Fresh Start ad­vo­cates good health, sound en­vi­ron­ment

Agriculture - - Contents - BY JULIO P. YAP, JR.

THE PRO­DUC­TION of or­ganic let­tuce in the coun­try has grown sig­nif­i­cantly be­cause many Filipinos are now lean­ing to­wards at­tain­ing a healthy lifestyle. It has be­come the most pop­u­lar veg­etable for the prepa­ra­tion of fresh sal­ads, sand­wiches, and an ar­ray of other dishes that re­quire the use of this crop.

How­ever, the ob­jec­tive of pro­duc­ing or­ganic let­tuce and other high­value crops re­quires an in­ten­sive setup, ac­cord­ing to Ra­mon Uy Jr. and his wife Francine, who own and man­age the Fresh Start Or­ganic Farm in Barangay Rizal, Si­lay City, Ne­gros Oc­ci­den­tal.

To main­tain an or­ganic farm, the cou­ple as­sures that ex­ten­sive land prepa­ra­tion must be ob­served. Uy Jr. says land prepa­ra­tion is done by ap­ply­ing pro­cessed or­ganic fer­til­izer which is com­posed of car­bonized rice hull, chicken ma­nure, and ver­mi­com­post, un­der the su­per­vi­sion of farm care­taker Joselito Cabun­sac.

When asked as to why he pre­ferred us­ing ver­mi­com­post for their farm, Uy Jr. says it is a rich, fri­able, and soil-like ma­te­rial made from farm wastes, crop residues, grass clip­pings, green ma­nure crops, fallen leaves, veg­eta­bles, kitchen refuse, an­i­mal ma­nure, and other de­com­pos­able ma­te­ri­als.

Com­post­ing is the process of break­ing down these or­ganic ma­te­ri­als by means of soil or­gan­isms to pro­duce bi­o­log­i­cally sta­ble prod­ucts that can act as slow-re­lease sources of plant-avail­able nu­tri­ents, thereby im­prov­ing the nu­tri­ent sta­tus and the bio­chem­i­cal and phys­i­cal prop­er­ties of the soil. Thus, com­post im­proves soil qual­ity by act­ing as soil con­di­tioner and pro­vides last­ing ben­e­fits be­cause it is en­vi­ron­ment­friendly.

In­ci­den­tally, be­fore em­bark­ing on their or­ganic farm project, the cou­ple first started with an or­ganic fer­til­izer busi­ness, pri­mar­ily based on ver­mi­com­post­ing. Uy Jr. says that com­post­ing ma­te­ri­als are al­ways avail­able right at the farm, al­low­ing them to eas­ily pre­pare ver­mi­com­post, pro­vid­ing a cheaper, health­ier al­ter­na­tive to ex­pen­sive com­mer­cial fer­til­iz­ers.

“We saw a fu­ture in or­ganic farm­ing. That’s the rea­son why we em­barked on es­tab­lish­ing our own farm,” he says. “How­ever, some peo­ple thought that our idea was un­ortho­dox be­cause con­ven­tional fer­til­iz­ers were a lot cheaper at that time. But we be­lieved in our or­ganic crops. He added that crops grown us­ing their nat­u­ral fer­til­izer were big­ger and health­ier, com­pared with those us­ing syn­thetic in­puts.

As a de­voted sup­porter of the or­ganic move­ment, the cou­ple fully be­lieves in the im­por­tance of pro­mot­ing good health, fair trade, and healthy en­vi­ron­ment. “For us, profit is three-fold: en­vi­ron­men­tal, so­cial, eco­nomic. We make it a point that our prac­tices will not harm, and in fact, pre­serve the en­vi­ron­ment. We want our stake­hold­ers, es­pe­cially our part­ner farm­ers, to get a fair price for their ef­forts,” Uy Jr. ex­plained.

After all, farm­ers can save a lot on fer­til­izer cost by us­ing ver­mi­com­post. Gen­er­ally, com­post is now widely used as a soil amend­ment to im­prove soil struc­ture, to pro­vide plant nu­tri­ents, and sup­port liv­ing or­gan­isms. It also im­proves the fer­til­ity of the soil, and drainage of the field is like­wise im­proved be­cause it pro­motes bet­ter aer­a­tion, thus, the soil be­comes eas­ier to plow. It makes the soil a more fa­vor­able medium for the de­vel­op­ment of root sys­tems of growing plants. “To con­trol pests, we sprayed our crops with bio-in­sec­ti­cides, like ver­mitea, and other or­ganic for­mu­la­tions,” he shared.

Another in­no­va­tion in­tro­duced by the Fresh Start Or­ganic Farm is the use of a so­lar-pow­ered ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem to ir­ri­gate their high-value crops like the dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of let­tuce, kale, herbs, and spices, which were cul­ti­vated us­ing qual­ity Con­dor Seeds that the cou­ple sourced from Al­lied Botan­i­cal Cor­po­ra­tion (ABC).

Among the Con­dor let­tuce va­ri­eties in­clude the Carlo Rossa, Red Ro­maine, Fan­fare, and Ty­rol. The va­ri­eties of herbs on the farm in­clude arugula, basil, basil Gen­ovese or sweet basil, chives, dill, oregano, rose­mary, tar­ragon, and thyme. To main­tain the qual­ity of these high-value crops, Fresh Start Or­ganic Farm main­tains sev­eral green­houses which are reg­u­larly manned by re­li­able and ex­pe­ri­enced farmhands.

As a re­sult of a strict fer­til­iza­tion reg­i­men and ap­pli­ca­tion of

or­ganic ma­te­ri­als, the farm now pro­duces hun­dreds of ki­los of high-qual­ity or­ganic let­tuce per har­vest sched­ule. “Or­ganic re­quires chang­ing the mind­set of the farm­ers who want to earn a quick profit. We are con­tin­u­ously work­ing to make more farm­ers adapt healthy prac­tices, so that in the com­ing years, or­ganic will be­come the con­ven­tional way of farm­ing,” Uy Jr. says.

Now with more than 50 em­ploy­ees and sev­eral part­ners, Fresh Start has es­tab­lished an out­let at the SM City in Bacolod called Fresh Start Or­ganic and Nat­u­ral, a re­tail shop which serves de­li­cious and sat­is­fy­ing or­ganic dishes, or­ganic bev­er­ages, and other or­ganic prod­ucts like fresh veg­eta­bles, fruits, cof­fee, red and black rice, nat­u­ral sweet­en­ers, and even soaps, in­sect re­pel­lents, scented oils, among many oth­ers. “Some may claim that the prices of or­ganic prod­ucts are high but if you pre­fer pay­ing for the cheap price of fast and ready-toeat foods now, you might be spending a lot more for main­tain­ing your health later, in­clud­ing the price for main­tain­ing the en­vi­ron­ment,” he says.

Like­wise, they are now sup­ply­ing the let­tuce re­quire­ments of sev­eral malls in the coun­try, such as two malls in Bacolod, two malls in Iloilo City, two malls in Du­maguete City, and even two more malls in Metro Manila.

Uy Jr. says Fresh Start will con­tinue to ex­pand while main­tain­ing the com­pany’s ob­jec­tive of im­ple­ment­ing eco­log­i­cally, so­cially, and eco­nom­i­cally sound prac­tices in or­ganic agri­cul­ture.

Chin Chin Uy shows a seedling tray which is full of vig­or­ous let­tuce seedlings ready for trans­plant­ing.

Fresh Start Or­ganic Farm main­tains sev­eral green­houses which are reg­u­larly manned by re­li­able and ex­pe­ri­enced farmhands.

Uy says the ob­jec­tive of pro­duc­ing or­ganic let­tuce and other high-value crops re­quires an in­ten­sive setup. Crops which are grown us­ing nat­u­ral fer­til­izer can be­come big­ger and health­ier, com­pared with those us­ing syn­thetic in­puts.

Another in­no­va­tion tapped by Fresh Start Or­ganic Farm is the use of so­lar-pow­ered ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem to ir­ri­gate its crops.

Fresh Start Or­ganic Farm uses dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of Con­dor Seeds for its plant­ing re­quire­ments.

Com­post­ing ma­te­ri­als are al­ways avail­able right at the farm, thus, al­low­ing them to eas­ily shred and pre­pare ver­mi­com­post, pro­vid­ing a cheaper, health­ier al­ter­na­tive to ex­pen­sive com­mer­cial fer­til­iz­ers.

Fresh Start has its own self-pro­pelled com­post turner which is used in the turn­ing and fer­men­ta­tion of dif­fer­ent or­ganic mat­ters which can be made into green and pol­lu­tion-free or­ganic fer­til­izer.

Fresh Start now has an out­let at the SM City in Bacolod called Fresh Start Or­ganic and Nat­u­ral.

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