Food Sovereignty Launching

Food Sovereignty Launching

March 15, 2022. This is the day we officially launched  the food sovereignty campaign through the support of our partners from the Benguet Association of Seed Savers (BASS). But for me, who has been with Global Seed Savers Philippines (GSSP) for less than a year, this was an important day for a different reason. It was the first time I personally met the farmers whom I’ve only seen in photos. It was also the first time I came to Tublay, and the first time I experienced first-hand the work of GSSP. I was both excited and anxious, but also, determined to observe and learn the ways of the community.

The activities were pretty simple, with the blessing of the soil and seed as major highlights. We had planned for a ritual to express our gratitude to the land and the seeds that enable our farmers to continue producing food for our communities. And of course, there was a lot of music, dancing, and food! Here are some photos and videos from the event: 

This, however, was not a simple celebration. It was also a coming together of two communities, both devastated by typhoons in the recent past, one that has recovered, the other, still in the process of recovering. A major objective of the activity was to bridge the connection between the farmers of Tublay and the farmers of Cebu. As you may already know, Cebu has recently been devastated by Typhoon Odette. But this is not the first time that farmers in the Philippines have had to rebuild their farms (and lives) after a typhoon. In previous years, it was the farmers of Benguet who needed help. Farmers from Cebu readily sent their seed stocks to help re-enliven the farms of Benguet. Now it is the Benguet farmers’ turn to help Cebu rise up from the devastation of Odette.

Through this event, the farmers of Benguet sent their compatriots from the South, prayers of strength, healing, and nourishment so that they may overcome their current challenges. In one part of the program, Karen, our Philippines Executive Director, asked all attendees to stand and touch the seeds and the soil which was going to be sent to Cebu. She said, this was so we could share our “microbes and microorganisms” to our partner farmers in Cebu.[1]Perhaps in future posts, we will have the opportunity to discuss the microbiome and its connection to agriculture. For now, we hope you read this resource to better understand the value of this … Continue reading This held a lot of meaning for me.

And though simple the entire event was, it led me to a lot of realizations and lessons. For one, it helped me realize how the land, and agriculture in general, represent the interconnectedness of Filipinos. Agriculture and all the traditions and knowledge systems built around it are what makes our communities thrive.

Another realization I had during the activity was this: farmers recovered from the climate disruptions they have experienced in recent years because they have not forgotten the spirit of bayanihan.

“This spirit is indeed the heart and soul of our work at Global Seed Savers! Seeds, seed saving, building a community committed to sustainably feeding itself and resisting the ever growing stronger corporate and chemical take over of our food system, is only possible when done together…in community….with a true spirit of bayanihan!”

 

 

— Sherry Manning, Nourish Celebrates Bayanihan Spirit

As I say these words, I realize that there are so many ideas, concepts, and insights here that would need time and space to unpack. Perhaps, in future articles, we  would be able to expound on these ideas as they appear in the Philippine context. For now, however, I want to center on this one idea: There is so much to be done in terms of food sovereignty in the Philippines, but our communities already have the foundations to make it happen. Our communities have all the elements to make food sovereignty a reality in the country. It is only a matter of utilizing the knowledge we already have, and remembering the power they hold. As I leave Tublay, a single thought echoes in my mind: “The heart of the Filipino is in the right place”. As our world is currently in turmoil, I realize just how valuable this is. Though many of us are caught up in feelings of turmoil and hopelessness, the community and the lessons of the past ensures that our hearts will continue to beat together, in search of a better future.

Farm Visits, Board Planning and More!

Imagine a beautiful mountain valley surrounded by pine tree and tropical forested mountains, rice fields lining the riverbank, and a beautiful organic farm just above the road that passes through this magical place! This scene is real and last week during our farm visits with the Benguet Association of Seed Savers (BASS) we spent lunch and a lovely afternoon at Auntie Mary’s beautiful farm tucked away in Tublay Central. It is always grounding and reaffirming to go on farm visits with our dedicated farmer partners during my annual visits to the Philippines. While I recognize the deep importance my fundraising and advocacy away from the farms provides… my favorite days each year are spent in the fields learning, laughing, and sharing best practices with the BASS Members. They are a passionate, knowledgeable, and extremely dedicated group of farmers and each time we spend time together I am reminded of how blessed I am to get to work with each of them!

 

Tublay Central Valley

Tublay Central Valley View from Auntie Mary’s Farm

Auntie Mary’s beautiful organic farm sits along a small riverbed and she is a true organic practitioner having farmed organically the last 15 years, since a personal heath scare during her last child’s birth. She is a new member of BASS and plants a wide diversity of organic crops including okra, lettuce, beans, adlay (a Filipino native grain), and especially exciting is her native corn!! The Philippines is SE Asia largest producer of GMO Corn, with over 800,000 hectares planted around the country. Considering that corn wind pollinates up to 10 km, some studies are starting to show that all the corn in these densely GMO planted areas might be contaminated. It is a real treasure that Auntie Mary has native corn and she is excited to keep growing it out at her isolated farm and share seeds with BASS farmers and our Seed Library in Tublay.

 

 

We also visited BASS Members Fely and Pastor Jun (a new member of BASS and the current President of the Tublay Organic Farmers Association). I have known Fely for many years, since my early Peace Corps days and this was my first time to visit her farm. Set just below the ridgeline of Coroz in Tublay she has a wide and beautiful farm full of coffee (she partners with another NGO to export to Japan) and a wide diversity of vegetables including herbs and squash. We toured the area she had dedicated to saving seeds, but sadly her greenhouse was destroyed in the recent typhoons. We are still formalizing how to share the funds raised to support all the BASS members impacted by the recent typhoons. In total, BASS Farmers suffered over $20,000 USD in damages. To date we have raised just over $2,500 to support their continued recovery and any additional gifts are much appreciated and will go a long way to ensuring BASS Farmers can continue to propagate quality seeds. Donations can be made via our website: https://globalseedsavers.giv.sh/ba3e.

Pastor Jun’s Farm is located one ridgeline North of Fely’s and feels like a hidden gem as you walk the steep pine tree path into the woods and turn a corner to see a magical secret garden. Pastor is new to organic farming but already has a wide diversity of crops including dill, cucumber, carrots, beets, and more. His farm is in a perfect location for our continued seed trials and increased seed production, because it is well isolated and already proving to be fertile land. Pastor is excited to conduct carrot seed saving trails in the coming months and expand his seed saving knowledge as a new member of BASS.

 

 

GSSP Board Retreat and Planning

As you might remember, last year we registered our Philippine Counterpart NGO Global Seed Savers Philippines. It has been a fruitful year for the organization starting to gain local funding support and formalize their board roles and action steps. I have enjoyed getting to help guide this process with the Philippines Board and last week Sunday-Tuesday Karen, Padma (a longtime friend and the GSSP Board President) and I gathered in La Union at the beach for a two-day working retreat. It was the perfect relaxing setting to reflect, make plans, and brainstorm our future and continued growth. Priority topics included: local board development, an assessment of the current strengths on the board and what we are missing, we also laid out ambitions programs plans for the coming three years including:

  • Hosting 6 seed schools in 2019
  • Hosting a Philippines Wide Seed Summit in 2019
  • Launching at least 8 new seed libraries by 2021
  • Hiring more local staff to manage our growth to new regions and more!

It is an honor to be building this organization with Padma and Karen and I am excited to see where 2019 takes us after a fruitful and productive retreat. Also, special shout out to Nash another Philippines Board Member currently getting her Masters Degree in Belgium who joined us via SKYPE for day one of the retreat.

 

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GSSP Board Retreat: Karen, Padma, Sherry, and Nash via Belgium.

 

This has by far been my busiest trip to the Philippines in recent history; between conferences, travel all over the country, new partner development meetings, and lots of time spent with Karen planning, formalizing processes, and reflecting on our last three years of growth and impact! I am excited to head to Sagada tomorrow for some R and R to round off my final week here in the Philippines.

There is so much momentum for Global Seed Savers right now and I am excited to continue to support our Philippines Team and Farmers as we grow and ensure more farmers have access to locally produced non-chemical seeds!

Thank you for following along and all of your support for our work!

 

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!

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Karen and I with the official SEC NGO Registration Certificate.

 

 

Farmers Progress and Unexpected Connections in the City

Image above: Ma’am Ester’s newly planted zucchini that will be saved for seeds.

Spending my last day in Tublay on Tuesday visiting our core farmers was the perfect way to cap off an incredibly busy and productive annual trip! Each of our core Seed Savers are kind, funny, dedicated organic farmers, and community leaders all working to help make this world a better place. I am honored to get to work with and learn from each of them. A few weeks ago we distributed the last allotment of infrastructure project funds to 5 of the core farmers. Prior to receiving the funds each farmer submitted plans for their projects with drawings of the greenhouse repairs and composting facilities and projected budgets (that had to include a local counterpart). I am happy to report that almost all the farmers have started their projects and they will all be finished by February. It is wonderful to see their commitment and appreciation of this support and ability to get right to work to make these improvements a reality. Another wonderful aspect of our monthly field visits is observing the camaraderie that the core group of farmers has built over the last year. These farmers, who used to work alone, have now built a community of support and shared knowledge and understanding. Whether, they are trading seeds, livestock, or best practices in organic farming and seed saving this core group of farmers is committed to seeing each other and their fellow farmers excel.

I typically spend very few days in Manila during my annual trips but I was there the last few days which ended up being an enchanted time of connecting with people I normally only see in the North, and making new connections to seed saving initiatives throughout the country. My dear friend Siegird and her fellow potter Tessie (from Sagada) had a pottery exhibit at the Ayala Museum on Saturday. It was so fun to see them in the chaos of Manila and get to support their involvement in such a special show of SE Asian potters. I also had the good fortune, through many wonderful friends and supporters of our work to connect with Amena of Kai Farms.

Kai Farms is an organic farm located in Cavite (about 2 hours from Manila). Amena, like me is a foreigner (though she is Indian) but has lived in the Philippines for almost 15 years and considers it her true home. She and her friend and business partner Karla Delgado (a mutual friend of many wonderful supporters of our work) opened Kai Farm two years ago to serve as a truly sustainable organic farm, education space, and livelihood development center for the community. Amena and I shared a wonderful lunch yesterday and talked all things seeds, farming, the environment, spirituality and more! Kai farms is planning to build a seed temple and they are excited to connect with our programs and exchange and share seeds, host a seed school and more! They are also excited about our potential 2018 Philippines Seed Summit.

This has by far been my post productive trip to the Philippines and while it is always sad to leave I am more excited then ever to be building a team of people locally that are committed to moving this work forward with each seed we sow. Like our collaborator and dear friend Bill McDorman says, “Seed people are some of the most interesting people in the world.” It is gratifying to know we are moving in the right direction and because of our focus on seeds we are connecting with and identifying truly amazing partners and setting big visions for the coming year. Thank you for your continued support of this critically important work and sending you all peaceful wishes for the up-coming holiday season and start to 2017.

 

Volunteer Perspective on Visiting The Seed Savers

Image above: Boaz explaning his planting system

A few weeks ago our Seed Savers Group spent an entire Saturday visiting each others’ farms. We were lucky to have J. Forte, a Filipino-American volunteer participate in this program. Below are his reflections about spending the day visiting the land of our passionate organic farmers.

Reflections By Volunteer:  J.Forte, from Los Angeles, CA

Graduate from UCLA, Philosophy Degree

 “God bless this gift of nourishment that will sustain our bodies so that they may serve you better” said Pastor Alex, prior to a mid-morning snack that was hosted in the humble living room of his abode in the agricultural region of Tublay, Benguet just north of Baguio City.

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The Seed Savers Group, supported by Friends of ENCA Farm, had assembled to conduct a tour of their individual farms. The group has banded together to promote the importance of preserving the genetic lines of heirloom seeds, (seeds from strains of plants that have not been genetically modified in laboratories), and the importance of using organic farming methods to raise, sustain, and harvest crops for consumption.

The farmers who hosted the tour were quite enthusiastic to show off their farms, their methods, and the fruits of their labor. They spoke highly of the peaceful culture of the farming region and made sure that their visitors felt welcomed and had plenty of delicious organic food to sample. While touring the individual farms, all of which are environmentally sustainable, it also became evident that the individual farmers are each very sincere in their belief of a philosophy and movement that makes good-natured sense. Perhaps it’s that what they are doing is in line with the same kind of godliness behind that sincere prayer offered over a couple of simple store-bought snacks by Pastor Alex.

However, as Pastor Alex expressed, there is unfortunately not much to show for the adoption of the organic foods philosophy. While the organic foods movement has increased its following worldwide, it still meets age-old challenges. These challenges typically revolve around a lack of exposure to education concerning food, and more significantly, profits. If there are no severe, immediate, and noticeable repercussions for consuming fruits, vegetables, and herbs that can’t be labeled organic, then what’s to keep a farmer from using a genetically modified seed that will yield a product that is resistant to the pests which plague a particular region? What’s to keep a farmer from using unnatural chemical pesticides to protect his profits? What’s to stop a consumer from saving money at a grocery store?

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On the bright side, thanks to organizations like Friends of ENCA Farm, the culture of organic foods is indeed gaining ground here in the Philippines, although significantly behind nations where the general perspective is more health conscious. As long as there is support in the form of increased education about the organic foods movement, increasing market demand for natural whole foods, and opportunities such as eco-tours to places like ENCA Farm, the good ideas and philosophies behind producing and consuming organic foods will surely better manifest.

Galvey farm handpicking worms to feed their compost                        IMG_0554

Volunteer Joah

Volunteer J.Forte on the way to the farm tours.