By Angel B. Dukha III
The four important principles of nature are soil, water, sun, and air, all of which are used to their advantage in one family farm in Silang, Cavite for a sustainable, simple, and cost-efficient system of farming.
Husband and wife Henry and Chedeth “MomC” Brolagda bought their two-hectare land in 2009 to serve as a weekend vacation house for their family, as they were still working in the city and their children were still in school.
When their children finished their studies, they decided to utilize the land for farming. In 2016, they tried to find a way to manage a small-scale farm that is both profitable and will preserve the healthy ecosystem of the area.
The couple became weekend farmers: MomC now only focuses on the farm while Henry is semi-retired as he still works as a consultant in a pharmaceutical company, so the maintenance of their small farm falls to their two efficient farmers whom they taught natural farming.
Named after fireflies
The farm is named Lucciole, Italian for firefly, inspired by a magical night when the family saw countless fireflies when they spent the night on the farm.
Lucciole is a fully Integrated Natural Family Farm (INFF), or what they call “tamad-farming.” They believe that “the lesser (they) intervene with nature, the better,” and when the soil becomes heavily altered is the time that it becomes dependent on fertilizers.
As a family farm, they plant crops for the family, meaning they grow crops that they prefer and raise animals that they like to eat, so they are better able to focus on quality. Eventually, they became open to supplying produce to nearby restaurants.
“If (a chef) wants a certain ingredient, I will look for it and I will try to grow it. If it grows, we continue, but you have to buy it because we allocated a plot for you. That became our system,” MomC said, as they do not sell their produce in wet markets.
“God has already created a perfect balance of nature, why should I interfere? I would rather embrace (the balance) and then make the most out of it,” Henry said. Restaurants respect their system; if a crop is not in season then they will not plant it.
They do not process their produce as processing on a regular basis will require them to make a seasonal plant available all the time, hence it is not natural.
“What happens is that farmers, because they want to earn, plant even if (the crop) is not in season. So we do not respect the seasonality (and) we force it,” Henry reiterated.
Integrated natural farming
Lucciole is divided into three parts with the basic principles of permaculture in mind. Luzon is where you can find several crops and is easily accessible for watering and cultivating. Visayas contains pens housing native pigs, rabbits, geese, and a kubo for the family and friends to spend time in. The animals are also easily reachable in case a problem occurs. Mindanao is where lush fruit and hardwood trees, bamboos, and lumber can be found.
They compare their system to the martial art Aikido which uses the opponent’s strength and momentum towards himself. Lucciole relies on whatever is present in the area.
“In our system, whatever is applicable using this swale system, that is what we use thus we avoid spending, […] so everything is either reduced or recycled. We follow that principle so nothing goes to waste,” he explained.
They utilize permaculture and observe the conditions of their area like the direction of the wind, the strength of sunlight, and duration of rain and work around it to maximize every aspect of their farm.
They use a makeshift A-frame to measure and track where the soil is flat and leveled then dig and build around it to make swales, or shallow slopes designed to prevent erosion while capturing and navigating rain water for the plants.
They utilize “lasagna type” composting in their contoured swales, wherein compost is piled on top of previous soil before planting. This method avoids disturbance of the soil and follows the natural design of the land.
Vegetables are not pulled but only cut during harvest, the remainder left so nutrients can go back to the soil. They disagree with heavy plowing because soil is an ecosystem in itself, containing microorganisms that might be destroyed when altered too much.
Their integrated and natural system means nothing goes to waste. Their chickens and pigs eat excess vegetables from the farm, which makes their manure less toxic compared to pigs fed with commercial feed.
Manure from pigs, rabbits, and goats are used for fertilizers in plots after they are decomposed for six to eight months to make their microbes stronger. They are spread on the soil and paired with “companion plants” which protect higher value crops from pests.
Keeping pests away, naturally
The farm uses natural companionship in farming, meaning they plant marigolds (Tagetes), ornamentals dill (Anethum graveolens), red amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus), and mustasa (Brassica juncea) to protect high value crops. These sacrificial plants attract insects while tanglad repels. “Natural farming is not a straight line. It’s finding the perfect balance of smell, colors, (and) pests that are good and bad, but you need them both. All you have to do is plant tanglad (which is a) repellent that removes bad insects. Ornamental dill attracts pests so they will stay on a specific area,” Henry said. “It is important that a farm has a mix of colored crops (and different) smells to confuse pests.”
One natural pesticide concoction they make, if a lot of insects are present, is from kakawate or madre de cacao (Gliricidia sepium). They put kakawate leaves inside a sack and soak it in water for three days before applying it to plants, usually in the afternoon so plants do not burn.
They also use kakawate leaves to add nutrients to the soil. Kakawate is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. They usually use it on their leafy vegetables and root crops.
A variety of seasonal crops
Lucciole does not focus on one specific crop. They have a long list of plants which vary from season to season.
Vegetables are harvested in the morning when the amino acid level in the soil is high, which affects the taste of the produce. Harvesting in the morning brings out the best flavor of the vegetables.
The farm offers several vegetables which can be used for salads. They have four varieties of lettuce alone, namely green, romaine, misuna, and bok choy.
Lucciole has katuray (Sesbania grandiflora), which is normally white in color but Lucciole has a red variety; tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus), which can be used as tea; blue ternatea flower (Clitoria ternatea), arugula (Eruca vesicaria), and red radish (Raphanus rapahanistrum subsp. sativus).
They have wild pepenito cucumber (Melothria Pendula), which are miniature cucumbers. Chefs incorporate it in salads instead of using usually long cucumbers, which needs to be sliced.
The farm also offers lagikway (Abelmoschus manihot), talinum (Talinum fruticosum), and Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa L.) which are locally available vegetables in the area.
They follow a timeline when it comes to growing Roselle, which is seasonally grown. Lucciole usually starts planting exactly on June 23, when the nights are longer. The edible flower starts to bloom around September 23 and can be harvested a month later. The plant costs around P1,200 per kilo. It can be made into juice or jam, and the flowers can be added to salads.
They have cabe (pronounced chaw-bay) rawit chili (Capsicum frutecens), which hails from Indonesia. They also have herbs like Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odora), gotu kola (Centella asiatica), thyme, onions, green curry (Murraya koenigii) which ranges P400-P500 per kilo, lantana (Lantana camara) which can be a natural fertilizer, bean type kalabasa, cacao, garlic, black pepper, and more.
Natural farming of native pigs
The pigpens of Lucciole are very different from conventional piggeries. They do not emit any unpleasant smell, the native pigs they rear appear to be calm, and there is no presence of flies, all of which Henry credits to their natural way of raising pigs.
Better looking male pigs that carry good genetic features are separated to be used as breeders. Piglets are fed with high protein food to build muscle, then carbohydrates when they’re older to build fat, especially when the pig is to be made into lechon. The pigs’ source of carbohydrates are vegetables like tofu and the body of banana plant, which is fermented for three days in a container with salt and ten kilos of molasses per liter.
In preparation to be cooked as lechon, pigs are separated from the herd and fed with carbohydrate-packed food and herbs to thicken their fat and add flavor to the meat, respectively.
Other livestock of Lucciole are sheep, horses, rabbits, and goat, all of which are grass fed and whose manure is used for vermiculture.
Teaching others how to farm naturally
Lucciole also welcomes people who want to learn their system of INFF. They also love sharing their knowledge to students, children, and other farmers. A visit to the farm is like a free seminar on natural and integrated farming. One day may not be enough, Henry adds, if one seeks to truly learn their system.
“Observe the behavior of nature and the four basic principles of soil. Do not stray away from those and you will not be lost,” he said.
The solution for a bigger market is working together with customers and knowing what they want. It is also working with other farmers in your area so that you do not produce the same crops which will create surplus, reduce wasted produce, and eventually generate income for everyone.
Lucciole’s INFF system is sustainable, requires minimum effort, and cost-efficient that gives small-scale farms the opportunity to feed their own families, gain income, and support the community. A tamad-farming approach to agriculture may not be so bad after all.
This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s December 2019 issue.