By Angel B. Dukha III
Nowadays, it is rare to encounter a member of the younger generation who has a passion for agriculture. This proud millennial farmer is not only an advocate, but even shares his knowledge to long-time farmers.
A business mindset and a twenty-hectare farm from his great-grandparents fueled the idea and eventually the passion of a millenial to pursue agriculture and diversify the farming habits of LocalRoots Agricultural Farming and Services. The 25-year old farmer is Leo Manuel Casaclang, who admits that he was clueless about what to do with his life until he remembered that his family had land in Sariaya, Quezon.
LocalRoots cultivates sturdy and fruit-bearing trees like mahogany, coconut, mango, cacao, pili nut, lemon, rambutan, guyabano, and many more. They also grow vegetables following the organic, or natural, process like okra, ampalaya, pechay, and patola, as well as some livestock. But Casaclang’s favorite among his crops are lettuce and Japanese cucumber, both of which were his first harvests.
Japanese cucumber has been a staple to his usual customers because the vegetable variety is crunchier and sweeter, with less seeds and less bitter taste compared to the other kinds, he explained.
Casaclang studied BS Entrepreneurship at the University of Santo Tomas. After graduating, he dedicated his time and resources to learn farming so he attended NC II, or Organic Agriculture Production, under Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
He fondly remembers how he started by cultivating lettuce in a small plot because it seemed easy and there was already a niche market for people who like salad. He harvested only three kilograms from a one meter plot and even had a hard time selling it in the office of his mother when he was just starting out. As his business gained traction, his problem now became where to find the vegetables to address all the incoming orders.
His other relatives manage the remaining land while he follows natural farming procedures in his 3.6 hectare part of the land.
“I have been given the opportunity on a silver platter, it was up to me if I will take it or not, so I took it even though I did not know anything about agriculture,” he said.
Out with the old, in with the new
Before joining LocalRoots, farmers were skeptical of the new way of farming that Casaclang introduced to them, as most of them were old and used to conventional practices. Casaclang taught his farmers about natural alternatives like vermiculture fertilizing and using a pesticide concoction made from chili peppers, garlic, or seaweed extract to combat natural enemies. Eventually, he earned the trust of his farmers and they welcomed natural methods with an open mind after seeing that they were also effective.
“If they have a problem, they just go to the shop and ask for a solution. I am teaching them about the cheaper way of organic farming so they do not need to pay every time they have a problem. I had to fight my way with them,” he explained.
With the help of an uncle, he regularly invites retired professors from University of the Philippines Los Baños, as well as physicists, or technicians to further the agriculture knowledge not only of his farmers, but of himself as well.
Casaclang uses modern technology not only to convert old methods in the farm, but also to how customers receive their produce. He personally delivers it to his customers in their offices, adding that he uses his own social media account for a farm-to-table service for his customers.
The good thing about using social media is that he knows exactly how much produce he needs to deliver to his customers in the city. A few days before the harvest, Casaclang posts his soon-to-be harvested crops so people can order and consequently, no vegetables will go to waste.
“You get the fresh produce on or a day after harvest. You know your farmer because I personally plant (the crops) and if they have questions, they can ask me because I personally go to the people to deliver their orders. They do not need to go early in the morning to (the) market or grocery for vegetables where you cannot assure freshness,” he said.
He is concerned that he might not deliver direct quality service to everyone once he sets up an official social media page for LocalRoots because orders may come from far places and with small quantities. The millennial farmer is looking into other possible solutions so he can accommodate his customers, such as meetups or a proper stall in several locations.
“I saw that in other countries, they have a locked refrigerator that can be found in different places and when they want to buy, I’ll just text them the code, kind of a trust-based system,” he shared.
LocalRoots is planning to venture into value adding, or processing produce in the future. They also allow seasonal walk-ins for interested clients to pay for the experience of harvesting their own produce.
Farming it forward
Casaclang shared the first time he experimented in planting where all of his crops died but his intrigue prompted him to start again. Agriculture can be challenging but still he encourages that if one is interested in business, one should try going into agriculture.
Perseverance, passion, willingness, and open mindedness to really pursue agriculture kept Casaclang going despite the challenges he faced. “For example, when a storm came and destroyed all your crops, will you stop there or start again? Start somewhere and experience farming even at your own home.”
Casaclang has also been encouraging young people to farm. He taught young students who are interested in agriculture when the principal of Philippine Science High school (PSHS) in Quezon city contacted him last year and asked if he was willing to accept students for farm immersion.
PSHS sent nine students to undergo a farm immersion for four days. Casaclang taught them the basics of farming like planting and harvesting crops and creating fertilizer. The program, which he hopes will be an annual activity for nearby schools as well, was held for a second time this year and accommodated four student volunteers who wanted to experience the basics of farming. Aside from that, LocalRoots received its Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) and 4-H accreditation this year, which means that it can train more people.
For Casaclang, even if the kids do not pursue agriculture later in life, he wants them to at least appreciate where food comes from. “You don’t have to be in the farm to help farmers. You can be a chemist, scientist, or engineer and create other things to help the farmers,” he said.
Casaclang has some advice for youth who think of going into agriculture:
Start small. Leo started small and worked his way up. He tried planting easy plants on small plots of land, learning and experimenting every step of the way.
Research all you can. Leo spent time on the internet for all the right reasons. He searched for available trainings and seminars, plus tips and information on YouTube and Google. He also talked with experienced farmers to strategize and learn practical knowledge. He also advised to study one’s target market.
Expect the unexpected. There are things you cannot control no matter how much you plan everything. There are circumstances when pests appear or a heavy storm destroys crops and plans. Beginning farmers should not be disheartened and should persevere and try again.
Diversify. Leo does not promote monocropping as it tends to be a high risk strategy. As stated above, there are things which cannot be controlled like destruction of crops, competition, or pests, so it is best to have another set of crops as a Plan B so there is still income should something unexpected occur.
This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s November 2019 issue.