THE life of a farmer may be hard, but it is a fulfilling one. Without farmers, how do we put food on our tables? Farming can be a lucrative industry and the burgeoning population is always a profitable market. Hence, farmers should be a prosperous lot. But why do we view our farmers as poor and why aren’t many people scrambling to get into agriculture? Because it is not glamorous, physically demanding and it is dirty work.
However, nothing is more glamorous than having good health. The organic farmers of Barangay Patag in Silay City make sure that beauty is in the eye of the beholder with their harvest of carrots, kamote, cabbages, radishes, eggplants, and strawberries!
From the original 60 members of Baliguan Agro Farmers Association that started in 2012, 23 farmer-members cultivate an aggregate of 20 hectares of land in the highlands of Silay City. These 20 hectares are also planted to coconut, bananas and timber forests.
Patag is about 35 kilometers from the city proper and is 360 feet above sea level. The cool temperature and the well-paved roads have attracted hordes of tourists and excursionists to the lushly-forested part of Northern Negros. The Villarenia family benefits from this influx. Their coffee shop is one of the popular stops especially for trekkers to the famed waterfalls of Patag. About 300 hills of coffee plants supply their shop.
Rosario Villarenia talked about her farming family’s journey from non-organic to organic cultivation of their almost three-hectare land. The realization that conventional farming may endanger her consumer’s health became the catalyst for the change in farming methods. In 2009, she joined other farmers in getting training on organic gardening under the provincial government of Negros Occidental. Now, the Villarenias are national awardees for Farm Family Farming (Natatanging Pamilyang Magsasaka 2015-2016). They certainly are not poor. The farm was able to get the children their college educations.
In this year’s latest producer-consumer meet-up, members of TheBOX and MOMS across the Philippines visited the farmers to see how and where their food is grown. The Barangay Patag United Organic Association, Inc. assures the women that their produce is genuinely organically-grown. Barangay Patag has been officially declared by the government of Negros Occidental as the Organic Capital of the province. Patag also hopes to become the Strawberry Capital as well by 2020.
One of the farms we visited was Rona’s 1,000 square-meter lot that is planted to red and curly lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, and wingbean. A farmer/producer since 2015, Rona is a beneficiary of the latest farm feature – the 400-meter long mechanized tramline that could transport up to 500 kilograms of cargo across a deep ravine. This replaces the manually-pulled tramline that took 20-30 minutes to traverse the ragged mountainside and assures the good condition of the produce at the receiving end.
Just what did the farmers get in return? The deepest gratitude from their customers. After the ladies climbed over rocky, wet trails, skipped over mountain brooks, and pushed through the occasional clumps of vegetation, one of the MOMS thanked the farmers for providing good, healthy, clean organic food as an alternative to fast food. Another tearfully enthused how she appreciates the hardships of a farmer. The farmers cross rivers, climb mountains and carry the goods for us. So, “lettuce” give them a fair price./PN