By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao
Despite measuring about a hectare in size, the MOCA Family Farm RLearning Center in Barangay Castillo, Padre Garcia, Batangas doesn’t let this keep them from engaging in small-scale operations such as growing and raising livestock that’s just enough to provide for their basic consumption and production of value-added products that come from the farm.
Gigi Morris, also known as Ka Gigi in their local community, is the farm school director of MOCA Family Farm RLearning Center. She and her family manage and operate the farm.
In the previous article, Morris explained how she prefers ‘couture farming’ or growing one of a kind items in small quantities rather than producing a large number of the same thing. Here, she talks about their farm’s value-adding practices and how they adapted to a competitive market.
Creativity in value-adding
Before Morris dived into the farming scene, she used to work in the fashion and apparel industry. It was through her husband, who was a Professor Emeritus of Horticulture from the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and his farmer to farmer programs, that Morris learned about the technicalities in farming as well as how to interact with the farmers.
She also used her skills and years of experience in product development and design in her former career to enhance their farming operations. This has led to product development activities in their test kitchen since one way that they utilize their farm’s produce is by adding value to it.
It is in this test kitchen where Morris uplifts her fellow small farmers to incubate new product ideas.
“When you are a small farm operation, it is important to strategize to make sure that the farm will stay sustainable. We are big in human capacity-building. We believe that our best asset is our farm staff so to be able to have value-added products from the farm, we need to have creative farm staff. I always tell them that not because it was never done, doesn’t mean it will not work,” Morris said.
Their team is encouraged to explore, experiment, and even make mistakes as it is part of the creative process. By harnessing their staff’s talent, the process of value-adding becomes twice as effective for the farm.
“Never underestimate your skills and talent to create new product ideas. Do not put your ideas in a box and get inspiration from others. Be careful not to imitate instead, modify and innovate,” Ka Gigi said.
From their efforts, the farm has released products such as powdered batuan, an alternative for souring agents, cassava burger, sweet potato hash browns, and sweet potato pansit. They even source coffee beans from other farms to create special blends such as the Sunshine coffee which is a blend of arabica and liberica beans, and spiced coffee which is coffee beans blended with other spices.
Adapting to the times
Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted farmers as it hindered farm tourism activities and limited travel so most products had trouble reaching consumers.
To adapt to this sudden shift, Morris and her family opted to grow root crops which she says are “true survival food” since these can be stored in a refrigerator or post-harvest facilities.
“My husband and I did a lot of research during the pandemic about “lost food.” We realized how much root crops are there out there and that we can rely on them in extreme cases of survivability. Not knowing what’s in store in the future, I have decided to focus our small production on root crops and tubers,” Ka Gigi said.
Presently, the farm grows cassava, various camote varieties, elephant foot yam (Amorphophallus paeoniifolius), and ube which are also sold to a small network of buyers that mostly include family members and friends of the Morris family.
They also sell online via their stores in Lazada and Shopee.
“Family farms are unique because we are not just focused on production. For family farms to remain truly sustainable I always say we have to be sustainable economically, socially and environmentally. We have to keep a good balance because we cannot focus on income and be unfair to our farm workers; we cannot focus on production and create environmental damage; we cannot do a lot of conservation and extension work without sound economic results because we have to sustain an enterprise,” Morris said.
She added that family farming means being a partner in rural development because family farms will never disappear in the market in a similar way that families are hard to destroy.
“When I look around, [I realized that in] this pandemic, those that stayed open are the ones that really depend on family labor and resources: the sari-sari stores, the carinderias, etc. What is common is the “family;” so if we extend our family to include our immediate communities, family farms will remain in the market,” Ka Gigi said.
For more information, visit MOCA Family Farm RLearning Center’s website.