Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Day at the Farm

A Day at the Farm
By Maria Eleanor Valeros
The Freeman – Lifestyle
July 27, 2010

Despite the still sad state of roads leading to the interior portions of Cebu City’s mountain barangays of Sudlon II and Tabunan, the media farm tour pulled through last July 10, giving us an on-location overview of organic farming and the quality of farm produce sold at the Kumprahan SuperMerkado.

To better promote healthy living among the Cebuano populace, Kumprahan saw the need to tap the media for an effective launch of its campaign. Thus, the idea of a media farm tour was hatched in coordination with the Philippine Business for Social Progress.

Sudlon and Tabunan have always been subjects of interest in my previous road trips since 2002 because of their cutflower farms, interesting caves and that small lake in Cantipla (a sitio of Tabunan), so the weekend visit, in part, poses again the question: “Where is the promised improved road network?” Or have the farmers got some point there in their suspicion of “farm-to-pocket” moves instead of “farm-to-market” roads?

In Sudlon II, members of the PBSP-cooperative-beneficiary Sudlon Farmers Livelihood and Training Services, Foundation (responsible for bringing to the “bagsakan” 1,000 tons of produce weekly) are grateful of PBSP’s help like the introduction of vermicomposting which is integral in the shift to organically grown produce – as with the growing of tomatoes, sweet corn, eggplants, lettuce, string beans, among others. PBSP, a non-profit foundation, commits to the reduction of poverty in the country by assisting farmers through technology intervention.

However, farm leader Aladin Pagatpat of the 50-member SUFALTRAS mentioned that if only they could be provided with four-wheel tractors to aid contour farming in rolling terrains and a cold chain facility that would store lettuce, baguio beans, tomatoes and atsal (bell pepper), then that would be the next big help to look forward to in line with empowering farmers and invigorating the countryside.

“Sa handling gyod problema. If a cold storage is available, that would help prolong the shell life most especially of lettuce,” he added.

On the health side, most of us grew up with the knowledge that vegetables, in general, are good for our health. It lowers cholesterol, prevents heart diseases and helps brain development, among many other healthful benefits, but never knew a word about organic.

Organic literally means natural, but generally it refers to the growing, raising, or processing of food without pesticides, drugs, synthetic chemicals, or hormones, using methods that conserve natural resources and limit the effects on the environment.

However, Pagatpat admitted of encountering difficulty in dramatically shifting to 100-percent organic growing of vegetables because of the need to control pests with the use of commercial fertilizers. “However, we assure that farm produce are already 70 to 75 percent organically grown,” he said. And with vermiculture, or the use of earthworms to turn organic wastes into very high quality compost, at hand, the shift to 100-percent organic farming is within feasible grounds.

To cater to the need for locally grown Korean veggies, SUFALTRAS looks at the prospect of producing wombok, cucumber and radish in the 500-600 hectares cultivated land of the total 2,000 hectares of arable land in Sudlon II. “It was tested in Cebu south, pero pait man ang radish so maybe if we can facilitate a test with Sudlon soil, makita nato unsay laing factor to consider. Basin it has something to do with soil moisture or the soil component.”

Growing Korean veggies would also introduce a direct delivery system to the very doorsteps of Korean resident-consumers.

Had we only left the assembly area a bit earlier, we could have made a stop at the greenhouse in Sudlon. Meantime, that opportunity has to wait.

After Sudlon, we proceeded to Tabunan, a place I used to frequent back in the late 90s for the annual Mt. Manunggal climb. It has also been chronicled in the book of Col. Manuel F. Segura that this had been the seat of the guerrilla movement during the Japanese-American War. Decades after, it serves as home to “green revolution” with farm leaders of the Battalion Irrigators Association tilling 26 hectares of cultivated land of a total of 3,000 hectares of available agricultural land.

Farm leaders Nonencio Arcayan and Nerio Pador take pride in the disposal of 4,000 kilos a week of eggplants despite the still unfinished road concreting project there.

Because we all believe that the future is not set in stone for these farmers, we would somehow appeal for other agencies to offer a helping hand. Ironically, on the list of partners of the cooperative beneficiaries (PBSP, Department of Agriculture, Presko – Ang Sekreto sa mga Suheto, St. Vincent Neighborhood Multipurpose Coop, Coop Centrum, Carcar United Lowland Farmers Irrigators Assoc., and Bridges Town Square), the missing link is that entity responsible for road improvements.

As for Kumprahan SuperMerkado, it aims to establish itself as the only “bagsakan” for organically grown and organically raised produce in Cebu. Its Grand Farmers Day gives the farmers the opportunity to earn more and the public to buy directly from the farmers, thereby eliminating the middlemen – who control the prices – out of the picture. Due to incessant public demand, Grand Farmers Day became a Grand Farmers Weekend event at Kumprahan.

This, in effect, signifies Kumprahan’s serious intentions to become an all-organic community market, according to Kumprahan chief organizer Jon Ramos.

At Kumprahan, customers can buy their farm products at farmgate prices directly from the farmers on weekends. The Grand Farmers Weekend at Kumprahan is aimed at helping the farmers earn more through direct selling.

“We are also inviting people to adopt a healthy lifestyle and go organic,” Ramos said, referring to the healthful benefits that organic food offers.

Kumprahan SuperMerkado is an innovative community store, the first community market in the Visayas and Mindanao that provides products at merkado prices and freshness, yet at the convenience of a mall supermarket. It is located in Bridges Town Square, Plaridel St., Alang-Alang, Mandaue City.