by VINA MEDENILLA
La Union is one of the most popular surfing destinations in the Philippines to date. One farm that has been embracing this edge and promoting agri-tourism in the same province is Ibit’s Integrated Farm.
Ibit’s Integrated Farm or Ibit’s Farm is a five-hectare agricultural land in Barangay Masicong, San Fernando, La Union. It is owned and led by Manuel G. Acosta, 64, a retired civil engineer who is now permanently overseeing the agribusiness.
Shift to modern agricultural practices
During a vacation in their hometown, Acosta and his wife Marilene C. Acosta, visited their farm to pick carabao mangoes. Little did they know that a short trip to their farm in 2016 would lead to a bigger purpose.
Through that visit, they observed how the living conditions of their farmers have not improved despite the 10 years of not getting their share in the produce. Because of this, the Acostas started dedicating more of their time to learn agriculture, to work with their farmers in implementing better and effective modern practices, and to give them enough resources for efficient farming.
The five families at Ibit’s Integrated Farm are their relatives who have been assigned to tend the land for more than a decade now.
After four years of development and learning, Ibit’s Integrated Farm has become a DOT-accredited tourism destination and a certified learning site accredited by the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI).
The farm is named after the Ilocano word “ibit” which means “cry,” which was also the childhood nickname of Marilene.
Farm essentials: Knowledge, materials, crops, and equipment
Ibit’s Farm mainly grows vegetables such as ampalaya, sitaw, talong, kalabasa, sili, upo, patola, pipino, kamote, saluyot, sigarilyas as well as blue ternatea, rice, and corn. It also serves as home to free-range native chickens, goats, and ducks.
Hand tractors and other small equipment are used in tilling the land, while electric pumps and generators are used for irrigation. The farm uses vermicast and carbonized rice hulls (CRH) for the medium. The farm is also slowly transitioning to natural farming.
Part of what the farm offers is “PICKnakbet” or pick and pay activity where customers can harvest and cook vegetables on-site. It is a project in collaboration with the Association of Tourism Industries and Networks in La Union (ATIN LU). Aside from this, they also offer farm tours and other farm-related activities.
Farm built and nurtured by families
With the desire for the farmers’ children to finish studies, the founding family also saw great potential in agriculture as a way to boost their farmers’ income. The Acostas started an initiative called “Adopt a farmer and family,” which pertains to providing a farmer with agricultural inputs and other essentials to make them productive in farming that will allow them to provide enough for their family.
“We selected who needed the most intervention among them. After the selection, we talked to the family and [informed] them of our plan. We asked them about their needs. They told us that they need a house (bahay kubo) to be built in the area where they are planting their crops.” In response to this request, the Acostas did not hesitate to build them a house with sufficient sources of water and electricity.
They sent the farmers to various training sessions to increase their awareness. They also lent money as business capital without adding interest rates. Most importantly, they provided them with other avenues to market their produce aside from traders who purchase products at a very low price.
Together with the farmers, Acosta also attended training and seminars on farming organized and sponsored by different government agencies and private sectors.
Freedom, according to Acosta, is something that they also observe on the farm. He said, “We let them choose the crops they want to plant in their specific area. We hold them responsible for whatever actions or decisions they make.” In terms of sales, the farm gets 25 percent of the net income.
“The major challenge is the volatile unit prices of the commodities that change very often,” said Acosta. They prefer selling the produce directly to consumers for higher profitability. The rising fuel cost for water pumps is also a challenge that is yet to be resolved up to this day. “The possible solution is the installation of a solar-generated water pump with a complete set of elevated water tanks and distribution pipe.” This is something that the farm cannot afford yet, said Acosta.
Despite the obstacles, Acosta remains hopeful and continues to work closely with the farmers in taking care of the land. Since the farmhands are used to conventional farming, the Acostas guide them in performing modern techniques like marketing and selling the products directly to consumers through social media. The farmers are also trained to record everything, including their daily accomplishments, amount of crops planted in each area, total sales, and daily expenses. They are also taught to create a schedule and allot specific time for every farm task from land preparation to post-harvest to ensure productivity.
As a Filipino landowner, Acosta hopes for others to join the advocacy in supporting and empowering farming families in the Philippines for future generations.
Photos from Manuel G. Acosta and Ibit’s Farm Facebook page.
For more information, visit Ibit’s Integrated Farm.