Last August 24-26, 2022, my companions from BASS and I went to Cebu to attend a seminar on Seed School Teacher’s Training (SSTT).
There were seven of us who attended the SSTT – three (3) were from the Benguet Association of Seed Savers (BASS) and four (4) from the Cebu Seed Savers (CSS). The SSTT was held at the office of the Communities for Alternative Food Ecosystem (CAFEi) in Guadalupe, Cebu.
This is the second SSTT conducted by GSSP. The first one was held in Batangas some time ago. The goal of the training was to prepare us to become future seed school trainers.
Prior to the SSTT, I attended the seed savers training as a participant. The topics during the seed school were focused on seed saving. It included a discussion on the history of seed saving, why we should save seeds, as well as the skills needed to preserve seeds. Meanwhile, the SSTT was focused on self-awareness and communication skills. The SSTT also included a short course on seed saving.
During SSTT, I learned to appreciate myself better. I have also learned how I can better appreciate seeds and other people in my daily life. The training made me realize that by being aware of myself, I can deal better with others because like a seed, each one of us is unique.
I have also realized that in this life, everything comes in phases. Learning should not only be confined inside the four walls of the school. Learning can also come through our daily experiences. I have learned that these lessons can be used to create a more peaceful and enjoyable tomorrow.
Last July 20-21, 2022, our team went to Lobo, Batangas to hold a seed school with a group called MABISA. Efren, our Philippines Program Manager, Elizabeth, our Benguet Field Coordinator, and Karen, our Philippines Executive Director facilitated the workshop. The workshop was attended by 20+ participants from the Mabilog na Bundok at Sawang Organic Producers Association (MABISA-OPA), and students and teachers from the Batangas State University.
Here are a few photos taken during the workshop:
Staff of ABS-CBN Foundation introduces GSS.
Staff of the ABS CBN Foundation Maving (center) and Neil (left) giving a brief feedback of first day’s training and telling a brief explanation about our partnership.
Karen Teaching at the Lobo Seed School.
Around 80% of the participants are women. The woman next to Elizabeth is Conception. She had led a protest against the mining exploration years ago which attracted the attention of ABS-CBN foundation’s Bantay Kalikasan unit. From this time on, the foundation had been working with the communities from where Conception and her group belongs— Barangay Mabilog and Sawang (they coined their group name MABISA from this two barangays).
Lobo Seed School Participants
A picture of some participants. These girls are from the Batangas State University and are in their 2nd year in college and are majoring in Agriculture. Almost a third of the total participants come from this college.
Francisco Return Teaching.
Francisco, one of the participants alongside his group member Petronila and a BSU student, is reporting to the whole group what they have learned from the training.
Participants Reporting To The Group.
Here, one of the groups is presenting what they have learned from the two-day training.
This training is a hybrid of Teacher’s training and Seed School which is why return teaching is a significant component.
Students and Teacher from the Batangas State University.
The man on the right side is June Ramirez. He is the practicum supervisor of the BSU students who participated in the training.
Why partner with MABISA Group?
Our connection with MABISA begins with our partnership with ABS-CBN Foundation. Back when Gina Lopez was still the director of ABS-CBN Foundation, they implemented some eco-tourism, and livelihood programs in Tublay (an example of this is the Tublay Organic Farming Practitioners Association or TOFPA, wherein some farmers from the Benguet Association of Seed Savers were also members). From that time on, we have been consistently communicating with ABS-CBN Foundation, and they have indicated their interest in bringing our signature workshop in Lobo, Batangas. MABISA is a community-led organization which was initially organized by ABS-CBN Foundation. Its members belong to Barangays Mabilog and Sawang in Lobo. They currently run the MABISA Eco Farm where people come and visit to learn about various ways of doing agriculture and experience the farm life up close.
Why is this partnership important to GSSP?
Our vision as an organization is to create “hunger-free and healthy communities with access to sustainable, farmer-produced seeds and food”. We also hope to establish community seed libraries in as many areas in the Philippines as possible.
Finding new partners who recognize the importance of saving native seeds and growing food in a sustainable way helps us grow our impact in the Philippines. Every new partner we find brings our communities a step closer towards food sovereignty.
Lobo is a good place to start spreading our advocacy in the CALABARZON region. The ABS-CBN Foundation has already done the legwork in organizing and empowering MABISA to become stewards of their land. Through our seed school, we hope to complement and enhance agricultural practices.
It has been a very busy and productive two weeks here in the Philippines. Wow hard to believe it has already been two weeks! It was wonderful to arrive and stay with my dear friend and our Philippines Board President Padma and her family. They have a beautiful oasis of an old family home right off of Taft and ESDA in the heart of Metro Manila. For any of you that have been to the Philippines you know that this is a jam packed, dense, loud, crowded area of what I affectionately call “The Big Smoke” (Metro Manila). So it was a breath of fresh air after a long journey to stay in their lovely ancestral home with high ceilings, friendly faces, and comforting delicious Filipino Food for one night.
The next day we had a leisurely drive North to Baguio City, and as we started to crest up the mountainside the air began to change and the cool pine tree breeze and familiar energy of Baguio City greeted us. While the city is ever increasing in traffic and noise it is always wonderful to return to the mountains and my second home here in the North. The following day Padma launched her book “Green Entanglements: Nature Conservation and Indigenous Peoples Rights in Indonesia and the Philippines.” A beautiful culmination of her PhD and time spent living, learning, and listening to indigenous communities about the many entanglements our modern world can present for nature conservation and IP communities. It was a wonderful book launch to honor Padma’s hard work and turned into a fantastic reunion of many Baguio City friends gathering to celebrate Padma and reconnect.
Global Seed Savers Team with Padma and Jenny at the book launch.
With our friends of Denver SilverHand that also run a coffee farm in Baguio.
2nd Philippine Permaculture Association Convergence
The next morning we rose early joined by our partner farmers Ma’am Ester and Ma’am Letty and headed back south to Los Banos (2 hours south of Manila, so 8 hours from Baguio) to attend the 2nd Convergence of the Philippines Permaculture Association (PPA). PPA has become a fantastic partner in our work incorporating seed saving into their design courses and helping support our farmers’ participation in their trainings. The convergence was a beautiful gathering of like-minded souls from all over the Philippines each doing their part to build a more sustainable future. It was wonderful to reconnect with many of our partners including our dear friends and seed sisters at Kai Farms Karla and Amena. We held a Seed School there last year and are looking forward to hosting another Seed School with them inearly 2019 and helping develop a community seed library in Silang, Cavite.
BASS Farmers Maam Ester and Maam Letty at the PPA Convergence
GSS with our Seed Sister Karla Delgado of Kai Farms
Karen, our dynamic Country Manager led a fantastic breakout session all about seed saving and the importance of our growing work. She beautifully described how seed saving paired with permaculture principles will lead to the most food and climate- resilient communities. There is indeed a growing awareness around the Philippines of the importance of saving seeds and ensuring all communities have access to their own locally produced non-chemically treated seeds. We are thrilled to be spreading this message and skill set with more partners and helping Filipino communities return to this sustainable and historic practice. It is becoming more clear as we share our work with a broader community, that there is a massive need to increase the local seed stock available to farmers and gardeners throughout the Philippines. Each time we share about our work more and more people wake up and realize the critically important role they play in this process. We are excited to see where all of the wonderful connections made at the PPA Convergence take us and thankful for the opportunity to have shared about our mission and advocacy with this wonderful community of farmers, earth healers, and friends!
Workshop participant during the Seed ID Activity
Karen teaching about seeds
Growing Collaborations in Cebu
After a quick one-night stay in Manila last Sunday, Karen and I flew to Cebu City on Monday morning to meet with our partners, the Cebu Farmers Market and their recently formed NGO, CAFÉ-I – Communities for Alternative Food Eco-Systems Initiative. We held two Seed Schools in Cebu this year and with their vibrant organic market happening three days a week in Cebu City we have been excited to explore a more long-term relationship and creation of a seed saving hub in Cebu. Cebu City is also where Karen grew up and her parents live. They were kind enough to host us while we were there and it was wonderful to spend some time with her family.
With our partners in Cebu Teresa and Bingbing of Cebu Farmers Market and CAFE-I!
Many of our dynamic partners around the Philippines are led by strong duos of women and Cebu is a perfect example of this! Ate Bingbing is a Slow Food Advocate and has helped establish and manage the small Seed Library they started earlier this year after our first Seed School. Ate Teresa is a tireless community organizer who years ago had the vision to create access to healthy organic food in Cebu which is what formed the vibrant Cebu Farmers Market. They partner with farmers to sell locally produced healthy organic produce and products three days a week in Cebu City. Teresa is also very active in the Anti-Golden Rice Advocacy (GMO) Movement and extremely passionate about our collective work.
On Tuesday morning we met at their beautiful office space set up on a hillside with three small rooms and a beautiful deck for outdoor meeting space and a garden. Since holding our two Seed Schools in Cebu earlier this year, it has become clear there is a growing movement for organic farming on the island and desire to launch a seed saving program. We had a great planning session to prepare for our meeting with the farmers on Thursday. We also enjoyed a wonderful lunch with two of the leaders at the Cebu Farmers Market, Tita Jeidy and Kuya (older brother) Dito. They both have amazing personal stories of overcoming health challenges through growing their passion for organic farming and access to healthy and sustainable food.
Kuya Dito is a graduate of our earlier Seed Schools and a passionate seed saver, proven by the fact that within moments of our time together he pulled out seeds from his pack! A number of years ago a coconut tree fell on his back leaving his legs slightly paralyzed. He now walks with two canes and leg braces. However, this nearly life-devastating experience helped him become more passionate about organic farming. Despite his physical limitations he continues to work hard to produce a wide diversity of organic crops and help restore many local varieties of fruit. His farm is known for passion fruit production and he was kind enough to give me a bag of delicious passion fruit before we left. The humble kindness and generosity of the farmers we work with never ceases to amaze me!
On Thursday a group of 30 farmers gathered at the CAFÉ-I Office to learn more about launching a Cebu Seed Savers Group. Karen and I spent the morning sharing more about our work, the model we have created in Benguet Province, and the importance of communities returning to saving their own seeds and operating seed libraries. The participants ranged from landowners who are passionate about organic farming, smallholder farmer co-ops, young farmers as well. The average age of farmers in the Philippines is 57, so a key to ensuring a food secure future for the Philippines is encouraging and training the next generation of farmers.
During the second half of the meeting all participants located on a map where their farms are and shared more about the types of crops they are currently growing, and what seeds they would like to be producing. It was wonderful see the spread of these dedicated farms across the island of Cebu. Cebu City is the oldest City in the Philippines and used to be the capitol of the Country. Cebu is a southern hub of the country and we are strategically very excited to be expanding our work to this region to form a Cebu Seed Savers Group. All of the participants are excited to join in this effort and they will be meeting again in early January to make further plans. Karen will also be traveling to Cebu in February to conduct another Seed School and a Seed School Teacher Training Course to ensure those that wish to teach seed saving in their communities have the skills and knowledge to do this.
While we are still finalizing our plans for how the Cebu Seed Savers Group will be organized and managed, we are thrilled to see our work grow to this important Southern Regional Hub of the Philippines. We are grateful for our growing collaborations and so thankful to be building this movement with Cebu Farmers Market, CAFÉ-I, and all of their participating farmers!
Image above: Bill and Belle right before leaving Sagada on Friday. With our wonderful hosts Steve and Siegrid.
It is hard to believe that after well over a year of planning and preparations our much anticipated 3-Day Seed School and Farmer Capacity Building Seminar is over and our guest facilitators are off to their next destinations! I cannot begin to express my deep gratitude to Bill McDorman and Belle Starr of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, and Heather DeLong from DeLaney Community Farm at Denver Urban Gardens for jumping head first into this adventure and sharing their knowledge, love, and heart with our farmers and all they encountered during their time in the Philippines. You each made the 3 day seminar the great success that it was by adapting your curriculum to our local context, helping each participant realize they are a critical part of a global movement, and most importantly sharing your heart and knowledge with all you encountered during your time here.
Heather leaving for Manila from Sagada yesterday.
The largest success of the seminar was the fact that it was like nothing any of us had ever done before (facilitators and farmers alike). To have a room full of 50 farmers that traveled from 6 different Provinces in the Philippines (many required 2 days of travel to reach the venue in Baguio City) and create a space for farmers to learn not only from our guest facilitators but also from each other was incredibly powerful! While their challenges might be different in their respective communities as the seminar unfolded it was clear that all of the farmers have something to learn and teach each other. Friends of ENCA Farm is very excited to continue this momentum starting with our core Seed Savers from Benguet Province to step up and become trainers as we continue to work with our new found collaborators across the country. That is the true success of this work when it is fully taught and run by the farmers that are actively restoring seed saving to their communities. Each participant left the seminar with hands on knowledge of how to save seeds, a new found connection to the global landscape of seed saving, we held an impromptu seed swap where farmers got to exchange seeds amongst themselves, and each participant left with a tangible plan of how they will implement their new found seed saving knowledge at their farms and within their communities. We have ignited a powerful group of dedicated farmers and community leaders that I have no doubt will change their communities for the better with each seed they sow, save, and share!
The successful graduates of Seed School!
Happy Benguet Farmers during the seminar.
Farmer from the Sierra Madre learns to save tomato seeds.
The female farmers of Benguet Province.
We have spent that last three days in Sagada one of my beloved pockets of the world. High up in the mountains about 6 hours north of Baguio City nestled amongst pine forest and limestone cliffs sits this beautiful mountain town. While each time I return the startling influx of domestic tourism is visible with new hotels popping up everywhere, I so am thankful to have wonderful local friends to stay with and experience the “real Sagada” through. Siegird, my dear friend and talented local potter and her husband Steve (former Peace Corps) always open their home to me and our guest felt the same hospitality. We went on an epic 5-hour hike up Mt. Ampacao two days ago. As we climbed up steep road and trail it was worth each step to reach the top where there was wide-open grassland and amazing views of neighboring villages and mountains complete with a delightful breeze. This was the perfect place to end our impactful time together to hike, reflect, and eat delicious food and homemade bread that is ever abundant at Siegird’s since her mother runs a bakery out of the house.
I am looking forward to spending a few more solo days here in Sagada to continue to reflect, plan, and prepare for all the follow up work we have with the farmers from the seminar and planning for 2017. We will be finalizing our Seed Library Space and small office at the Municipal Hall in Tublay next week when they officially open the new food-processing terminal in town.
Siegird, me, and her adorable son David.
Seeing heather off yesterday.
Once again I would like to send a huge thank you to our guest facilitators and The Posner Center for International Development, International Collaboration Fund Grant that made this program possible. We have launched a dynamic community changing movement with 50 farmers and are incredibly excited to watch the seeds we have germinated grow in the coming months and year!
Our incredibly talented local Program Manager Karen! So thankful to have her on our team!
We enjoyed breakfast with the Congressman the day after the seminar at the Baguio Country Club.
I have had the distinct honor of working and living with Filipinos for over a decade. Each time I return to my adopted homeland my connections and the great need for our collective work gain further strength and momentum. In light of the shock that rippled throughout the world on Tuesday I know now more than ever how critically important this work is and am incredibly honored to have the ability to channel my tears, frustration, and most importantly passions into something so productive in this time of confusion and uncertainty.
Participants dissect seeds
Today was the first day of our 3-Day Seed Saving and Farmer Capacity Building Seminar in Baguio City. As the seminar room filled with 50 farmers and participants representing 6 different Provinces throughout the country, my heart was filled with joy and excitement for all that lies ahead for this collective of farmers. Many of the participants traveled multiple days to attend this training but still arrived with smiles on their faces and eagerness to absorb the information. While each of the participants may come from different regions and produce many varieties of vegetables and rice we are all united in the fundamental understanding that the ability to build sustainable communities starts with each of us!! Not with government (local or foreign) and not with East-West Seeds the largest seed dealer in the Philippines continuing to promote hybrid seeds that leave farmers dependent on purchasing seeds after each planting. But this room full of farmers, waking up to the reality that they can grow their own seeds to sustain their families, communities and the world!!
Today more than ever I am re-empowered to continue this good work and honored to be here putting my energy and love into something so meaningful during this seemingly precarious moment in time. These dedicated farmers are the best example of working to build and be the change we want to see in the world. Wendell Berry once said, “ The threat to precious things will be our advantage. It clarifies our duty.” This is the time that we live in and Friends of ENCA Farm is energized with our new clarified duty and desire to empower Filipino Farmers to Seed and Farmer Up!!
Yesterday, over 70 farmers and community members from both Tublay and La Trinidad gathered for Seed School at the Municipal Hall in Tublay. As the room filled with eager and energetic farmers I was overwhelmed with excitement for the launch of this important program.
I attended a similar one-day Seed School in Denver in August, facilitated by our new friends and partners from The Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance (RMSA). While there is far too much information regarding the history and great importance of seeds to share in just one day, RMSA has developed incredible curriculum over the years that they shared with me to adapt to the Philippine farming audience. I am forever grateful to Bill and Belle from RMSA for sharing this knowledge and helping make yesterday’s program a great success. Our big vision is for RMSA to come to the Philippines next fall to conduct more in-depth follow up seed programming with the farmers.
During the program farmers learned the history of seeds, why they are critically important to local bio-diversity preservation, all participants learned to save wet tomato seeds and got to take them home, and they also learned the basics of saving biennial crops (these crops such as carrots and cabbage take two years to flower and produce seeds). While only a handful of farmers said they are currently saving seeds, they all expressed and remember a time not long ago, when their grandparents saved seeds. This means that this indigenous practice is not completely lost and can be restored with the enthusiasm and hard work of these dedicated farmers.
Happy member of TOFPA- Tublay Organic Farmer Association
Farmers enjoy Guess That Seed Activity
Thanks to the great talent and passion of my host cousin, Chef Aguinaya Cloche (or as we call her Dimples) all participants enjoyed a delicious homemade local organic meal. The menu included: malunggay (local super food plant) pesto pasta, veggie burgers (made w/ tofu and banana blossom), spinach pie, rosemary roasted chicken, eggplant rolls, and a fresh green salad with sprouts and radishes. Farmers here work incredibly hard to produce these amazing veggies but they rarely get to see the diverse ways they can be prepared. It was wonderful to see their smiling faces as they enjoyed this unique, healthy, and amazing meal prepared with love!
Thanks to all the amazing helpers!
After lunch we did small group breakout sessions where participants shared their ideas for future training’s including: bee keeping, mushroom propagation, advanced seed saving in the fields. Farmers also shared the seeds they would like to see available locally and Friends of ENCA Farm will help make this a reality. I was most inspired to see the rooms excitement about starting a local organic seed bank, in fact one group shared that their vision is to see farmers in each Barangay of Tublay producing their own seeds and saving them at the centralized community seed bank. Indeed yesterday was the start to see this big vision become a reality!
In the coming months, we will be conducting follow up meetings with farmers that said they want to be apart of the organic seed trial program. Friends of ENCA Farm will distribute organic seeds to the farmers that meet our requirements, and conduct field trials with these initial seeds to monitor their success and challenges. I am incredibly excited to have planted this first seed in Tublay and look forward to watching it germinate and grow over the course of the coming year! I am honored to work with such a passionate community of farmers all actively working to make this world a better and healthier place starting with each seed they sow!