Note : This article was published in the first edition of LAWIG. On March 2021, LAWIG was re-launched underlining photography and design talents from the provinces of the Philippines.
Tucked away in the outskirts of Daraga, Albay and nestled strategically in nature’s bounty is a thriving organic farm. There are a few and small signboards bearing the name of the farm, which is seemingly shying away from visitors. The winding road going here makes one wonder if indeed it leads to a farm. If you venture farther, a river, a bamboo bridge and farmers welcome visitors as you finally reach your destination.
Longabela’s Kalikasan Farm (LKF) sits on 1.7 hectares of land. It was started in 2010 but very few people have yet to discover it.
Dotting it are simple and temporary structures. Some are weather worn while others are newly built like the hut that serves as a “tambayan” (hangout). From afar, one can see hanging plants in cut-out, recycled plastic bottles. The surrounding is teeming with different species of trees, and plenty of crops and herbs, some of which are freshly planted. Free-range goats, chickens and ducks also delight visitors.
LKF is the brainchild of nature-lovers who wanted to provide an alternative source of livelihood, and organic and safe food for the community. What started out as a simple project became a sustainable way of living for owner, Marlon N. Longabela, his family and colleagues. Lon, as he is fondly called by his peers, comes from a family of artisans and farmers. He shared that his grandparents were the first generation of farmers in the family.
It was Lon’s past political inclinations that led to the establishment of LKF as he was the committee chair for agriculture in his barangay. He vividly recalled, “Our first farm products in 2010 were pigs and about 800 kilograms of squash which were sold to middlemen. But there was an irony to this since they found our squash too oversized, so they wanted to buy them for a much lower price. When we tried growing a smaller variety, they found them too small.”
Fast forward to the present, they have a wide array of vegetables and crops. They supply to school and office cafeterias, and to a vegetarian chef in the province. The farm now directly supplies consumers out of convenience and because they get higher profit from direct selling rather than at the market.
Lon warns, “Organic products are more expensive than conventional ones since growing these are laborious.” He emphasizes the healthy benefits of consuming organic products. Already in his mid-fifties, Lon credits his healthy body to natural food. He advices, “Always choose vegetables which do not appear perfect rather than those which looked straight and clean since the latter may have been injected with chemicals.” For him, organic farming is not just a business but a lifestyle choice.
Lon’s family also shares a vital role in the LKF community. His wife, Marlyn, and two kids, Mary Christine and Earl John provide the strength and support he needs to continue developing the farm. He adds that his daughter is the promotion and legal adviser while his son is the graphic designer and audio-visual technician of the farm.
Lon’s love for organic farming was ignited when he was able to receive technical assistance from the government. He credits his friend Edwin Rebancos, an agriculturist, for pushing him and others to engage in organic farming. Because of this passion, LKF became an Accredited Learning Site for Agriculture and a Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) farm school. Lon and his colleagues have already taught at least three batches of TESDA scholars. With this, LKF also became a member of the Bicol Association of Learning Sites for Agriculture (BALSA), Miraya Organic Farmers Association (MORFAS) and the Albay Farm Tourism and Operators’ Association, all of which Lon partakes high positions.
The LKF community’s eagerness in sharing the knowledge has already benefitted hundreds of farming enthusiasts as Lon would post about LKF in his social media account. Even during the community lockdown due to the pandemic, Lon initiated innovative programmes such as “Plantliners Movement: “Pinatubo Ko, Itanum Mo” (I Grow, You Plant), Exchange Plant Movement, “Gulayan sa Tahanan” (Vegetable Gardening at Home), and “Gulayan sa Simbahan” (Vegetable Gardening at Church). The common aim of these initiatives is to distribute seedlings to the local community and disseminate lessons on gardening and farming through online platforms. These noble advocacies are made possible through the partnership with East-West Seed Philippines, 2D Albay Special Projects and the Agricultural Training Institute. For him, no pandemic shall ever slow down LKF in the quest to motivate people in pursuing their passions.
Yet, farming doesn’t come easy for the LKF especially during the rainy season. The devastation brought by typhoons in the Bicol Region ruins their livelihood. But the LKF is resilient, they continue to replant and rebuild the farm. According to Lon, “The most satisfying part of farming is when it’s the harvest season, when trees and crops are in full bloom and the eggs of the poultry have hatched.” LKF has also helped women in the community with their needs. He believes that they have a positive impact in the society by influencing others to start farming too.
Lon also foresees the shift of farming trends in the Philippines specifically on mechanized agriculture. He also plans to adapt to the changing times and dreams of expanding LKF.
On a day at the farm, Lon and his men start at around five o’clock in the morning. They take some rest by mid-day and start again by one and sometimes three o’clock in the afternoon. One would see them grafting plants, feeding the animals, creating natural pesticides, drying animal manure, creating potting mix, among other tasks. In addition, Lon designs farm plans and aquaponics – which are some of his latest ventures. He envisions to mainstream aquaponics in the Bicol Region soon.
Lon juggles his time with his farm and his construction company. According to him, “Farming and construction have a symbiotic relationship in my life. When we first started the farm, the salary for the farmers and laborers came from what we earned at the construction company. Now, the farm can stand even without funds from the construction but of course we still need help.”
When asked on what advice would he give to anyone who is interested in farming, he shared, “One should partner farming with an entrepreneurial mindset and a desire to help the environment and the community.”
Lon and the noble LKF community have pretty much everything to offer when it comes to green living. Their approach to organic farming as a business have empowered the community and as a lifestyle choice, they continuously make a lasting, positive difference in the world that we live in.
Photographs by Sherwin Marc Andes, Words by Jade Loria
***Longabela’s Kalikasan Farm is located in Purok 7, Relocation Site, Anislag, Daraga. It is open to the public but strict community quarantine protocols must be observed when visiting the area. It is best to visit the farm on a fair weather. They can be reached through their Facebook Page. Its owner, Lon, advices visitors to manage their expectations about the farm.
***Barangay is a unit of administration in Philippine society consisting of from 50 to 100 families under a headman. (Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com)
***Purok is the smallest unit of governance composed of a number of households with an average of 20 to 50 or even more number of members, depending on a particular geographical location or cluster of houses. (Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20131208051647/http://www.rafi.org.ph/news-highlights/purok-system-2/)