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At Home in a Garden at Jolits Eco Farm

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At Home in a Garden at Jolits Eco Farm
« on: August 15, 2020, 08:57:44 PM »
By Rey Anthony Chiu
FEATURE:
At home in a garden at Jolits Eco Farm

Thousands of graduates proceed with their lives in jobs not really related with their college courses. In Bohol, two young agriculturists never thought banking on their extensive years in integrated pest management can lead them to build a home where their kids wake up to a garden in a middle of a model learning site for integrated diversified organic farming here.

Now with the Agricultural Training Institute’s (ATI) certification as an Agricultural Learning Site, Jolit’s Garden and Eco Farm, owned by couple Jomar Meletante Balag and Lita Ocho Balag in Barangay Cambacay Batuan sprouted from a 100 square meter farm testing in aquaculture on a sandy clay soil characteristic of the area. 

In fact, developing that small patch that may not really sustainably feed a family has earned criticisms from neighbors who know that without much water in the area, growing, much more relying on a garden to feed the family is next to foolhardy.

The designated farm area is an undulating lot with bushes typical of clay soil and some shallow depressions with stagnant shallow water which the rains have left. Behind is a tall hill with secondary growth timberlands. Nothing really promising.

Not to Jomar, whose life has been toughened by overcoming challenges.

In his final years in high school in Lourdes in Panglao, he joined 7 other students who hoped to get scholarships from a Japanese company to proceed to college.

Born in Danao Panglao and dreaming of getting a better life, Jomar hurdled each test mostly associated with the lack of financial capacity to buy his way out of problems.

He had his first strike at luck when he earned a college scholarship through the Japanese company as benefactor.

Even with a college scholarship, where most men of raw timbre would just lie down and await for the next bell for class, Jomar still tried to find work. Accepted as school striver assigned at the registrar’s office while at the Central Visayas State College for Agriculture, Forestry and Technology, now Bohol Island State University in Bilar, Jomar dug a hole of diligence where he could sow his future. 

Knowing he would need hard work to bleed out food from his small patch of land in Panglao, Jomar had to brutally test his muscles in hard work and take his studies to heart.

His heart incidentally found a girl, beautiful, modest and equally hardworking.

To him, Lita Sabijon Ocho was a girl worthy to be his wife, and motivated him to double up work even harder.

Also a working student of a faculty member in school, Lita was then taking Bachelor of Agriculture major in Integrated Pest Management.

Truly intent on pursuing his dreams and his love for Lita, his persistence, hard work and diligence sprouted a love story, finding each other a motivation to escape the wretched life.   

Graduating Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Major in Integrated Pest Management, Jomar found himself taking on the same course that preoccupied her, knowing that if luck wills it, they both will have to work together to make their chances in farming better.

Married in 2005 after graduation, Jomar felt he needed a stable job he would need to start a family. Not farming as the pay was not as promising and cash came only after harvest.

This led him to take on an offer for him to work in Japan, care of his benefactor. He immediately went on a crash course in Basic Japanese Language in Cebu and by November, was off to Japan.

Three years, before the contract ends and Jomar knew Lita has delivered his first child, one a father would never have missed. But, feeding a family now becomes even more pressing.
Homesick, tired and alone, Jomar still performed well to the delight of his benefactor until he decided to come home to his wife after his contract ended.

That was when husband and wife started to plan together to get a serious look at farming. A farm around a garden and a home in the middle.

Starting off with a 100 square meter patch of land in Cambacay Batuan where Lita’s family owned, Jomar first found a strength at the characteristic clay soil which is ideal for keeping water, something that they can get only after some rains.

Starting off by developing a fishpond, the young couple earned criticism from family and neighbors.

“You dig a fishpond in an area that has water problems, that is a problem,” his father in law accordingly told him.

Clay soil however has great water keeping qualities, both young agriculturists know, so they did not mind the queer looks from neighbors.   

A cutflower and vegetable farmer while young, Jomar’s experience in his home in Danao Panglao was his ace on the sleeve. Cutflower and vegetable sales supplied his school needs in elementary and high school.

Now in Batuan, far from his birthplace, Jomar and Lita started on a cutflower and a vegetable garden, taking in his experience and heaped it with the science that they learned in school.

Cutflowers attract bees, and so they ventured into a culture of pollinators.

Form that idea, their garden became a home to wild stingless bees as pollinators to their vegetable and flower garden.

“With pollinators, you get 30-40% more of the harvests,” he claimed, knowing too that stingless bees are sometimes decimated by farmers who do not know the insect’s critical roles in flowers and fruiting vegetables.

“Besides, you can harvest better honey sacs from wild stingless bees,” Jomar who now also sells honey in 250 and 1000 gram tubes proudly confessed.

In the background, the Balag’s youngest kid along with kids his age, totes a bolo and tucks a cutting along the pathway in the now 4,000 square-meter family farm. 

“We, with Lita, make sure our kids pick on the habit, because all who know how to eat must know how to plant,” he jokes in between the informal interview. 

After the bees come insects: bees, butterfly and even frogs drawn to the ponds that refuse to drain.

These incidentally also attract birds, and the most notable among them is a pair of the endemic Philippine Frogmouth, now a rare bird sighted in only very few areas in Bohol.

A frogmouth feeds on grasshoppers, cicadas, crickets and beetles, insects that could only survive in areas where inorganic chemical fertilizers and pesticides are inexistent.

The good this is that these couple has been regularly nesting in the farm, Lita shared, and pointing to a nestling sitting alone on a nest of downy feathers, its telltale yellow trim on the beak tracing the frogmouths characteristics.

Anytime soon, the female would sit on the nest, the male has just ended his duty watching the nestling and would start hunting for food. Frogmouths are generally nocturnal, she added.

The stagnant waters here also offer refuge for the endemic Asian box turtles, and a pair they found in the area is now as much as 500 individuals from hatchlings to mature adults.

An enclosure houses these box turtles, amphibians at that, with the comforts of a mossy swimming pond and a crawling yard that lets the turtles bask and swim to adjust their body temperatures.

“Every 10 eggs, I get two which I leave to hatch outside. This is our share for nature’s recovery,” Jomar said.

With abundant shades, plenty of water ponds and food, it would be no wonder of a hatching would opt to stay, now at home among the organic litter in the farm.

“Next on the family’s list is breeding a softshell turtle which has more meat that the native box turtles,” he shared as he guided a team touring the farm.

Jolits Eco Farm also has a family carabao, sheep, goats, pigs, native chicken, turkey, geese and native ducks, all sustained with the organic feeds they harvest from the farm.

The animal wastes also go to a pile that becomes fertilizer, or mixed with molasses, fruit and vegetable extracts for use within the farm.

The old fishpond now has golden tilapia: the pond regulates the garden temperature, attracts dragonflies whose nymphs control tilapia fingerlings and wrigglers that can be dengue carrying mosquitoes if not controlled, he explained during the tour.

Everything here is organic, Jomar points out.

Near the restroom is a rain water collector which draws mosquitoes away from the restrooms, golden tilapia prowl under the water, eating the wrigglers mosquitoes breed and lotus and aquatic plants float to control the water temperature and make it crystal clear.

Elsewhere are duckweeds and azolla ponds, these two plants supply the biofeeds the farm needs for their livestock.

Here, passion fruit, pangyawan vines, blue ternates, a trellis for grapes and other tendrils form a natural canopy, while the pathways winding around the farm are plants in every collector’s dream, Jomar rattles off scientific and English names only the scientific community can get on.

Calathea, philodendron, caladium, sanseviera, begonias, coleus, hibiscus, orchids, palms and an endless list of ornamental and cutflowers flank the stone pathways.

Herbs and medicinal plants also interspace the garden, plants placement carefully planned so a pest of one plant can’t attack because a natural plant pesticide is nearby. 

After opening the farm in December 2010 as an integrated diversified organic farm garden, Jolits Eco Farm capped the second place for the district’s Bahay Kubo Food Always in the Home, Herbal Organic Plants Everywhere and Chicken Always Raised In The Yard (FAITH, HOPE, ChARITY) backyard garden contest.

With the children also actively owning shares in the chores, it has now become a lighter work for the couple who only hires helpers on major farm jobs.

One takes on the carabao to pasture, another one takes the sheep and goats, one goes to the fowl coop were native chicken, geese, turkey and ducks are kept.
   
By 2017, the Balag Family reaped the Suhid sa Mag-uumang Bol-anon Farm Family Category and took it again in 2018.

That same year, Batuan again picked the Balag family home in a garden as best Balay Batuanon.

As member of the Kapunungan sa mga Bol-anong Organikong Mag-uuma, the Balag’s share and co-share technologies with visitors interested in organic farming, and as member of the United Small Ruminants Raisers Association, the farm also helps train ruminant livestock farmers.

With native free-range chicken in the farm as member of the Bohol Native Chicken Growers Association, it was never hard for the farm and the family to be certified as an agriculture learning site.

The paycheck?

Jomar Balag, who found that his flower garden is his ace, sells hundreds of sprouted seedlings, grafted saplings and potted plants would only timidly smile. The give-away however is that his neighbors have also displayed potted flower and ornamental plants in their yards, showing that they too now know there is money in ornamental plants.

The best of all, Jomar said, for years now, the frogmouth has been a constant visitor, the farm itself becoming a nesting site for the rare endemic bird.

With this, the family, which feels it has made the bird feel safe with them, and the food abundant here, only makes the family stick more to organic technology as chemicals could kill the rare bird.

And the native turtles. And the fresh water lobster that thrives in a cement pond below the Balag house window.

Food in here is as fresh as can be: cooked within five minutes after picking from the garden, aromatic herbs garnishing, and the delectable scent of home cooking a Boholano house is famed for, spills into the neighborhood.

For the Balag kids, play is as fun as grating coconuts for the milk, riding the carabao and waking up to the smell of fresh flowers in the yard, the crow of roosters and the symphony of birds: everything one dreams of a home in a garden farm. (rahchiu/PIA-7/Bohol)


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