There’s a saying that goes, “the family that prays together stays together.” This can also be the same for the family who farms.
Manay’s Farm is an integrated, diversified family farm located in Purok 7, Bayongan, San Miguel, Bohol. The property spans nine hectares, with about 75% given to farming. “The farm is part of an ancestral land share from the Cutillas to the Mendez clan native of San Miguel, Bohol. Before being developed as a private residential farm, the entire land area was left as a coconut plantation of sorts,” says Jeanette Pinat, 31, a start- up agripreneur and founder of Kaayo Project operated at Manay’s Farm.
The farm takes its name from Manay Bebot, the family matriarch. “She has 44 years of accumulated experience in public service and community-based development. She is also an agriculturist and has been our mentor in the development of our farm,” Pinat says. “From the beginning, the vision of the farm has always been to follow integrated, diversified, and organic agricultural practices.”
Manay’s Farm was established in 2016 and its development came in stages. “The first year was dedicated to land preparation and construction of residential huts. It was also during this time that we focused on our farm design. At a small scale, we grow and sell vegetables, tilapia from our pond, and organic native pigs and native chicken,” Pinat says. The farm started selling high value crops in 2019.
Each member of the Pinat family has a role to play on the farm. “Our mom, Manay Bebot, is in-charge of the crop planning and growing, my brother, Joachim, aka Alot, is our farm manager who also personally takes care of our native livestock. I run the entrepreneurial side of the farm, our farm design, and our social programs,” she adds.
“Initially, the farm was supposed to be a vacation house for the family. My mom was born and raised in this town but all of us siblings grew up in Dauis, Bohol where my father lived ( about 97km from Bayongan). Most of us moved to various parts of the Philippines to study and/or work. When my father passed away four years ago, my mom decided to permanently return and serve in her hometown. This is when we decided to cultivate our area and turn it to Manay’s Farm,” Pinat, who worked as an HR professional for a fintech company in Cambodia for six years before deciding to work on the farm full time, narrates.
Even before development began, there was no question about the way the farm was going to be run. “We try our best to imitate natural ecological diversity by integrating subsystems by which various components of our farm interact positively thereby increasing overall farm productivity,” Pinat says. “Having farm inputs available in the farm reduces our cost and improves our production given we are aware of the kind of fertilizers we give our crops and feeds we feed our livestock.”
It was extremely important for the family to grow different crops and livestock. “To us, diversification is very important in running our farm because biodiversity expands our production as well as increases and diversifies our income. Growing diverse food crops ensures healthy food security for our family too. Also with the current climate crisis, by going diverse, it helps in reducing risk factors as it ensures that we do not lose all of our resources if the weather does not favor our crop production,” Pinat says. “From our agriculture training, we also learned that crop diversification also effectively increases soil fertility and controls pests so this is definitely a welcomed effect of diversifying.”
As with any business, setting up a farm includes many challenges. For example, starting the farm was not cheap. “Instead of focusing on one crop only and paying attention to just a single set of needs for it to have better yield, we had to do that for multiple components of the farm. We had to spread our budget to cover construction of dedicated livestock areas ( for our native pigs, native chicken and ducks), we also had to spend for the creation of our tilapia pond,” she shares, adding that the government has programs to help farmers as long as one knows who to ask and what to ask for.
In their case, having a mom with a background in agriculture was a real boon. “We are lucky to have a mom who is an experienced agriculturist and who has the knowledge on various farming systems. She guided us on the available local government support in training and also in sourcing quality seeds, livestock and tilapia fingerlings. Provincial agriculture offices also helped us improve and reduce our cost by becoming recipients of various agri-livelihood programs,” she adds.
They also experienced an initial difficulty in getting resources like feeds and fertilizer. The family didn’t own a private vehicle, so transportation costs were high. These setbacks encouraged the family to find creative ways to solve their problems, most of which focused on finding resources closer to home. This is another reason that integrated farming works for them: very little is wasted and much is produced.
“Integrating our livestock and crop production uses what’s waste from one of our components as an input for another part of our farm. One feature of integrated farming we really like is using waste as a resource, we not only eliminate waste but they also ensure an overall increase in productivity for the whole farm,” Pinat says.
Integrated crops and livestock
The farm cultivates a variety of crops and livestock. “We have multi crops and do crop rotation. At the moment we have sweet potatoes, cassava, cucumbers, squash, upland kangkong, sweet potato, eggplants, watermelon, pineapple, kalamansi, and various herbs. We also have organic native pigs, native chicken and ducks. We decided to grow these crops because they are quite easy to grow and they are ones that most people and us enjoy and know how to prepare. By growing local vegetable favorites we can also offer farm-gate prices to our community,” Pinat says.
Another thing that the farm is known of is its ‘refrigerator garden.’ Pinat explains that this is simply the name they’ve given to their multi-crop vegetable garden where they’ve planted ‘go-to’ vegetables for their personal use. “Refrigerators are where we store our food to keep them fresh. We call it this to encourage people that one can grow their own food in their backyard and have them fresh minus the added electric bill,” Pinat says. “My mom used to joke about asking us to go to her ‘ref garden’ to get her fresh produce for immediate kitchen use. These are the usual vegetables and spices we usually have in stock in our refrigerator and buy in bulk like chilies, spring onions, spinach, and more.”
Raising fish livestock was another avenue for income. “We wanted to diversify our farm so we can have multiple sources of income,” Pinat says. “Growing free-range and native livestock was decided because of its low maintenance feeds and their higher resiliency to sickness not to mention their healthier meat quality.”
There are many benefits to raising (not to mention consuming) naturally raised livestock. “Unlike conventionally raised livestock, organic livestock must be kept in living conditions that accommodate the natural behavior of the animals. For instance, our native chicken, ducks, and native pigs have free-range areas where they have access to pasture. Although they may be vaccinated against disease, our organic, native livestock and poultry are not given any other medications and hormones. Choosing native livestock affords us with higher resiliency to diseases and we support this as well by providing them sanitary housing and more than enough area to move around,” Pinat says. “Compared to conventional rearing, naturally grown livestock has a low capital requirement as well. Since our livestock are fed with local feed sources within the farm (e.g. azolla, duckweeds, madre de agua, banana trunks, papaya, and more), this reduces our cost greatly and provides for healthier and tastier meats.”
Though currently under renovation, their tilapia pond is another considerable source of income. “We had multiple full harvest of our tilapia pond that yielded an average of over 300 kilos of fish per harvest which gives us over P12,000.00 per harvest at farm gate pricing,” Pinat shares.
Serving the local community
Most of the farm’s clients come from the local community. This includes individual households, catering services, and restaurants. “We try to prioritize providing our produce to local buyers and offering ours at farm gate prices. It gives them an opportunity to earn as well when they choose to resell it,” Pinat says. “At the moment we are using organic marketing from our network and just word of mouth for our livestock products. Speaking mainly for our organic native lechon, our buyers are individuals within the locality who are having gatherings and events. We can’t regularly supply yet to bigger restaurants and resorts because of our production limitations. We are slowly working on bringing our native dressed chicken to the city by partnering with some restaurants.”
To keep a diversified farm running, it’s also a good idea to offer different services to customers. Aside from selling their harvests to various clients, Manay’s Farm also offers a pick-and-pay scheme called the “u-pick market” where guests pick their own vegetables to take home or consume on the farm. Not only are they assured of the produce’s quality and freshness, they also take home a memorable farm experience to boot.
There is also a “catch-pay-grill” service where guests can catch their own tilapia in the farm’s fishpond and have it grilled for consumption on the premises. As of now, these services are only open to the local community and the farm guests only.
They have also started a social enterprise called Kaayo Project, which Pinat spearheads. “Kaayo Project aims to develop multiple products under the business name of Manay’s Wellness Products Manufacturing by utilizing naturally growing wild herbs to create loose-leaf herbal teas, tea blends and more,” she explains.
Moving past the pandemic
Though the farm’s food production goes on, it’s had to halt its tourism endeavors in compliance with the government’s program to halt the spread of COVID-19. It’s also had to up its health and cleanliness protocols to ensure the safety of everyone on the farm.
“Most of our activities are better enjoyed in a group and because of the regulations and health standard protocols especially avoiding gatherings, it really hampered some of our activities and prior engagements,” Pinat shares. “Following government and health mandates, we have set up footbaths and multiple areas for hand washing within the farm. We also strictly follow standard health protocols like wearing masks and social distancing measures when we have guests. In addition, we have signages and health safety reminders across the farm.”
They’ve also managed to turn their business towards fulfilling more orders while minimizing contact. “Following the government mandate on modified quarantine measures, have actively engaged on pre-orders for our farm produce. We are able to pick the vegetables fresh in advance and someone just picks them up, minimizing our contact with others,” Pinat says.
The Pinats are using the current global pause as a time to reevaluate how else they can maximize their farm. “We plan to start working on processing some of our produce. Kaayo Project is a start in that direction, to be able to find ways to preserve and extend shelf lives of our produce,” Pinat says. “We also plan to host events and offer meals to farm visitors in our upcoming small function hall. Herein we will be offering farm-to-table meals and catering services. This facility will also serve as our training area and offer training and knowledge sharing to members of the community who want to learn more about organic farming and agri-entrepreneurship.”
Farming isn’t just a way to make money. The lessons learned in the field can be applied to life in general as well. “Being in the farm has made me stronger and has taught me lessons that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. Running an integrated farm taught me that nature truly provides. Integrated farming has taught me to respect nature and it’s natural processes. It taught me humility — that it won’t always be successful, and that it’s okay,” Pinat says.
“Integrated farming is not an easy venture, crops fail, livestock perishes, farm inputs are getting more expensive, add that to an unpredictable, oftentimes extreme weather. We constantly deal with these setbacks and just like in life, these are inevitable but we work and live despite the setbacks. We have to push through these tough times and continue to look towards a brighter future.”
Farming is not easy, but when done well, it can be very rewarding. As Pinat says, “I have learned to appreciate what we have, and appreciate our success a whole lot more.”
Photos courtesy of Jeanette Pinat