By Vina Medenilla
Love and passion are the two things that spurred Ramona M. Pastor, owner of HN Organic Farm, to fully devote her time to farming after working in various fields abroad for over 10 years.
It was in 2017 when Pastor decided to end her overseas employment in Singapore due to an eye injury and to run the family farm instead. She hails from a family of teachers and farmers, so working in the field was not strange to her.
HN Organic Farm sits on 19-hectares of land in Bongabong, Oriental Mindoro. It is home to high-value crops like coconut, fruit-bearing trees, spices, herbs, ornamental plants, and more. The farm is named after Pastor’s parents, Honorio and Nelcy. The initials also match the farm’s motto, “Harmony with Nature” and description, “Home of Native bees.”
The farm has been under her clan’s care for over 30 years. Before Pastor took over, the farm already contained coconut and other fruit-bearing trees that her parents had been tending to for more than 10 years. Pastor added more fruit-bearing trees and introduced the farm to Integrated Diversified Organic Farming System (IDOFS), a sustainable farming approach that includes integration of farm components such as livestock and crop production. After a year of development, their farm was given certification as an accredited Learning Site for Agriculture (LSA) of the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI). The farm has yet to be registered to the Organic Certification Center of the Philippines (OCCP).
HN Organic Farm naturally grows coconuts, mangoes, bananas, pineapples, papayas, rambutans, lanzones, cashews, passion fruits (Passiflora edulis), chestnuts (Castanea), jackfruits (Artocarpus heterophyllus), mulberry, peanut butter (Bunchosia glandulifera), spices like black pepper and bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), varieties of bamboo, herbs, and several ornamentals including hoyas and philodendrons. Among all these, coconut, cinnamon, as well as their bee products are the farm’s major earners.
HN Organic Farm’s natural farming methods
To water their crops, the farm mainly uses rainwater that they either obtain from a rain catchment or from the barangay. The farm also practices vermicomposting to naturally fertilize their plants with vermicast. Pastor adds that they formulate concoctions to repel unwanted insects using their plants and flowers. Biocontrol, or the use of beneficial living organisms to control invasive species, is also practiced. They perform this with the presence or release of Trichogramma and earwigs, two biocontrol agents that help in combating pests specifically for their rice and jackfruit. The farm also raises black soldier flies in a bin to produce animal feed and crop fertilizer.
HN Organic Farm is home to stingless bees, more than 100 free-range chickens, ducks, turkeys, three native pigs, and three pairs of rabbits. Farm animals are fed with green forages on the farm that they usually ferment with molasses. Their feeding schedule occurs every morning and afternoon.
Pastor says, “We integrate stingless beekeeping on our farm as it is an integral part of organic agriculture production. They are effective pollinators of our crops and they help us increase our production.”
For harvests, they gather their cinnamon after the bark fully matures, usually about two years or so. As for their trees, they collect over 3,000 coconuts every three months. Depending on the weather, their mango trees yield about two tons per year, while honey and other bee byproducts are collected depending on the activeness and strength of the colonies.
Since the farm outputs are both for retail and personal use, Pastor explains that they first set aside supply for their own consumption before offering the harvests to customers. In terms of selling, Pastor explains, “Usually, our agricultural products like coconuts are sold to a merchant. For our honey, we deliver it to OMPC (Oriental Mindoro Producers Cooperative), which I am an active member of.”
Some of their products include bee propolis bath soap (available in guava, papaya, banana, honey, and milk and oats variants) and shampoo, which they sell for P100 each. They also sell value-added goods such as binagoongang santol (P80) and calamansi juice. Raw honey from wild bees (P250) and trigona stingless bees (P500) are also available.
Amid the pandemic, they’ve donated their bath soaps to two barangays in Oriental Mindoro. With the satisfaction, positivity, and nutrients that they get from producing and consuming safe and healthy food, Pastor adds that the P5000 savings on food costs do not cover their overall gain from the farm.
Farm activities, difficulties, and lessons
Pastor, being an ATI’s learning site cooperator, also conducts training and seminars on beekeeping, organic agriculture production, and product processing. HN Organic Farm is open to walk-in clients who want to learn about and experience hands-on activities on the farm. They also organize volunteer programs in their community. Presently, they are planning activities for the Mangyan community in the south of Oriental Mindoro, just in time for the holiday season.
One of the farm’s main problems, apart from climate change, is the lack of dedicated staff. Pastor says that since many people in the area are not dedicated to farming, she only employs farm workers when needed.
Due to the threats of COVID-19, HN Organic Farm temporarily closed during the first few quarters of 2020. HN Organic Farm recently reopened to the public and conducts face-to-face training arranged by appointment.
The farm’s pre-pandemic sales from value-added goods were around P5000 per month. As per Pastor, the farm was greatly affected by the current situation since they had no sales at the start of the pandemic. If there’s one thing that this pandemic has taught them, it’s adding value to the raw products. “We learn a lot from this pandemic, our sales were affected, we cannot even bring our products to the market, most of our harvests were rotten, and we cannot get help from our local government unit. We realized that we need to strategize so we can handle the situation better,” Pastor expounds. They continued the farm operations by focusing on product processing, which has been a huge help in lengthening the shelf lives of their products.
Pastor aims for the farm to be an agritourism destination so they can provide jobs to more individuals in the community, as well as to be a TESDA-accredited farm school so they can reach and encourage more people, especially the youth, into farming.
At present, Pastor intends to apply for the Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) certification, which according to her, is “more realistic and affordable to what we desire to achieve,” as compared to the requirements and charges that organic certification entails.
HN Organic Farm expresses their gratitude to the people who have been part of their family farm in over 30 years of operations. Pastor ensures that they will continue conserving the environment and the pollinators that are vital in balancing our ecosystem.
Photos courtesy of HN Organic Farm
For more information, visit HN Organic Farm.