By Pete Samonte

Four years ago, the St. Paul College of San Rafael (SPCSR), a learning institution run by religious sisters, acquired a 5-hectare property adjoining the school campus in San Rafael, Bulacan. The site, however, was the neighborhood dumpsite, not only reeking with foul odors, but also attracting flies of all sizes and snakes. Other detritus also proliferated in the area, posing a clear and present danger to the health of some 1,200 K-12 students.

The site was likewise the main passage of irrigation water coming from a nearby dam of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA). But right after the negotiations for this was consummated, school directress Sister Teresita Capurihan laid out plans in her mind to develop part of the property into a practical and nature farm where the K-12 school children enrolled at their institution, could, early on, get a feel of practical agriculture and the science involved.

The first step was to clear the area of the garbage that posed a threat to health. Trucks from the municipal government did this. Then Sister Capurihan went to the nearby NIA offices to request that irrigation water be diverted elsewhere as it passed through the school’s private property. The request, however, was respectfully denied, as it would deprive thousands of rice farmers in the area of irrigation water. Instead, Sister Capurihan altered her plans and developed three fishponds in the area, managing to procure the free services of heavy equipment operators in digging the fishponds.

School directress Capurihan proudly shows off an American lemon. Some 820 fruit bearing trees are planted in the learning village.

One of the fishponds is now being used by senior high school students to develop their entrepreneural skills in inland fishery management, skills they can use to start their own business. The latest batch of senior students, with the help of their parents, realized a gross income of R48,000 from an investment of P18,000 for the tilapia fingerling stock and feeds for a net profit of P30,000.

Another fishpond is devoted to tilapia; the stocks there are allowed to multiply naturally. School guests, students, and visitors are allowed to fish from this pond. No investment is required in this pond as the nutritional needs of the fish come from natural food in the pond. The last pond is used to raise hito and dalag.

Sister Capurihan maintains small islets within the fishpond areas; each islet has nipa huts where visitors can rest. These are interconnected with hanging bridges and improvised rafts made from plastic drums.

Over four years, Sister Capurihan has planted some 820 fruit bearing trees in the are, with seedlings coming mostly from friends and parents of schoolchildren who were only too willing to share whatever seedlings they had.

From the beginning, Sister Capurihan, relying on her charisma and persuasiveness, made sure the children’s parents were heavily involved in developing the nature farm. It paid off, as parents volunteered to give the school pairs of native chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and other fowls, which served as the start of the SPCSR fowl farm. Other parents donated pairs of upgraded goats and native pigs to help the school start up their
livestock farm.

The school likewise established a 2,000-square meter organic vegetable farm where students plant eggplants, lettuce,tomatoes, ampalaya, and other vegetable crops in season. Farm-ready seedlings are usually donated by the East West Seed Company, which is based in the area, as well as by farmer-parents of the students. The farm also has a vermiculture bed from which natural fertilizers are obtained.

An oversized pommelo is shown by Sister Capurihan to visitors. Several native fruit bearing trees proliferate at the 2.2 hectare learning village of St. Paul of San Rafael campus.

Students learn practical science when they visit the area’s butterfly garden, where they can see for themselves the metamorphosis of the creatures, observing changes in the life cycle of butterflies.

SPCSR students are required to visit the farm at least once a week; many enjoy crossing the hanging bridges between fishponds, doing vegetable gardening, caring for the fowls and livestock on the farm, and undertaking other scientific assignments.

K12 students enjoy the early exposure to farming; as a result of the establishment of this on-campus learning village, their interest in science and agriculture has been raised. SPCSR now plans to establish an agricultural college in the school campus.

The “learning village” of SPCSR features a practical approach to science and agriculture. Four years since its inception, the learning village is doing wonders in molding the minds of young students and teaching them about science and agriculture. It is fast becoming a destination for students from other schools which want to stir their interest in farming.

Sister Capurihan is clearly an agriculturist at heart; she sees the farm as another Eden where students can be immersed in nature and the environment. All this, she says, is for the glory of God the Creator.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s January 2014 issue.