Farm­ing ef­fi­ciently

The Teraoka Fam­ily Farm adopts a cul­ture of ef­fi­ciency to fol­low the cy­cle of na­ture


The city was still asleep when we set out at 3 a.m. for a three-hour trip to the Teraoka Fam­ily Farm in Man­gatarem, Pan­gasi­nan. An hour later, while we were still in tran­sit, the roosters at the farm started to crow, sig­nal­ing the farm­ers to start their day. The farm­ers water the plants early in the morn­ing to min­i­mize evap­o­ra­tion. Then just as the sky bright­ens, we fi­nally ar­rive.

The fam­ily pa­tri­arch Car­los Teraoka had ac­quired the 200-hectare land in 1992. “I re­tired that year, and to main­tain good mem­ory, I searched for some­thing that would keep me busy.” He set­tled for planting man­goes. An im­age of the prop­erty, taken in the early ’90s, hangs on a pil­lar in the din­ing area. In it, the land is de­void of the lush green­ery it now boasts. In fact, it seems to be call­ing for the kind of mir­a­cles that Nora Aunor’s Elsa had brought be­cause the land could pass as the bar­ren Bar­rio Cu­pang in Ish­mael Ber­nal’s Hi­mala.

The soil at Teraoka Fam­ily Farm is rocky and was ini­tially deemed un­suit­able for farm­ing. “We had ex­perts sur­vey the land and they told us that the only way [to profit from it] is to buy [cer­tain ma­te­ri­als that would cost half a mil­lion]. I had no hopes for it,” Raphael Da­cones, Teraoka’s grand­son and lead farmer of Teraoka Fam­ily Farm, says. How­ever, his un­cle and men­tor Rafael Estrada, who has been prac­tic­ing or­ganic farm­ing for around 30 years now, was de­ter­mined to prove that the land could grow food. “You must know the se­cret of de­sign,” Estrada says. “How is that pos­si­ble with rocky soil, you ask? Well, rocks con­tain min­er­als. Plants re­lease acids and [that helps them] get sus­te­nance from the rocks.”

The Teraoka Fam­ily Farm em­ploys a method of farm­ing that uses or­ganic mat­ter avail­able in the area. “We try to re­spect how na­ture in­tended plants to grow,” Da­cones says. Near the farm shed is a hill of rice hulls that will be car­bonized, and the fi­nal prod­uct will be used as soil con­di­tioner to help with water re­ten­tion and add es­sen­tial nu­tri­ents to the soil. For pesky in­sects, the farm uses a con­coc­tion of gin and chili as pes­ti­cide.

In­side one of the three green­houses that shel­ters kale, a farmer stoops to ex­am­ine the crop’s bluish-green leaves. “Ev­ery day, we have to re­move bugs man­u­ally from the leaves. That’s why kale is ex­pen­sive.” Along­side kale and let­tuce, grass grows. “We just leave it there be­cause we want the set­ting to be as nat­u­ral as pos­si­ble,” Da­cones ex­plains.

In the nurs­ery con­nected to the first green­house, a farmer mixes a deep brown, sweet-smelling liq­uid with water, which she then uses to water seedlings. The liq­uid is called Ef­fec­tive Micro­organ­isms (EM), based on a con­cept pro­posed by Pro­fes­sor Teruo Higa of the Univer­sity of Ryukyus in Ok­i­nawa, Ja­pan. EM is a con­coc­tion of fish amino acid, plant ex­tract, and cal­cium phos­phate. Un­like chem­i­cal fer­til­iz­ers, it

pop­u­lates the soil with micro­organ­isms that feed the plant and nour­ishes the soil. “You have to treat the plant and soil as one,” Da­cones says. The con­coc­tion also re­moves the odor from pig and chicken ma­nure, which are used for com­post.

Be­yond those tech­niques, what seems to be vi­tal in their farm­ing prac­tices is the at­ti­tude. “It’s so hard to find re­ally good farm­ers; they come and go,” Da­cones ac­knowl­edges. And by good, he doesn’t mean skilled but rather hard­work­ing. Af­ter all, farm­ing is hard work. This is where Ja­panese prin­ci­ples re­ally come in.

Da­cones had worked at a de­sign firm in Ja­pan for three years be­fore be­com­ing a full-time farmer. More than any spe­cific farm­ing method, he in­tends to adapt the Ja­panese work ethic into how the farm is run. “[ When I stayed in Ja­pan,] I was able to fig­ure out how to work bet­ter. I saw how pro­fi­cient and ef­fi­cient the Ja­panese are so I thought that’s what I could bring here. I want to en­cour­age our farm­ers to be as ef­fi­cient as the Ja­panese.” So far, the lo­cal farm­ers seem to have been able to adopt the trait. “We used to have 25 farm­ers. Now, we only have 12, and they’re more than ca­pa­ble.”

In the near future, Da­cones aims to hold sem­i­nars to teach neigh­bor­ing farm­ers the busi­ness side of the in­dus­try, as well as ba­sic farm­ing tech­niques. Trained at Re­gion IV, which is far from his re­gion, he sees a need to pass on what he has learned to the com­mu­ni­ties nearer to him. With the re­cent ac­cred­i­ta­tion it has re­ceived from the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, the Teraoka Fam­ily Farm will soon hold sem­i­nars for farm­ers and in­ter­ested in­di­vid­u­als alike. “[We in­tend] to help them have that whole en­tre­pre­neur­ial mind­set so that they could also be en­trepreneurs. It’s also about help­ing the Philip­pines be more food se­cure,” Da­cones says.

Later in the day, he brings us to a man-made lake, which also ir­ri­gates the farm. To get there, we have to tra­verse a long, rocky road with a ter­rain sim­i­lar to the African sa­vanna, as de­picted in The Lion King or in the pages of Na­tional Ge­o­graphic, sans the wildlife. At the lake, there is—as sung in Can You Feel the Love Tonight—“a calm sur­ren­der to the rush of day.” Na­ture or­ches­trates mu­sic with the rustling of leaves and the chirp­ing of the birds, an apt scor­ing to the still­ness of the lake.

Ac­cord­ing to Da­cones, the av­er­age age of Filipino farm­ers is 57 and the Manila dream re­mains ap­peal­ing to chil­dren grow­ing in the coun­try­side. “But farm­ing is not a dirty job,” he says. It’s ironic how peo­ple who live in city dream of the peace and the ver­dant land­scapes of the prov­ince, while those who grew up breath­ing in the fresh air of the coun­try yearn for the noise and the fast pace of ur­ban cen­ters. But work­ing with soil un­der the heat of the sun is a noble job, and for some­one who was raised in the city, it’s even how life should be lived.

Farmer Raphael “Raffy” Da­cones grad­u­ated with a de­gree in ar­chi­tec­ture.

Rafael Estrada, Da­cones’ un­cle and men­tor, has been in or­ganic farm­ing for 30 years (right). The am­palaya fruit is wrapped in news­pa­per to avoid in­sect dam­age, but the farm uses nat­u­ral pes­ti­cides (ex­treme right).

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