BY VINA MEDENILLA
No family would want to be food insecure. In Leyte, a couple developed a small piece of land to sustain their family and to set an example for their community.
Cielo Bisnar Viterbo, 44, housewife, and Jo Melq Ceasar Flores Viterbo, 47, an architect and mission worker for Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation Inc., have been fascinated with farming even before their marriage.
Their interest led them to build Nature’s Promise Garden+Farm, a 1,000 square meter farm found in Barangay Lamak, Hilongos, Leyte.
Years prior, the couple already attempted to grow 200 calamansi seedlings on the same land where their thriving farm lies today. But because they did not install any fences around the property back then, farm animals like cows destroyed the plants. This, coupled with the frequent flooding in the area, discouraged them to continue farming.
After seeing the potential of dragon fruits years later, the Viterbos decided to go back and re-develop the family-owned land in 2019. Their interest in farming was revived due to a Gawad Kalinga program called “BayanAnihan” that helps sustain communities by giving family farms access to markets, farm technologies, and inputs.
They started the farm development by creating bed plots for dragon fruits and vegetables. “We bought a cow and goats [to] have a medium for our compost,” Cielo added. Along with the preparation of the farm elements, the couple also attended seminars and training sessions on natural farming to learn new methods that can help them attain their goal to produce healthy food while preserving the environment.
With the land that they already have, Cielo said, “We want to have a little of everything. Plots for veggies, garden for flowers, dragon fruit, and small fruit trees, a small fish pond, a coop house for the chickens, a nursery, and a small nipa hut [where we can] rest.” The said components were gradually built in the area.
Half for the family, half for the community
Nature’s Promise Garden+Farm currently grows crops that their family wants to consume. They produce dragon fruit, papaya, strawberry, native guava, calamansi, malunggay, lemongrass, tomato, kangkong, eggplant, cucumber, squash, bottle gourd, corn, mustard, and radish.
The farm’s main crop is dragon fruit. When the fruiting starts from May to October, they can harvest about 10 kilos of dragon fruits per post. Their dragon fruit costs P250 per kilo, papaya is at P40 per kilo, while the vegetable prices depend on the market price.
The couple divides the total produce into two: 50 percent are for sale while the other half is for their family’s consumption. When there are more than enough harvests for their family, they market them to friends and neighbors.
Aside from selling fresh produce, they also offer landscaping services.
The Viterbos’ small family farm has one farmworker who used to be their construction worker. Since their farmhand has already turned in his senior years, they assigned him to work where he can be productive and happy— farming.
Integrating animal and crop production
As of the interview, Nature’s Promise raises two cows, 12 native goats, 14 native chickens including Darag, 35 heritage chickens, and three rabbits. Goats and chickens are grown for the family’s consumption only.
The chickens are fed duckweed, azolla, madre de agua (Trichanthera gigantea), malunggay, and other vegetables. To boost the animals’ immune system, they are nourished with a drink made of water, fermented fruit juice, and rhodopseudomonas palustris (probiotic enzymes or good bacteria that has several uses and benefits for plant and animal health).
Goat and cow manure are also decomposed and used for vermicomposting.
Since their area is vulnerable to flood, the major challenge they face is the rainy season. They filled the farm with sand and gravel to reduce flood water every time this period occurs.
Reminders when growing dragon fruit
When growing dragon fruit, the couple said to make a sturdy post with a motorcycle tire atop it for the tree to have a strong support system.
When growing in flood-prone areas just like theirs, make sure to grow dragon fruits on a raised ground or to use sand and gravel as a barrier to reduce the floodwater.
Should there be any signs of diseases, cut the infected parts with sanitized tools right away to prevent the spread.
Keep the soil of dragon fruits evenly moist and water them twice a week. Fertilize them with mixed vermicast and compost. When it starts to bloom, apply fermented fruit juice. Lastly, when harvesting, carefully twist the fruits until it snaps, said the Viterbos.
The farming couple encourages families and individuals to start growing safe produce in small spaces and to consume healthy vegetables and fruits.
Photos from Nature’s Promise Garden+Farm.
For more information, visit Nature’s Promise Garden+Farm.