Meetings In Manila and Homeward Bound

Image above: Padma, Efren and I at CTC 2017

While all of my trips to the Philippines feel short this has been the shortest trip in a number of years. It was jam packed with successful planning meeting’s with Karen and our core farmers and great connections with potential new partners and like-minded organizations throughout the country. We are in a very exciting place as an organization having spent the last two years forming our model and seeing it work in Benguet Province. We are thrilled that organizations and communities around the Philippines are finding us and wanting us to bring our Seed Saving knowledge and expertise to their communities and programs. We are truly ready to see our initial seeds planted in Benguet germinate around the Philippines! Saturday was jam-packed with meetings in Manila. Typically, I try to avoid much time in a city I fondly refer to as, “The Big Smoke,” but as our organization is growing it is essential we make connections with other likeminded organizations and eventually local funding opportunities. I first met for lunch with a dynamic young Filipino Entrepreneur Cherrie Atilano, the founder of Agrea. Cherrie grew up as a farmer and has always seen the value and importance of farming for her country. Three years ago, she Founded Agrea with the mission to help eradicate poverty for farming and fishing families, to alleviate the effects of climate change and to help establish food security in the Philippines. They are piloting their “One-Island Economy” model on Marinduque Island, which is often referred to as the heart of the Philippines (as the island is shaped like a heart). They have a model farm on the island that serves as a training center for new organic practitioners, they are primarily focused on rice farming using the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) which is helping restore diversity to the islands rice production, and they have a vibrant school garden program teaching the next generation the value and deep importance of farming. It was wonderful to connect with such a mission aligned organization and we look forward to continuing to discuss how we might be able to help Agrea incorporate seed saving into their efforts and develop a seed library on Marinduqe stocked with locally grown open-pollinated seeds!

I also met with another dynamic young Filipino farmer leader Enzo Pinga of Earthbeat Farms in Laguna. Enzo attended the Seed School we held at Kai Farms in June and it was great to meet with him and get his feedback about the program, as it was our first time teaching outside of Benguet Province. Enzo, like many of the growing young farmers and foodies in Metro Manila and the surrounding areas, discovered farming out of passion and a deep understanding of the need for greater food security and sustainability. It is so inspiring to talk with these young farming leaders who are committed to building a more food secure Philippines not just in words but also by getting their hands dirty on the farm! Earthbeat is a 1,000 sq meter farm managed and worked by Enzo and a small team of about 7, mainly growing organic vegetables for restaurants and hotels in the greater Metro Manila area. We had a great conversation about the need for seeds to be the central element to restoring food diversity and security in the Philippines. We also talked at length about the next generation of farmers in the Philippines like Enzo, since the average age of most Filipino Farmers is 57, a key element to building food security and ensuring a vibrant agricultural system continues is supporting and encouraging young farmers like to stay in faming!! Learn more about the great work Enzo is doing here! My last meeting was with Padma and Efren the Global Seed Savers-Philippines Board President and Treasurer. I am so thankful to get to work with such a strong local Board full of passionate people all committed to our collective work! We had wonderful conversations about our ambitious program plans for the year including; hosting at least four Seed Schools with new partners, hosting one Seed Forum for the entire Province of Benguet, and helping co-create at least one new Seed Library in 2018 (to name only a few of our indented programs for 2018)! We also discussed the projected local budget for the year, and talked at length about the need for the local board to start to fundraise locally to support our growing work. I am excited to have the Philippines Board take the lead to organize a fundraising screening of SEED: The Untold Story film and official launch of Global Seed Savers-Philippines sometime in early 2018 in Manila. Many of our local board members are very well connected in Metro Manila and I have no doubt this event will be a great success and opportunity to share about our work with a wider audience.

I left Manila a few hours ago and am safe to the Taipei Airport where I have about a 6- hour wait for my flight to Seattle. While it is always hard to leave the Philippines after a fantastic last few weeks with our farmers and meeting so many other like minded and mission aligned partners, I am more inspired than ever to continue on with our good work of ensuring that all communities are hunger free with access to sustainable farmer produced food and seeds. Thank you all for helping make this work a reality and as the busy season of holiday’s approaches please remember Global Seed Saves in your, year-end giving. We are kicking off our year-end campaign next week on #GivingTuesday, November 28th! Mark your calendars and visit our website to make a donation and support our growing impact in the Philippines. Our year-end goal is to raise $2,500 by December 31st! Help us get there and ensure the next generation of farmers has the technical training and access to locally produced open-pollinated seeds they need to feed their country and replenish the land! Thank you for your generous support and wishing you all a very happy Thanksgiving with your loved ones!!


New Partner Development Is Underway

Last week I traveled six hours north of Baguio City to the beautiful town of Sagada in Mt. Province like I have many times before. Sagada is a peaceful mountain community that I have been fortunate to spend a lot of time in and have dear friends there. While the influx of domestic tourism from Manila has filled the town with Inn after Inn, the quiet beauty of this town surrounded by rice terraces and mountain views as far as the eye can see are always a joy to return too. My dear friend and host Siegrid, is a talented local potter and it was wonderful to spend time at the pottery studio helping direct droves of Manila tourists. Siegrid is also working on making seed storage jars for our seed library in Tublay. Clay jars create the perfect conditions for seed storage: Cool, Dark, and Dry!

A number of months ago Layog Country Farm located in Tadian, Mt. Province (about two hours from Sagada) reached out to us and expressed their interest in collaborating to bring Seed Saving Technical Training to their farm and the surrounding community. On Friday last week, I traveled to their beautiful 28-hectare family farm. The property is immaculately managed with an office, seminar venue, and lodging for trainings. The majority of the farm is protected forestland and they are cultivating about 1 hectare of the land with vegetables and a number of hectares are dedicated to dragon fruit production. The third generation to manage the farm is continuing their Grand Fathers legacy and vision for the space. They are a registered Organic Farming Field School under the Agriculture Training Institute- ATI, they have a vibrant volunteer program at the farm through various work-away programs, and they share our vision of helping farmers return to the historical practice of saving seeds and ending their dependence on purchasing chemically treated seeds from the farm supply stores and working to restore diversity and food security. We discussed the logistics of hosting a Seed School Training at the Farm sometime early in Quarter 2 next year and we are looking forward to finalizing these details and expanding our work to Mt. Province in the coming months.

I also had a great meeting with a representative from the Provincial Agriculture Office of Mt. Province (who also happens to be Siegrid’s Aunt). Auntie Hazel is very excited to bring our technical training programs to farmers throughout Mt. Province and would love to see a Seed Library put up at the Province (similar to our first Seed Library located in Tublay). We are thankful to have identified a supportive Provincial Government Officer and the combination of a great venue at Layog Farm and our expertise in Seed Saving should make for a wonderful team to expand our critically important work to Mt. Province next year!!

Yesterday, I had a final meeting with the Benguet Association of Seed Savers (BASS) before I head to Manila on Friday and fly out on Monday. It was wonderful to see these farmers smiling faces again! We started the gathering with another round of seed distribution. It is always so wonderful to witness their excitement about seeds and eagerness to learn about new crop varieties. This round Artichoke made quite the sensation, I was showing the farmers pictures of artichoke on the web and we pulled out our educational materials at the seed library so they could learn more about how to propagate artichoke for seeds. The BASS members enthusiasm for learning is contagious and I feel so very honored to work with this dedicated group of farmers and seed savers that truly are our hope!!

The farmers organized our meeting yesterday so they could generously present me with a beautiful Tapis, locally woven traditional outfit complete with all the jewelry!! It was so sweet of them to give me this generous gift and was a reminder that we truly are a partnership in this work and they are incredibly thankful for the support we have generated and confidence we help instill. Farming is not an easy job but little by little all of us at Global Seed Savers are helping the farmers gain not only the technical skills they need to be successful but also restore the value of this hopeful profession for generations to come. I am thankful to know and call our dedicated BASS members friends and family!!

Farm Visits and Successful Planning Session with BASS Members

Image above: BASS Members pose for a photo after visiting the Boaz Family Farm in Atok!

On Monday we woke early and headed to Tublay to meet the BASS Members and conduct field visits to some of the new members farms. The farmers’ commitment, energy, and excitement about their collective work is truly infectious and it was wonderful to be greeted with big smiles and hugs by all when we arrived! We visited four farms in total and each has their own unique story and beauty. Many of the new farms are quite isolated from neighbors, which makes for wonderful growing conditions for both seeds and vegetables. I was particularly impressed with Ma’am Anita and Sir Jornald’s 1,000 sq meter farm located in Daclan, Tublay. They have a rich diversity of crops ranging from beans, turmeric, legumes, and various fruit trees. Anita shared that in 2008 she and her husband attended a seminar about organic farming held at the Municipal Hall and after attending this program they were inspired to go organic and began farming their land. Anita is a new member of BASS but is already proving to be a leader of the group and will be co-teaching one of our up-coming Seed Schools in a new region of the country next year!

Field visits have become a core component of our programming and it is always so inspiring to return and see these famers hard work in action. The field visits also foster a strong sense of group unity and identity amongst the BASS members. They often trade seeds and plants and are constantly sharing ideas about how to improve their organic farming and seed saving practices. We always share a meal together during our meetings, which is another way we are fostering a sense of family amongst the BASS Members. This shows because our conversations move easily between laughter and jokes and seed saving and organic farming realities in the country. These farmers know how to work hard and play hard!!

On Tuesday we all met again for a full day of planning and reflections with the BASS Members about the successes and challenges (opportunities) from this year and their plans and goals for 2018. It was amazing to make a list all of the things we accomplished this year including the following highlights:

  • More than doubled membership of BASS.
  • Registered BASS as official Association.
  • Held Training of Trainers Program for 30 Farmers. Preparing BASS Members to teach Seed Schools.
  • Held 2 Seed Schools with new partner communities in the Philippines. Co-facilitated by BASS Farmers.
  • Opened 1st of its kind collaborative Seed Library in Tublay. Currently the Seed Library has over 20 different varieties of seeds all produced by BASS Members.
  • 11 BASS Members completed a 3-Day Computer Training Course.

Wow, what an honor is has been to help make each of these successes a reality!

The BASS Members developed some fantastic goals for 2018 as well including:

  • By the end of 2018, BASS Members will have at least doubled the diversity of varieties available in the Seed Library.
  • By the end of 2018, BASS Membership will have increased by at least 50%.
  • By May, FY 2018: BASS will host a Provincial Wide Seed Forum and 1st Annual Seed Swap.

We are so excited to help these goals become a reality in the coming year!

We ended the meeting with a seed exchange where farmers got to select seeds they want to trial for viability here in the Philippines. Special shout out to our friends and partners at Seeds Trust for donating so many seed packets to our efforts! We look forward to sharing our second seed saving trial results with you in the coming months!

We are also thrilled to share the news, that as of October 25th, Global Seed Savers-Philippines is an officially registered Philippine NGO!! I am so excited to see where this continues to take us and looking forward to investing in building our continued local capacity as we mature and grow as local NGO. Many thanks to the connections of our local Philippine Board of Directors I will be having some meetings in Manila before I leave with potential funding and programmatic partners locally. We are thrilled to see our focus on seeds resonate with so many and excited to continue to see our organization germinate and grow!


Karen and I with the official SEC NGO Registration Certificate.