By Yvette Tan
Photos courtesy of Raffy Dacones
Teraoka Family Farm is a Pangasinan-based organic vegetable farm started by Raffy Teraoka Dacones, Chief Farming Officer. From a 500-meter lettuce plot, the farm expanded to almost four hectares of various fruits and vegetables, all of which are sold to households and high end restaurants. But Teraoka Family Farm doesn’t just grow produce—it teaches others how to set up their own organic farms as well.
Accreditation and Certification
For Dacones, getting certified was an integral part of Teraoka Farm’s business strategy. They are an accredited ATI extension service provider for the region, which means they can conduct seminars and trainings as an extension service for ATI. “I was lucky to be picked by the Villar SIPAG Foundation to represent Region 1 in the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Business School in Region 4A. It’s mostly for farm owners so they can make their farm into a business. Everything was sponsored by the government—they’ve been doing that for a long time but people don’t know about it. From there, I was inspired to put up our own school in our area. The government helped with the requirements and even donated tools,” he says.
They also hold seminars for hobbyists or and people who want to start farms. “We’re happy to say that surprisingly, we’ve had around three people who’ve quit their jobs and have started to farm. It’s inspiring to see,” he says.
The farm is a TESDA accredited learning center, conducting the National Competency Program for Level 2 NC2 for Agricultural Farming, among other seminars, and is also a DOT-accredited Farm Tourism site. They are also applying for organic certification. “I know people complain about how tedious, complicated, and expensive it may be for farmers—you don’t have to get certified but it was a need for us,” Dacones explains. “Me, living in Japan, it was all about certification. In the long term, my goal is, aside from supplying locally, I want my products to be exported abroad and a stepping stone for us to reach that level is to be certified.”
How did they do all this? “My family members started joining in and started helping out. My parents are handling the school and my brother stepped in to help me run the production,” Dacones explains. “I’m happy because I have a lot of the load taken off me.”
It Starts from the Soil
The farm is currently focusing on four high-value crops—leafy greens like romaine and green ice lettuce, fairytale eggplants, kale, and Japanese cucumber. They also have specialty produce like kohlrabi and a lot of indigenous crops such as kamias, sampaloc, santol, sineguelas, balimbing, and duhat. “We like seeing how Filipino cuisine is being more recognized internationally that we want to focus the ingredients mostly are local. They’re not hybrid, but more heirloom varieties that people used back then,” he says. “We want to help promote what’s truly Filipino. I’ve been asking old people sa barrio ‘Anong tanim niyo noon’ or ‘anong ginagamit niyo noon?’ And we try to propagate that.”
They try to utilize everything available, especially when it comes to fertilizers. “When it comes to organic fertilizers, we use whatever we have in our area to make it cost-effective. We have our local version of EM (Effective Microorganisms) which is IMO (Indigenous Microorganisms) or BIM (Beneficial Indigenous Microorganisms),” Dacones explains. “We have a lot of bamboo, so we ferment it with molasses. We have a lot of papaya which we grow, so whatever is already rotten, we use it as our juice. It’s cheap. We have inoculants for our foliar fertilizer. We hardly spend on anything.”
Since Pangasinan is one of the rice bowls of the Philippines, a lot of farmers donate their rice hulls, which is carbonized and added to the farm’s compost. “They don’t know where to dispose of their ipa or their diami—the rice straw. Instead of them leaving it on the side, we tell them to mill it in our farm,” Dacones explains. “They leave the hulls there and they’re happy because they don’t have to dispose of it. We’re happy that it’s like that.”
Convincing Farmers to Go Organic
Dacones’ success has also inspired neighboring farms to go organic. “For farmers, to see is to believe,” he says. “They say, ‘Ang panget ng produce mo. Kami, we don’t even need this amount of people and we can grow twice the amount of yield. We try to prove them wrong.”
That he was young was also a hindrance at first. But farmers are practical, and results speak for themselves. “When they started seeing us growing a lot of produce in the farm, hundreds of kilos, they ask how much we sell them, and they’re like, ‘oh my gosh, baka pwede kami rin.’”
Teraoka Farms works with about 10 closely monitored partner farmers from nearby, all of who use the same system as the main farm. Dacones is particularly proud of the fact that the enterprise has been attracting families. “What used to be a family of conventional farmers 10 years ago are now organic farmers,” he says. “Now it’s amazing how they have so much yield once in a while because their soil is back to normal.”
This is their arrangement: The partner farmers grow produce, which they sell to Teraoka Farm at a good price. “We’ve come up with data on how much could we give so that it would be a win-win for both parties instead of us just earning the bulk of it and these people having a hard time,” Dacones explains.
He offers an example: “Chili can go as high as P300/kilo, but that’s only one month and that’s not long-term. So we see what’s the lowest it can go, say P10/kilo. We can now buy it at P80/kilo straight for a year.”
Realizing that farming can offer a living age has encouraged the farmers’ family members to take up the trade. “Being Teraoka Family Farm, we always want to promote how a family could earn together. If you farm together, you will be able to survive,” Dacones says. “So far, we have husbands and wives who work together, we have the children and the dad together and they’re very happy. The kids now want to farm. Our youngest farmer is 19 years old. He’s fresh off high school and wants to take up agriculture. His dad is our head farmer and we’re very proud of that. We can see the difference in their lives.”
Meeting the Demand
Teraoka Family Farm produces about 800 kilos of lettuce a week—200 kilos of green ice, 400 kilos of romaine, and 200 kilos of lolo rosa—and about 500 kilos of kale a month. “We have a lot of restaurants who we supply to,” Dacones says. “What’s nice about the chefs is that they love to work with farmers directly. I think once they’ve tried our produce, they’re shocked with how similar it can be to whatever they see abroad. So that’s what we try to do—we try to build the real farm to table experience.”
Right now, Dacones is concentrating on building up his household clientele. “Apparently, there’s a lot of people who want their produce to be delivered straight to their house. It’s convenient for them but it’s still a work in progress for me because it can be really hard with the traffic situation in Manila. But so far, we have around 50 households every week,” he shares.
Dacones has been getting recognition for his endeavors. He recently represented the Philippines in the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative in New Zealand, and is the regional representative for Region 1 in this year’s Gawad Saka Organic Farmer of the Year, going up against farmers from other regions for the award. He also regularly speaks about his farm experience to encourage the youth to go into agriculture, and to entice investors to consider investing in the Philippines. He is quick to acknowledge his inspirations. “I’ve always looked up to Down to Earth Farm and Malipayon Farm,” he says. “We’re happy that we’ve had farms who paved the way for us young farmers to get into the organic farming industry. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to enter this market.”
He hopes to continue familiarizing the consumer to where their food comes from, believing that this is integral, not just to commerce, but to food security as a whole. “We try to bring people closer to their farmers,” he says. “We should start being more aware of organic farming because it helps build the soil. If we have good soil, it can help build the nation.”
For more information, visit Teraoka Family Farm.