Witnessing Regenerative Agriculture at Kuatro Marias Eco Farm in Mindoro

Witnessing Regenerative Agriculture at Kuatro Marias Eco Farm in Mindoro

It was late April of this year when I met Jon Sarmiento. If you read my previous post, then you would know that Farmer Jon served as our main speaker during a training on regenerative agriculture in Arapal Cebu. 

I was so enthused and curious by what he taught us during the training that I wanted to see for myself how Farmer Jon practiced the techniques he taught us. What was the difference between conventional agriculture and what Farmer Jon called the Integrated Diversified Organic Farming System (IDOFS)?

On May 26, 2022, Karen and I went to Victoria, Mindoro with two goals. First, we wanted to see for ourselves Farmer Jon’s farm to see a real-life model of regenerative agriculture. Second, we wanted to further discuss our continuing partnership with Farmer Jon, particularly the after-training support for the attendees of the participants in Cebu. I am happy to report that all our goals were met. 

The lush, robust landscape teeming with plants was hard to miss. This farm is clearly endowed. It was bordered by a river so it is abundant with clean water, a resource that is essential for a thriving farm. We had to cross a bamboo bridge to get to the farm’s entrance. 

On May 26, 2022, Karen and I went to Victoria, Mindoro with two goals. First, we wanted to see for ourselves Farmer Jon’s farm to see a real-life model of regenerative agriculture. Second, we wanted to further discuss our continuing partnership with Farmer Jon, particularly the after-training support for the attendees of the participants in Cebu. I am happy to report that all our goals were met. 

The lush, robust landscape teeming with plants was hard to miss. This farm is clearly endowed. It was bordered by a river so it is abundant with clean water, a resource that is essential for a thriving farm. We had to cross a bamboo bridge to get to the farm’s entrance.

As we entered Kuatro Marias Eco Farm, named after Jon’s four daughters, we already felt a refreshing forestry vibe. This, Jon explains, is the “microclimate”, technically defined as “an area in which the weather is usually different from the areas around it”.[1]https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/microclimate Inside the farm, it is noticeably cooler, thanks to the shade of the many trees and tall bushes growing. There was a huge diversity of plants and trees growing here. So many, in fact, that I could only identify a few of them. 

Inside the farm, there is not one tree or plant that dominates the place. Just like what Jon illustrates during the training, his farm is indeed a display of diversity. Jon soon explained to us that the trees and plants inside the farm were a sort of an intentional collection that he gathered from his travels. 

Whenever he goes to places of friends, and because he’s known as a native tree enthusiast, he’d be gifted with trees. If he learns of a crop variety or a tree with characteristics that he sees useful in his farm, he makes sure to bring home some. This, he says, is the demonstration of the core principles surrounding regenerative agriculture— being intentional and mindful of the future. 

Regenerative agriculture is a perspective that takes into account what is currently happening while planning for what is to come.

“While climate change is urgent,” he said, “the collection of plants and trees that you grow in your forest farm should take into account how these can impact the future.” Regenerative agriculture is a perspective that takes into account what is currently happening while planning for what is to come. 

I witnessed how this principle was applied at the Kuatro Marias Farm. The decision to shift to organic farming from the industrial model was borne out of Jon’s love for his daughters. He wanted to give the best quality, and most unadulterated produce to his children. He reminded us of his experience from childhood where his parents would sell their best produce leaving only the rejected ones for family consumption. He said that this was what he wanted to change now that he has four daughters.

 

 One last take away from this experience was learning that regenerative agriculture is founded on a core guide which is the conscious implementation of biodiversity. The variety of plants in Jon’s farm creates a balanced ecosystem and thus, allows it to thrive better. It is also more resilient to natural calamities.

Jon recalls, “Whenever a typhoon hits us, and sometimes it really hits us hard, you can see the damage for a couple of weeks, and then my farm starts to regenerate. This isn’t the same with my neighboring farms who are doing monocropping— farmers will take months or even years to recuperate.”

Reflecting On Our Visit To Cebu, Discovering Regenerative Agriculture

Reflecting On Our Visit To Cebu, Discovering Regenerative Agriculture

In late March of 2022, Karen and I went to visit our partner farmers to see how everything is going on the ground. I went there filled with excitement because this is the first time I will be meeting our field partners and farmers personally. 

You see, this trip has been postponed several times due to the recurring lockdowns and surges and COVID cases. This fact, plus the many stories of sorrows and triumphs amid the pandemic and the typhoons have further enhanced my eagerness to meet and engage in conversations with our partners. 

And since we were visiting Cebu just months after Typhoon Odette devastated the province, I came here expecting to hear stories of how this typhoon impacted the farms and the lives of our farmers. I thought it would be a heavy and sympathetic kind of conversation. [Odette made landfall in December 2021. You can read about our response here. You can also read Harry’s reflection on the relief efforts launched during Typhoon Odette.]

Of course in some conversations, farmers were lamenting the impact of the calamity, but I also heard stories of hope and saw first hand how some of them rose from the difficulties. What I expected to be difficult conversations turned inspirational. 

Take for example Gina, who was forced to make do with a small backyard garden after the government retracted ownership of the land she used to farm. Despite the small size of her garden, she is now growing several crops. As of our visit, some of these crops were already flowering and many were ready to grow seeds. 

And then there was Bevs, whose farm was thriving at the time of our visit. In fact, I thought that the typhoon spared her garden, but she told us that she was able to rehabilitate her farm pretty quickly. She says this was because used to run and manage a large farm in Bohol. 

Despite these inspiring stories, however, the evidence of Odette’s force was pretty clear to see. A group of farmers in Pestales, for example, had a difficult experience to tell. The typhoon had disrupted their production because they were unable to use a large portion of the beverage and produce processing area. The roof had been totally wrecked. During  our visit, we were unable to meet their leader, Rodelyn, since she and her team were busy seeking grants to help out in their rebuilding efforts. But just like most of our conversations, the farmers of Pestales were committed to rise back up on their feet. 

On March 23, during the latter part of our trip, we went to the north of Cebu where members of our Cebu Seed Savers, some GSSP staff, and the CAFEi team gathered for a training on regenerative agricultural practices at the Arapal Livelihood Center in Bogo City.

The training was given by Jon Sarmiento, a farmer with twenty years of experience using what he called the Integrated Diversified Organic Farming System (IDOFS). 

This system looks at climate change as an urgent situation. Farmer Jon highlighted that humanity has been overly exploiting and abusing the earth for a long period of time and because of this, the climate has drastically changed. This changing climate poses severe challenges to farmers. 

According to Farmer Jon, a farm design using IDOFS should therefore take into account the impacts of farming activities to the environment thus not only thinking of what is happening now but more importantly what activities in the present can impact the future. Underscored in Jon’s talk was the governing principle in his farming practice. 

 

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”

The underlying reason why one would choose to practice IDOFS is their love and commitment to their own family. He recounted his younger years when his farmer parents — both of whom were conventional farmers — would save up the best produce for selling to the market. The rejected produce are the ones left for their family’s table. 

Here, Jon emphasized that in IDOFS, a farmer will choose to apply the best, and most sustainable way of crop production, those that are not laced with chemicals for example, because the purpose for growing food is to feed the family. A farmer that loves his family will choose to grow the best produce by cultivating his farm in the most sustainable way. 

Listening to this, I recalled home. In Banaue where my parents grew up, there stood the majestic Banaue rice terraces, considered one of the wonders of the World. Unlike the other wonders of the world that were built by slavery, the Banaue rice terraces owes its magnificence to the love of our ancestors to their community. 

Our modern world would call the techniques used in the creation of the Banaue Rice Terraces as contour farming – a sustainable farming technique that prevents soil erosion and maintains soil moisture.

But for those of us who hail from Ifugao, this is the most concrete expression of our ancestors’ love and concern for the future generations. Through this example, I was able to understand what Farmer Jon meant by the “guiding principles” of IDOFS. 

Finding Beauty After the Storm

Finding Beauty After the Storm

What beauty can we find in the ocean of fallen trees, among the scattered debris of shattered houses? Can we find beauty in the midst of this chaos?
 
As an eye witness to this typhoon it is easy to be swayed when seeing the extensive damages. It is hard not to feel devastated in these situations. This disaster has left many families displaced, some lost their homes and livelihood, while others lost their loved ones. Life has been difficult since the typhoon made landfall nearly 6 weeks ago!
 
However, when the roads re-opened and we were finally able to visit our partner farmers to provide initial relief including: dry goods, water, hygine kits, cash assistance, and solar lights. I was struck by the fact that despite the devastation, our farmers still radiated hope. Our farmers know that like all other storms of the past, they will rise up again. Hope is alive, love is alive, and light is alive. This is the beauty that I saw amidst this disaster.

Together, each of can us can play a small part to help pick up the p
ieces left scattered by Typhoon Odette. We can help clear the debris and start laying new, and better foundations for a sustainable tomorrow. I am grateful to be doing this through Global Seed Savers response and I hope you will join us in these efforts!