By Zac B. Sarian

You will enjoy visiting farm tour destinations in Iloilo and Guimaras because you
will be able to pick up practical ideas that you can adopt in your own farm. That’s
what we found when our tour group visited projects in organic as well as conventional
farms, all of who observe good agricultural practices.

Orchard Valley

This is a 33-hectare organic farm in Pavia, Iloilo owned by Johnny Que, vice president of the Panay Organic Producers Association (POPA). Soon upon entering the farm, you will notice a lot of malunggay trees, thousands of them, that are pruned to about five feet tall, each with many leafy sprouts.

Growing so many malunggay trees makes sense at Orchard Valley. For one, it is very easy to culture. Once established, it is simply fertilized with organic fertilizer like animal manure from organic dairy cattle, chickens, and other fowl. The malunggay trees are not attacked by insects, hence are perfect for organic malunggay production. The malunggay leaves are sold as fresh organic vegetables in eight supermarkets in
Iloilo City owned by Johnny Que’s family. The leaves are also fed to milking cows to promote higher milk production. The powdered leaves, on the other hand, are used by a sister in her bakeshop to produce malunggay pandesal.

Albert Cachuela with drastically-pruned malunggay. There are thousands of them at Orchard Valley. They are fed to dairy cattle and pigs, powdered for malunggay pandesal, and sold as fresh vegetable in the eight supermarkets of Johnny Que.

A big space is used for growing lettuce, upland kangkong, and culinary herbs, which all find their way to their own supermarkets. Orchard Valley has a resident chef who concocts salads and other food preparations using the products produced in the farm like white cheese and leafy greens. Aside from salads, they serve fried mushrooms, deep fried root crops, camote leaves ala tempura, organic yoghurt, various desserts, and more.

Orchard Valley is an accredited tourism destination as well as a TESDA learning site where students go to train in organic agriculture. There they learn to produce fermented plant and fruit juices as plant growth promotant and protection from pests and diseases. They also learn to take care of free range chickens for eggs and meat, native pigs sans foul smell, rabbits for meat, and manure for vermicomposting.

Damires Hills Leisure Farm

This is a 45-hectare property in Brgy. Damires, Janiuay, Iloilo that was developed by Dr. Louie Tirador, a medical doctor, which was launched in October 2010. The property is divided into two. Sixteen hectares are devoted to the farm resort, which has become a favorite for daytime visitors as well as those staying overnight. Part of the remaining 29 hectares are maintained as forest and for growing food crops.

Dr. Louie Tirador with lettuce grown the aquaponics way at the Damires Leisure Farms.

Managing the resort section is Paolo Tirador, Dr. Louie’s eldest son who finished a management course at the Ateneo University in 2014. Visitors averaging 1,500 a month are attracted by the beautifully landscaped grounds and excellent facilities that include three swimming pools, hotel-like accommodations, a hanging bridge said to be the longest in Iloilo at 270 meters long, a canopy walk, and a zipline. Of course, good food also is another attraction.

Dr. Tirador is upbeat in explaining the aquaponics showcase in the resort. About 2,000 to 2,500 tilapia fingerlings are stocked in a 35-square meter pool. The water is recirculated to supply the water and nutrients for growing lettuce in a soilless medium consisting of fine gravel. In a matter of 30 days, the seedlings that are placed in the soilless growing medium are ready for harvest. Every week, according to Dr. Tirador, they can harvest 100 kilos, which are used in their restaurant or sold outside at P160 to P200 per kilo.

Vegetables produced in Damires Hills are not enough for the requirements of the restaurant. That is why in 2020, Dr. Tirador will produce favorite high-value vegetables throughout the year. These will include ampalaya, eggplant, okra, pumpkin, peppers, tomato, cucumber, sitao, upo, patola, and others.

He said they already have water impounding ponds which they use for growing rice. But they will make additional ones so that they will be able to produce vegetables year round.

Ephrathah Farm 

What we like about Ephrathah Farm in Badiangan, Iloilo is that there is always something new every time we visit. This time, a new herbal tea dehydrator that dries the leaves at the right temperature was newly installed. This will ensure that the phytochemicals found in the leaves will be intact.

Phytochemicals are compounds produced by plants that they use to protect themselves from stresses like diseases, insects, and predators. They are also believed to fight cancer cells. If the leaves are dried under very high temperature, the phytochemicals could be damaged.

The machine was developed by researchers from the Iloilo Science and Technology University (ISAT U) led by Dr. Renerio S. Mucas. The two other members are Hilario Taberna Jr, senior faculty researcher, and Dr. Nemia H. Mabaquiao, an electrical engineer who is also the university’s director of National and International Affairs.

Roderick Cañuto, vice president for operations, said they will use the dehydrator to dry leaves of malunggay, guyabano, and guava. They will now be able to produce big volumes of herbal tea that is dried under the right temperature. Previously, Ephrathah could only dry small amounts because they were using a small dryer with just three trays, and the temperature was not controlled. The new dryer has 12 layers of food grade stainless steel trays capable of drying the leaves in eight hours at the desired temperature of 45 degrees Celsius.

Roderick explained that the researchers did not only study how to program the supply of the right heat to the raw materials being dried, they also researched on the right maturity of the leaves at harvest, the best time to harvest, and other concerns. They found that the leaves that are mature, green, neither too young nor too old, are the best.

Why is Ephrathah producing herbal tea out of the leaves of malunggay, guyabano, and guava? Well, Roderick explained that malunggay is full of valuable nutrients. On the other hand, guyabano is claimed to have anti-cancer properties whereas guava is claimed to be antiseptic. He added that they will also use the dryer for dehydrating roselle to produce other high-value products.

Former nun makes rosary herbal products

former nun who is a chemist has developed her own herbal products under the imprint of Rosary Herbal Products in the City of Passi. She is Tess Sison Pagay, who is also the secretary of the Panay Organic Producers Association.

While spreading the word of God in the rural areas among indigenous people, she did her own research by asking the locals what herbs they used in treating their ailments. She made her own formulations and asked the rural folks to try and use them for their common health problems like muscle pain, colds, arthritis, cramps, and many more. Those that worked were the ones she produced in volume.

One herbal product that she is very proud of is called Balanyos, which contains extracts from 15 herbs, including plants known only by their Visayan names. She is very happy that Balanyos is getting the attention of customers outside of Iloilo. Very recently, the Carmelite Sisters in Quezon City made a bulk order for Balanyos. Ilonggo OFWs have also brought cartons of Balanyos to the United States, Middle East, and Europe.

Balanyos and other Rosary Herbal Products are all approved and registered with all licensing agencies, including the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD). The other products include Passi herbal vaporub, RHP skin disease ointment, women papaya herbal soap, women herbal bath soap, and nature herbal lotion.

Guimaras destinations

We went to three interesting destinations in Guimaras Island, a few minutes by boat from Iloilo. If you are fond of rare and expensive ornamental plants, you will find them in Neptune Puttman’s Garden Resort in Buenavista town. We were really amazed by the huge Dioon species growing beautifully near the back entrance of the building. Another Dioon species, a mejiae, is also full-grown with a lot of suckers or pups. It is a good money-maker because Neptune sells the baby Dioon mejiae at P800 each. Other rare plants include the all-white Agave attenuata, variegated bauhinia, carmine red atsuete, flowering and foliage ornamentals. Of course, we enjoyed the resort’s good food and comfortable accommodations as well.

At the Agriculture College of the Guimaras State College in San Lorenzo, we saw the interesting project of Dean Julius Vergara. This is the massive cloning of indigenous forest trees, where juvenile branch tips are being rooted in a misting and rooting chamber. Dean Vergara also has a showcase on how to make wood vinegar, which is a plant growth stimulant and a repellent of insects.

Our last stop was the Jem Home Farm in Sibunag, an 8-hectare property operated as a Permaculture Farm by Edmon and Marjorie Mella who are balikbayans from Toronto, Canada. They have 700 mango trees that are 22 years old, which gave them six tons of organic fruits earlier this year. One major cash crop, however, is the oyster mushroom. They make a very filling breakfast of mushroom tapa with kimchi omelette and fried rice that they serve their visitors. They have also come up with dried mushrooms with a very sturdy packaging.

Jem Home Farm is accredited as a learning site for Permaculture farming by the Agriculture Training Institute of the Department of Agriculture.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s December 2019 issue.