Something peculiar about it because the Filipino word PERA means money but Mr. Esemple told us that PERA is like his hidden treasure and it’s not all about money. The primary purpose of his farm is for relaxation and rejuvenation as it provides him positive energy, thus the name PERA which obviously stands for Positive Energy Recharging Area – a genius idea.

Related: The Unlikely Educational Farm Tour

He would always give credit to his Creator for whatever he has in his farm and his family as he quipped, “Health is Wealth”; and when we also once asked him if he doesn’t grow tired every time he travels back and forth from Caloocan to Zambales, his quick answer was, “Ah kay God, hindi ka malo-lowbatt!” (“With God You can never be low batt’ or “With God, you won’t run out of energy”).

Around the Farm

Moving around the farm, Mr. Esemple showed us his herbal garden. He introduced to us his several medicinal plants and their health benefits. I saw cat’s whiskers, potted Gotu kola (Centella asiatica), and Serpentina among others.

I spotted a lush growing Holy Basil also flowering in his mini forest garden. This herb can cure many ailments and in India it is sacred and is considered as an elixir of life.

Holy Basil

Holy Basil

Mr. Esemple surprised me when he asked me to cook a veggie dish and he said that it’s really good if we can have at least ten varieties of vegetables picked right from his food farm. I said okay but was nervous. When was the last time I cooked veggies of several varieties? I couldn’t remember any. No choice but to try and off we go for a day’s harvest. He handed me a pair of scissors and a huge and round blue plastic food cover to place all our day’s pickings.

 With Mr. Esemple picking Jango chilies from his Forest Garden


With Mr. Esemple picking Jango chilies from his Forest Garden

I started my way with Jango and siling labuyo, picked some eggplants, chives, talinum, sweet potatoe tops, white corn, upland kangkong, ampalaya, malunggay, saluyot, and lemon grass.

Here’s some of our harvest tucked inside this deep stainless basin. I have had a picking spree of the veggies I could find around the farm and it totalled to more than ten varieties!

Veggies tucked into this deep basin

Veggies tucked into this deep basin

These veggies were to go with some mushrooms, and some fresh fish from a nearby market we went to that morning after the lecture with the man of the farm.

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Here’s the final verdict. The vegetables and its soup tasted good without any seasonings of some sort. Mushrooms and glutinous corn kernels did the trick for this fresh and nutritious mixed veggie dish. This is commonly known as “Laswa” – a simple Visayan dish without the corn and lemon grass. Thanks to Mario’s wife who did most of the preparation and the cooking.

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Learning More about Organic Farming with Mr. Esemple

We also have a quick overview of What Organic Agriculture is all about, the Organic farming practices, the components of an organic farm, and about the nature and varieties of seeds and how to sow them.

Notes

Notes

There’s one thing I am not sure of when he asked our opinion about peanuts whether it is a fruit or a root crop. Thinking that root crops are always an underground specie, I thought it as a root crop. I was wrong. It’s a fruit and I got to believe him, he is an Agronomist after all. Another new thing for me is about how the corn flowers pollinate the corn’s ears and how are they different from other flowers.

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

Farming with Vermi

After a short lecture and some hands on demo about some plants, Mr. Esemple showed us his vermi plots and the lecture continued with some fun. We learned from him that he was the first to spearhead Negros Nine Foundation’s Farm on Vermiculture in year 80’s.

He showed us how to sieve the vermicastings once it’s ready. Another tip to start a vermiculture project is to get all your feeds or what we call substrates ready for composting, that way, you can ensure enough food for the worms otherwise, worms will escape leaving your vermi bed empty.

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After spending a night and a day at Mr. Esemple’s farm, we felt like not leaving the place for its fresh air, the relaxing atmosphere and the refreshing scenery of the mountains seen not far from the farm’s back door. What also seemed not enough for me, as I considered him as a think-tank of farming info, was the knowledge that he would be more than willing to impart to us had we not need to go back to our own turf back in the city.

I said this because there’s a lot more to learn from him like how to plant crops like corn that would provide your family with food the whole year round. The actual exposure in doing the relay and staggering method in planting corn is what I’d been looking forward to try later on. I am grateful though we learned new things about farming practices and that inspired me again to grow my own food whenever and wherever possible.

We left the place in the afternoon and it seemed our stay was not enough to explore more around the farm with Mr. Esemple who never had a dull moment to be with and to learn from.

Related: Q&A with Gil Carandang

Let us feature your farm on Farmers Notebook Farm Visit Series! Do send us an email via farmersnotebook(at)gmail(dot)com or contact form and we hope our next post is all about your farm!

Get a chance to learn from Mr. Esemple during the Grow Your Own Food Seminar on December 5, 2015, Saturday. Please click the image below for details. We hope to see you there. Thank you!

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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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