In­te­rior de­signer turned farmer talks about his ca­reer change

Raffy Da­cones be­comes the voice of lo­cal farm­ing

Red Magazine - - EDITOR’S NOTE | CONTENTS - IN­TER­VIEW TISHA RAMIREZ PHO­TOG­RA­PHY JOSEPH PAS­CUAL

Liv­ing in the city, peo­ple tend to fall into rou­tine from com­mut­ing to work and get­ting stuck in traf­fic to cram­ming to meet dead­lines. Even­tu­ally feel­ing like a minis­cule part of a sys­tem, not re­ally achiev­ing any­thing great. Raffy Da­cones felt the same way while he was liv­ing in Ja­pan. Tired of the city life, he de­cided to move back home with­out re­ally hav­ing a clear idea of what he was go­ing to do. Lit­tle did he know that he would even­tu­ally start some­thing that he is now ex­tremely pas­sion­ate about, Teraoka Fam­ily Farm.

Have you al­ways been into farm­ing?

No. I used to live in Tokyo, where I worked for three years at an in­te­rior de­sign firm be­fore I got tired of the city. Even if it was won­der­ful, I got tired of do­ing the same ex­act thing, of city life in Tokyo and com­mut­ing. I tried to find out what I wanted to do, and de­cided to come back to the Philip­pines. It turned out that my fam­ily had land in Pan­gasi­nan that wasn’t be­ing used. It was a farm with lots of mango trees, but no one was tak­ing care of them. I then re­al­ized how farm­ers make a good liv­ing in other coun­tries, es­pe­cially in Ja­pan, but not here. When I came home, or­ganic farm­ing was just be­com­ing a trend in the Philip­pines and peo­ple were start­ing to get into or­ganic pro­duce. So I thought, why not start a farm? I took a leap and re­signed from my job in Ja­pan so I could get into farm­ing.

I hadn’t ex­pected how hard it was go­ing to be. Con­sid­er­ing I had no back­ground what­so­ever in agri­cul­ture, I had to do a lot of re­search and ask ad­vice from other peo­ple. Ev­ery­thing was pretty much trial and er­ror in the be­gin­ning, but it has been two years and I’ve been do­ing well so far. What

“Farm­ing is like go­ing to school: I learn some­thing new ev­ery sin­gle day.”

re­ally kept me in farm­ing was the re­la­tion­ship I built with a lot of farm­ers. They are so sim­ple, very down-to-earth, and they’re the ones who feed us yet city peo­ple look down on them. Their work is seen as un­prof­itable when, the truth is, farm­ing can gen­er­ate in­come if you could just find the right mar­ket for your pro­duce. Farm­ers don’t have ac­cess to the mar­ket, though. We have a lot of or­ganic farm­ers in the coun­try but no one knows where to find them, so I be­came their voice. They bring their pro­duce to me and I buy them at a re­ally good price; some­times, I help them grow their crops as well. I want to re­move the mid­dle­men so the farm­ers can earn enough to con­tinue farm­ing and en­cour­age their fam­i­lies to con­tinue work­ing on their land in­stead of go­ing to the city.

The Philip­pines has so much ne­glected po­ten­tial in agri­cul­ture. We don’t see the im­por­tance now of what farm­ers do, but who is go­ing to feed us in the fu­ture? We need to en­cour­age the youth to get into farm­ing as well, given that the av­er­age age of farm­ers here is 57. Peo­ple think that farm­ing is an in­dus­try of the poor, and I want to change that per­cep­tion.

Take us through a day on your farm.

My farm is 200 hectares big, but only five hectares are used for or­ganic farm­ing. My daily rou­tine con­sists of wak­ing up early at three or four in the morn­ing, do­ing all the hard work, then go­ing to sleep at seven in the even­ing. I like do­ing the hard work, such as mak­ing my own plots. When­ever I’m stressed, I go to the nurs­ery and ger­mi­nate seeds. Farm­ing is like go­ing to school: I learn some­thing new ev­ery sin­gle day. There are so many vari­ables, like weather, the cli­mate, and even the peo­ple I work with, but I think it’s bet­ter to keep on learn­ing than stick­ing only to what you know.

I’m also in Manila three or four times a week since the mar­ket is here, but I want to spend as much time as I can at the farm so I travel back and forth.

Has the lo­cal per­cep­tion of farm­ing im­proved some­what since you started work­ing in agri­cul­ture your­self?

Peo­ple are more aware now of or­ganic farm­ing and are more health­con­scious. They want to know how their food is grown and where it comes from, so that helps the cur­rent move­ment to­ward or­ganic agri­cul­ture, which the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture is work­ing on. There are also pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions do­ing the same thing. Be­cause of the grow­ing aware­ness, we now see or­ganic sec­tions in the su­per­mar­ket and small out­lets like Healthy Op­tions. But there’s still much to be done: we still don’t grasp how much pes­ti­cides and chem­i­cals are used to cre­ate per­fect-look­ing pro­duce, and de­spite the huge po­ten­tial in the Philip­pines, or­ganic farm­ing re­mains mostly that. The de­mand is there but the sup­ply is scarce.

At 29 years old, what are you bring­ing to the ta­ble?

I’m en­cour­ag­ing the youth to learn or get back into farm­ing. In 50 years, if things don’t change, we won’t have any­thing to eat. I want to be a role model for the youth, I want to show them that there is money in farm­ing, and that it’s fun; they just have to work hard. I en­joy what I do, so in a way, I want to make the im­age of farm­ing look cool, too. •

Right: Teraoka Fam­ily Farm in Pan­gasi­nan

Above: Nurs­ery in Teraoka Fam­ily Farm where seedlings are planted

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