By Rey Anthony Chiu, PIA-Bohol | 12:40 AM October 17, 2020
One is an in-law, the other is a health conscious nurse daughter storyteller and the son is an agriculture undergrad, but all together, they make your visit at Manay’s Farm one you could hardly forget.
Manay, or former San Miguel Mayor Nunila Mendez Pinat, a widow, has spent all her years as a devoted mother, the 42 of those years as public and private sector servant, capped by being an elected official and a beacon in Bohol environment management and anchor sustainable environment advocate.
The first Bohol elected mayor who retired from the Department of Agriculture, Manay has clearly weighted her romance with the soil heavier, than the complex and yet fleeting lime light of political life.
Now, being a full time farmer, Manay is mothering her farm, instilling more insights at motherhood, life, politics and what-nots to family, friends and the earth’s future, in her decent lot in Barangay Bayongan, San Miguel town. This to her, is going back to her roots.
All through the years, Manay has enriched her life, not with the fortunes amassed from government, but from by the lessons in her years of community work, and environmental advocacy, and homing in the laid-back farm lot in San Miguel is connecting back to make her life a full circle.
With this wealth of experience, retiring to her is putting in new lug tires, and be ready to navigate into an adventure she knows a lot but had not really gotten into, one she can own.
Her stash of technological know-how, she knows, would have enough torque to make a stir in her off the road property, into the surrounding families and into the ethics of those who would care to visit her farm.
PICKING A LOT
Living with an unmarried son Joachim or familiarly called Alot or Generoso by close friends, Manay has long wanted to live independently from the ancestral house in the barangay. Finding a small lot was her first hard decision which led to even harder decisions that led to farming the idea of a wellness center, not only to her family, but her immediate neighborhood and the whole of her friends dropping by.
“There was so much to plan,” Manay said, seeing her acquired lot as bushy and undulating, and managing soil run-off would be quite a challenge.
With a robust sustainable agriculture background, they immediately ventured into phase by phase development of the place, during the tail end-years of her being the town mayor.
Apart from putting up the native hut and the main house, the months of soil preparation has included measures to make the shift to purely organic, in a region where hybrid and inbred palay has been grown with a stunning array of chemical inputs.
“We never intended to used chemicals, in fact we tried fitting in an organic farm to show to out neighborhood farmers that rice straw, mulch and organic soil additives can still be better option in the long run,” Manay explained.
The farm arrangement now easily fits into a computer programmer’s process flow: each theme supports the next so that it would be easy to put up biological pest controls or physical barriers that would assure color no assimilation of similar ornamental, vegetables or herbal plants.
Manay used to work with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and there, she sieved net-full of information about upland fisheries, coastal and marine fisheries and resources.
Now, in her town in San Miguel, she had one fishpond dug to showcase to people that upland fisheries can be done, in the old fashioned and environment-friendly way, through organic feeding.
Set in the times when backyard aquaculture is not as attractive due to heavy cost of feeds and general operations, Manay intends to prove there are alternative ways that are cost efficient and earth friendly.
“This is our small tilapia pond, yes the water appears green, and that’s a good thing!” Saysay, or Jeanette, Manay’s nurse daughter who has found not a patient but a farm to care and nurture, explained.
The pond has a welded metal bridge that allows people to cross over it, or throw baits to fish, is filled with jade colored planktons.
“Suspended in the water are microscopic plants that appear green. Like all green plants, phyto-planktons produce oxygen during daylight hours as a by- product of photosynthesis. Not only are the phytoplanktons helping our environment by consuming carbon dioxide, but its presence provides the base of the food chain of our pond,” she continued.
Upon arriving at the farm unannounced, which was supposedly a mortal sin, because the farm has advised against such, for them to be ready with something for the guests, we drive in, crawling the small cab we were in, to the welcoming faces of two clearly non farmers, who guided us through a parking slot with a shade from coconut trees.
SAYSAY IS A LOT
The two, we later found out were Manay’s adult kids: Joachim or Alot and Jeanette or Saysay.
Alot is an agriculture undergrad, soft-spoken, but as we found out later, he could even be more learned in farming and its technologies as we walked deep in the neatly organized and immaculately trimmed carabao grasses bordered by a colorful combination of flowering lantanas, and the variegated yellow and green pandanus planted at the base of coconut trees.
Saysay is a nurse who calls herself a generalist. She used to head a human resource department in an innovation company in Cambodia. There, she was exposed to oriental medicine, thus her rare basketful of information, interjecting oriental traditions on Alot’s animated spiel as we started the farm tour, is just part of her excitement.
This is Manay’s Farm, the third Farm to visit in out two-day itinerary of making stories of the farm learning areas accredited by the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Training Institute-7 (ATI-7).
“We, at the Agriculture Department, helped our farmers transform their farms into agricultural learning areas where people can actually see for themselves the technologies in place, so they too can improve their farming productivity and income,” ATI-7 Regional Training Superintendent Dr. Carolyn Mae Daquio said.
And so the tour started with the azolla fern pond, with A lot volunteering to be our guide.
Here, from the azolla pond, we could see the rows upon rows of garden plots with upland kangkong, eggplants, a squash patch, bell peppers, amplayas on trellis, okra and other table greens.
“What motivated you to come up with a farm, when you apparently could choose a city life? Manay could certainly rest on her laurels as an accomplished public servant and mother?”
We asked as we took snapshots of interesting nooks in the expansive garden.
“At Manay’s Farm, one of our objectives is to encourage and serve as an example for more families to grow their own food and promote household food security. Having edible backyards contribute to food security for the family and encourages a more nutritious diet,” Saysay beat Alot to the draw.
On the azolla, Saysay asked, “Did you know that azolla is a unique plant because it is one of the fastest growing plants on the planet – yet it does not need any soil to grow?”
She added, “Unlike almost all other plants, azolla gets its nitrogen fertilizer from the atmosphere. That means that it can produce bio-fertilizer, livestock feed, food and biofuel exactly where they are needed and, at the same time, draw down large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere, thus helping to reduce the threat of climate change,” cleary now, she heats up.
It has become amazing how a health professional like Saysay could easily transition into environment, but then maybe it is a trait inherited, perhaps from the mother.
“Azolla can do this because it has a unique mutually beneficial ‘symbiotic relationship,‘ with a cyanobacterium (blue-green alga) called Anabaena. Azolla provides an enclosed environment for Anabaena within its leaves. In return, Anabaena sequesters nitrogen directly from the atmosphere which then becomes available for Azolla’s growth, freeing it from the soil that is needed by most other land plants for their nitrogen.”
In short, Azolla and the blue-green alga Anabaena azollae maintain a symbiotic relationship: the alga provides nitrogen to the fern, and the fern provides a habitat for the alga.
VEGE-TABLES AND HERBS
Pictures and more pictures and then we were off to the next patch, the vegetables garden. In its borders are herbal plants that act as active fences for pest management.
Most of these herbal plants also exude natural scents that discourage insects and pests, those that skip past these plants are drawn to natural pest traps hang along trellises.
“Growing up, I was a recipient of quite a few herbal preparations made by Mama. There is the usual kalabo (oregano) for cough, hanlilika (kataka-taka/ air plant) as disinfectant, I also had tawa-tawa, lagundi and sambong to name a few,” she said as she picked shoots from tulsi.
“Technological advancements and the changing times, we have somehow lost touch of these traditional healing preparations, while we still have Mama [Manay] we are working on bringing back the understanding and applications of native herbal plants especially those that are abundantly growing in people’s backyards,” Saysay now completely takes over the tour.
Indeed, in a place that might be foo far from medical facilities, having quick options as first aid before professional care arrives, might mean life or death.
“Tulsi,” she holds and rubs the shoot between her thumb and pointing finger, “or holy basil is known as “the queen of herbs” throughout India for its plentiful benefits, this is a mucilaginous agent, which assists in removing phlegm and excess mucus from the bronchial tubes, especially helpful when suffering from colds and flu.”
“The leaves can even be boiled and prevents disease due to its high antioxidant and immunity boosting abilities. Tulsi tea also soothes sore throat and its cold tea can be a gargle to ward off the few signs brewing sore throat,” she droned off and then enumerated the plots guided by the signages.
There was basil, mint, tarragon, oregano, ginger, sweet basil, and every plot’s signage shows the plants’ medicinal benefits while these are commonly used table condiments.
“Mint, this is known for its refreshing and cooling effect, as well as a rich source of vitamins A, C and B2. It also contains valuable minerals such as calcium, copper and magnesium. Fresh or dry mint leaves are used in the preparation of various sweet or salty dishes.”
“These can also be used in the production of cookies, chocolates, candies and chewing gums. In addition, mint leaves are inevitable ingredient of popular mojito cocktail and other refreshing mint-flavored liqueurs and coolers,” she added on, the young millennial now showing rather clearly.
“Tarragon, this herb belongs to the sunflower family and is popularly used for flavoring, fragrance and medicinal purposes. This has impressive health benefits, including the potential to reduce blood sugar, inflammation and pain, while improving sleep, appetite and heart health, Saysay was hopping from one herb to another.
Along the farm tour, one would start to wonder why indeed was the folk knowledge about these plants now easily growing in our backyards, kept from us.
“Studying and understanding more how to use herbs and plants around us to promote natural healing and wellness,” she announced, hinting that she is also learning from other sources so she can share to the barangay’s women’s group and the community in general.
A few more meters of learning plant’s nutritional and medicinal properties, Alot ushered us into the chicken enclosure.
Clad in his farm boots and pandan hat, Alot let us into the farm’s native chicken house. In there are the Bohol black, and the traditional native breeds, some upgraded: balaw, bakike, ugis, buyogon, talisayon and tubaon.
“Native chicken meat is usually favored of its unique taste, distinct flavor, texture and its lower fat content. While we have them here in the hut for sure shelter, these are free ranging native chicken, fed organically so these are free from antibiotics and other synthetic chemical residues making them a better, healthier option for your consumption,” he said.
Inside was a DIY incubator, while beside is an industrial sized incubator which has not been used. In the walls are shelves with native layers, while fist sized chicks scour the remains of the morning’s feeds which were a combination of azolla, duckweed, grated coconut meat and rice bran.
“We use the incubators for faster production,” he explained.
On the normal native chicken production, when hens are allowed to hatch their eggs, there is considerable time lost, as a hen, after having laid enough eggs, can be bathed, and she would then be ready for another round of egg-laying.
“These eggs are then collected and hatched in the incubators,” he said.
Next off was the native hogs sty.
Black native disease resilient pigs here roam around a sty that is bedded with rice hulls, which also becomes farm fertilizer. The pigs, which have natural instincts, go to a specific place in the pen to leave their waste, this part is often where the best fertilizers are.
The farm is planning for a commercial supply of meat and has allocated a clean room for the National Meat Inspection team to check and accredit their produce.
Somewhere, are rabbits too, and geese and ducks.
A few steps away is what Saysay would call as her Mama’s ref-garden, short for refrigerator garden.
It also means as a showcase to homes without refrigerators that they can still get fresh farm to the kitchen food courtesy of this small but complete patch.
The plot has everything that one would need while cooking. Tomatoes, ginger, onions, leaf onions, chili, alugbati, everything within ten feet from the farm kitchen.
Like when you cook at home, once in a while, you would rush to the ref for a spice, condiment, garnish or for the family heirloom cooking trade secret, here, they rush outside to the ref-garden.
Then it was off to the ornamental plants section of the garden.
On our third farm visit, this, so far has been the one with the widest range of ornamentals.
Red palms, champagne palms, and still several varieties, various kinds of ferns, dieffenbachia varieties including the expensive bombastic, caladiums in dazzling varieties, aglaonemas in wide variations, philodendrons crawling in posts or planted in pots, sansevierias and in many ranges of variegations.
Dracaenas in greens and variegations, alocasia and more variegated and ornamental plants are placed under the shades, arranged in potting sheds or are made accents in the garden landscape, dazzling and yet refreshing to have something the eyes can feast on every where you look.
In fact, in the middle of the garden are repotting huts, which shelter the newly replanted ornamentals. And as an environmentalist would do, here, banana leaves are rolled into seed pots, making plants easier to transplant, and without touching the delicate root system that has started to work for the plants.
For larger ornamentals, the ordinary PET bottle refuse acts as the quick, temporary pot.
Or in even larger plants, Manay has sewn together two, halved PET bottles and with a plastic bottom, She has not just successfully rid the farm of plastic by creating a value for the kitchen refuse, she has also found the item’s adaptive reuse.
Elsewhere, plastic bottles, plastic tubs, and occasional replanted clay pots are arranged under the shades, ready for any farm ornamental buyer.
Far off is a sunken garden, which would easily be converted to a swimming pool for future farms guests.
On these parts, the spare area is planted with globe amaranth, another source of house tea at the farm. While there are blue ternates and with Saysay into experimenting on dried and freshly picked leaves into tea, globe amaranth as tea, serves many purposes.
“Its flowers attract pollinators, add beauty and aesthetics to the general garden layout, its dried flowers, when mixed with mint, becomes a refreshing after-tour drink. Healthy lifestyle, she would say.”
A little bit away is a wide plowed field planted to sweet potatoes, another good source of tea.
Studies show that sweet potato leaves provide Vitamin C and Vitamin B, as well as vital nutrients like Vitamin A, Vitamin K, B-Carotene, B6, Thiamine, Niacin, Zinc, Riboflavin, Iron, Folic Acid, Calcium, and Protein, she trailed off. It is an all-season vegetable with so much more to offer, she patiently narrated.
“While camote tops can treat and prevent diabetes, cancer, kidney stones, liver diseases, hypertension, boils, acne, pimples, bowel movement problems, dengue fever, heart diseases, its also and kills bacteria causing diseases, and has the ability to reduce blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and boost the immune system.”
Camote tops blanched in hot water, cooled and squeezed with lemon and honey, and it would be a perfect day-starter.
The tour neared noon and off to the other side of the farm, Pane’, the daughter in-law was already rummaging through the farm, harvesting vegetables, fruits and leaves, for the lunch menu.
DOUSED WITH IDEAS
A heavy rain poured by early afternoon, which had us detained in the farm’s main house where we went serious trading of ideas, memories and insights.
We used to work with Manay in Bohol’s Coastal Resource Management Council and Ecological SOlid Waste Management and shared precious memories, including one that had our team’s lives endangered by zealous whale fishers.
It was a small cozy room with windows that gaze out to a garden, books,a nd reading materials placed in nooks accented by potted indoor plants as succulents, and a side nook where tubs of dried tea labeled “Kaayo Project” are displayed.
The tubs are products of the farm’s wellness project which started to get recognized as soon as they initiated the grass straw project in Bohol.
As a former barangay captain, Manay has successfully engaged the women in the village to plant, but then selling the produce became an issue.
“We are very weak at marketing,” Saysay, who was even more vocal than Manay, agreed.
“Here, we are offering to consolidate the harvest from our neighbors who find it hard to market their produce. That is in fact what most farmers lack, the marketing skills and matching their products with the demand, Saysay,” who apparently is versed in the trade explained.
Asked how they envision the future for the farm, Manay has this to say: the “overall success of this project will provide not only a more sustainable job alternative for the community but at the same time offer additional income to smallholder farmers who can grow these plants in their area, some readily growing wild. And then they will have adopted the “from the farm to the kitchen” philosophy of Manay’s Farm as families can get better nutrition.”
How did they find themselves pioneering radical work here? Saysay said “Like in any start up business or in any endeavor, it’s not going to be easy but every expert was once a beginner right? With the right mindset, drive and motivation, we can accomplish what we set out to achieve.”
In fact, with countless of people who came ahead of them in this path, she added, “One thing I have learned in our agri start-up journey is that it is possible to avoid the burn of lessons learned the hard way, simply by listening and heeding the advice of other entrepreneurs and seasoned professionals, Manay for one.” (rahchiu/PIA-7/Bohol)
Some photos courtesy of Manay’s Farm