As told to Yvette Tan
The Espitals are a young family that has chosen to live their life close to the farm. Gio Espital works for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) organization and is an entrepreneur that sells bokashi kits while Leila Pornel-Espital is an outdoor educator who also teaches and holds workshops about healthy food preparation for infants and toddlers. The couple is raising their son Nayon to cherish living with nature.
Here, she lists the factors that families should consider if they want to transition to a nature-forward lifestyle.
Things to consider before choosing farm life
Life on the farm may not be for everyone, especially if one’s family is used to the city. Here, in Laila’s own words, are some things to consider when moving from an urban to farming lifestyle:
People thought that they only get to do farming after retirement, but, if they really want to venture into agriculture, we urge them to start as young as they can so they have a lot of time and energy to make it work. We started five years ago, but we are still figuring out a lot of things. So far, these are what we learned that might help couples or families who also wanted to take this path:
Know your whys. Before anything else, you should think about why you wanted to start your own farm or work in a farm. Is it a hobby? For profit? Environmental contribution? These whys will serve as your motivation to make impactful strategies in achieving your farming goals. These whys will also keep you going when you are facing roadblocks along the way such as storms, infestations, low harvest, low sales, etc. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows in the farm, it would be better to lay a solid foundation from the very beginning so that you know what direction to go in.
Get hands on experience. I have lived all my growing up years helping my family on the farm while Gio was immersed in agriculture when he started working after college, so both of us picked up skills and knowledge from those experiences. If you didn’t grow up on a farm or do not have experience working for one, it is essential to get a hands on training, because farming alone is hard, and farming as a business is twice as hard.
You can fast track your learning by reading books or watching videos online but you still have to do the real work to know the results. You will find yourself doing trial and error repeatedly until you find efficient ways to make your soil and plant healthier. If you are still planning to buy or rent a land, you can first try to do an apprenticeship or volunteer work with other farmers or enroll in programs like Organic Agriculture Production of TESDA. But, if you already own a land and you feel that self- directed learning is a better fit for you, you can also experiment on a micro scale and learn as you go.
The reason that I recommend getting a hands on experience before taking the leap is for you to gently transition with the lifestyle (you will know why farmers takes siestas and sleep early), save yourself from future injuries using the farm tools (if you haven’t hold a bolo or sickle, this is the perfect time to practice), and get an idea how it operate as a business including the post- production, management, marketing and networking.
Find the right community. Farming is about relationship, when you start a farm keep in mind that you are also forming a community. It is important to be grounded on what you value most because your values will point you to the person who could mentor you, the farmers you can connect with and the niche to market your produce.
We learned a lot from visiting different farms especially those whom we share the same intentions with which later on became our friends. By networking and talking to other farmers you can exchange best practices, motivate each other and even share notes of best deals of farm supplies.
Along the way, we have learned to find our market, too. Even if you want to cater to everyone’s needs, the reality is that you can’t. When you go for organic farming, you can place your produce in the market with a better price, but not everyone can afford to buy it. If you do conventional farming, you have to plant and harvest in bulk to the point of mono cropping to meet a decent profit, and we haven’t factor in the environmental cost, yet. The bottom line of this is to also find a niche of consumers who understand and support sustainable agriculture practices.
Prioritize nature. As farmers, we can be drivers of change in the world. No matter where your farm is located, it will always be dependent on nature and will directly affect the environment. Before taking an action, make sure that it will not contribute to soil degradation, loss of habitat, water scarcity and pollution.
When your plants are being attacked with pests, treat it as an indicator that there might be imbalance in the ecosystem, you can look at companion planting, crop rotation and using natural pest protection to help improve the situation. Observing the seasons, there are reasons why certain plants bloom or fruit in particular months and it is usually linked to what animals and human’s health needs. If you are concerned with the growth of the plants, examine the soil and nourish through composting and having cover crops. When you are having problems with water, maybe it is time to plant another tree.
“Sustainable” has just become a buzzword recently, but it is paired with regenerative practices that are the only safe direction to take in achieving food security, economic viability and biodiversity conservation.
For information, visit ELMNTM.
Photos courtesy of Leila Pornel-Espital
This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s November to December 2020 issue.