F&B World - - NEWS - Text by CARLO FONG- LUY Pho­tos by RG MEDESTOMAS

When farm­ing goes be­yond sow­ing and reap­ing to in­clude the in­flu­ence of the cos­mos on soil, plant, and an­i­mal health

Food se­cu­rity and sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture are among the defin­ing is­sues of our time, greatly af­fect­ing our in­di­vid­ual di­ets, con­sumer habits, and farm­ing prac­tices. While the move­ment to go or­ganic con­tin­ues to gain pop­u­lar­ity, it is im­por­tant to re­turn to the rea­sons why we pay so much at­ten­tion to the prov­i­dence of our food.


Gil Caran­dang of Her­bana Farms is a proud fol­lower of the laws of na­ture and dis­misses any sug­ges­tion that man can ever be master over the nat­u­ral el­e­ments. He cites how the toll of cat­a­strophic typhoons in the past few years has forced many peo­ple to ques­tion how land is used and to pay closer at­ten­tion to the en­vi­ron­ment. Biodynamic farm­ing sprouts from that same sense of aware­ness and hu­mil­ity be­fore na­ture.

In the 1920s, at a time when in­dus­trial farm­ing meth­ods were dis­sem­i­nat­ing, the multi-tal­ented Aus­trian philoso­pher Ru­dolf Steiner founded the biodynamic ap­proach that rec­on­ciles spir­i­tual and sci­en­tific un­der­stand­ings of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween man and na­ture. His holis­tic in­no­va­tion long pre­dates mod­ern nar­ra­tives of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism and sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture. Biodynamic farm­ing takes into con­sid­er­a­tion all as­pects of the ecosys­tem con­sti­tut­ing the farm to op­ti­mize fertility and pro­duc­tiv­ity of the soil and to en­hance the qual­ity and nu­tri­tion of the food grown. There is also a strong em­pha­sis on co­op­er­at­ing with other mem­bers of so­ci­ety such as con­sumers.

Fol­low­ing this phi­los­o­phy, Caran­dang’s ad­vo­cacy shows a work­ing al­ter­na­tive sys­tem that em­pow­ers farm­ers and pro­tects the en­vi­ron­ment. He shares how a farmer once asked him how to make or­ganic fungi­cide for his crops. Rather than teach­ing him the for­mula, he ex­am­ined how the farmer made use of his land. He no­ticed that the wind blew per­pen­dic­u­lar to the di­rec­tion in which the crops were grown, im­ped­ing air flow. Re-ori­ent­ing the farm led to the fun­gal prob­lem re­solv­ing it­self with­out any fu­ture de­pen­dence on fungi­cide. Caran­dang points out that most or­ganic farm­ing prac­tices fo­cus heav­ily on pro­duc­tion tech­nol­ogy and not on how to ac­count for the nat­u­ral fea­tures that play a big part in a farm’s pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Sit­u­ated just out­side Calamba in La­guna, Her­bana Farms at­tracts vol­un­teers in­ter­na­tion­ally who come to learn about holis­tic farm­ing meth­ods. One com­mon-sense in­no­va­tion is the herb spi­ral, which re­sem­bles a mini stepped-pyra­mid. Caran­dang ex­plains that rose­mary goes on top since it dis­likes water. At the bot­tom are herbs like gotu kola and peren­nial co­rian­der, which love damp soil. His farm also grows a wide va­ri­ety of pro­duce such as holy basil (or tulsi), kale, cab­bage, galan­gal, kat­mon, and pea egg­plants. Biodynamic farm­ing also ad­vo­cates the use of pro­bi­otics in the pro­duc­tion of its own fer­til­iz­ers and pes­ti­cides while en­zymes and growth hor­mones are ex­tracted from plant tips through cold press­ing in or­der to avoid de­na­tur­ing them.

Be­yond the farm in La­guna, Caran­dang has trained hun­dreds of farm­ers from the Cordilleras to Leyte and even El Nido where he was able to teach fish­er­men to grow let­tuce and other veg­eta­bles to sup­ply the re­sorts a sec­ond source of in­come. “Every Filipino should learn how to grow their own food. It’s univer­sal,” says Caran­dang, who be­lieves that sus­tain­abil­ity is achieved through ed­u­ca­tion and re­con­nect­ing with na­ture. He also sees it as an im­por­tant step to­wards poverty al­le­vi­a­tion and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. Through his in­ten­sive train­ing pro­grams

Marcelino on his way to where he aims to get farm­ers earn­ing P30,000 for every thou­sand tend to his nipa palm trees square me­ter, Caran­dang is mak­ing the tools for holis­tic farm­ing more

ac­ces­si­ble in or­der to counter the im­age of or­ganic as an ex­pen­sive and dif­fi­cult op­tion.


Hindy We­ber-Tan­toco and Me­lanie Go of Holy Carabao Farms point to their in­ten­tion to heal as the foun­da­tion of the farm and busi­ness. Both got into biodynamic farm­ing as moth­ers car­ry­ing the in­ten­tion to feed their chil­dren prop­erly rather than seek­ing to max­i­mize yields for profit. The pair gives credit to the men­tors who guided and helped them over the years, in­clud­ing Ni­canor Per­las, a pioneer of biodynamic farm­ing in the Philip­pines.

Its ap­pli­ca­tion to the coun­try was not straight­for­ward, with the model en­coun­ter­ing a lot of ini­tial re­sis­tance to the for­eign con­cept. How­ever, We­ber-Tan­toco points out that it is more akin to how our an­ces­tors farmed and ap­proached the land. She also shares that Steiner ex­plic­itly warned against any dog­ma­tism in his teach­ings, call­ing for flex­i­bil­ity. For ex­am­ple, cer­tain mix­tures in biodynamic agri­cul­ture use plants that may not be read­ily avail­able in the Philip­pines, such as sting­ing net­tle and va­le­rian. It was im­per­a­tive for the biodynamic farm­ers in the Philip­pines to adapt and co­op­er­ate.

Af­ter the ini­tial hur­dle, the suc­cess of the model speaks for it­self. We­ber-Tan­toco and Go proudly share how many of the staff of their farm have been with them for years. Holy Carabao Farms also main­tains its own de­liv­ery ser­vice de­spite prod­ding for them to get a third party to do it. “There is some­thing spe­cial about hav­ing some­one con­nected to the farm hand over fresh pro­duce to cus­tomers,” ex­plains We­ber-Tan­toco. Main­tain­ing this close re­la­tion­ship with in­di­vid­ual cus­tomers is a fac­tor in the farm’s suc­cess. Sim­i­lar to Caran­dang, the two women are also try­ing to bring or­ganic food to the ev­ery­day Filipino. They con­tinue to jus­tify the price and why it is bet­ter while shak­ing off the rep­u­ta­tion that it is only for the elite. “If we lower our prices, it would only be a tem­po­rary ben­e­fit to the con­sumer, and at the long-term ex­pense to the farmer and the fu­ture qual­ity of the pro­duce,” says Go. We­ber-Tan­toco and Go also work with part­ner farms that ad­here to the same holis­tic model. They com­mit to buy­ing the har­vests of small farm­ers who them­selves set the price, a de­par­ture from the down­ward price pres­sure ap­plied by some re­tail­ers.

The nu­mer­ous patches in Holy Carabao Farms in Santa Rosa yield healthy car­rots, beets, let­tuce, toma­toes, and more. In­stead of us­ing in­sec­ti­cides, they stay true to the biodynamic phi­los­o­phy and pre­serve 10 to 15 per­cent of their land as un­touched for­est, which acts as an in­sec­tar­ium to main­tain the nat­u­ral bal­ance of or­gan­isms. The farm also fea­tures happy pigs, chick­ens, and cows. A Wal­dorf school, which also fol­lows the teach­ing meth­ods of Steiner, can be found next to the farm and the chil­dren en­rolled here pay vis­its to learn where their food comes from.


One crit­i­cism of biodynamic agri­cul­ture is the ac­cu­sa­tion of be­ing a pseu­do­science, a type of hor­ti­cul­tural feng shui in­cor­po­rat­ing es­o­teric be­liefs and prac­tices. Per­haps the most curious is the prac­tice of stuff­ing a cow horn with ma­nure and bury­ing it un­der­ground in or­der to har­ness “cos­mic en­ergy.” How­ever, there is sci­en­tific ba­sis for the prac­tice and the high re­gard for cows. Anatom­i­cally, cows have four stom­achs teem­ing with sym­bi­otic mi­crobes that break down hard-to-di­gest cel­lu­lose from plant fibers. The cow horn pro­vides min­er­als to the mi­cro­bial fauna in the ma­nure, which gives the re­sult­ing fer­til­izer added nour­ish­ment. Whether you choose to ap­proach biodynamic farm­ing through the sci­en­tific or es­o­teric paths, the re­sults speak vol­umes.

If you think about it, biodynamic agri­cul­ture is not un­usual or a de­par­ture from tra­di­tional farm­ing meth­ods. It is the in­dus­trial agri­cul­ture that de­vel­oped in the 20th cen­tury that is the real aber­ra­tion. Biodynamic farm­ing is a way for us to re­con­nect with na­ture, to use ecol­ogy to our ben­e­fit, and to re­turn to how farm­ing once was. Rather than con­trol­ling na­ture with an as­sort­ment of chem­i­cals and heart­less in­dus­trial meth­ods, we ought to be work­ing with it.

The move­ment also rec­og­nizes that eco­nomic sus­tain­abil­ity un­der­pins en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity, hence the strong fo­cus on tech­nique and train­ing in or­der to achieve greater re­sults with­out com­pro­mis­ing their val­ues. Biodynamic agri­cul­ture makes or­ganic farm­ing more sus­tain­able and ef­fi­cient, al­low­ing or­ganic pro­duce to be grown by smaller farm­ers that may not have the same ac­cess to cap­i­tal. We con­sumers should re­flect on our own in­ten­tions the next time we buy pro­duce. Buy­ing or­ganic should no longer be seen as a sta­tus sym­bol or a fad, but as a way to sup­port farm­ers and to pre­serve the en­vi­ron­ment.

“There is some­thing spe­cial about hav­ing some­one con­nected to the farm hand over fresh pro­duce to cus­tomers,” says Hindy We­ber-Tan­toco.

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