By Vina Medenilla
Many professionals began their careers with no fixed path ahead of them. Despite the unknown, some people discover a newfound passion along the way.
It’s a similar case for Leah de Ocampo-de Guzman, 30, a communications graduate who fell in love with farming when she started working for a seed company in 2016.
She did not come from a farming family and had no prior experience in the field, but this did not hinder her and her husband, whom she met in the same seed company, from establishing Green Panda Farm.
Found in Barangay Gabihan, San Ildefonso, Bulacan, Green Panda Farm is a 2.1-hectare land that is primarily populated with 140 mango trees.
When asked what inspired De Guzman to venture into agriculture, this was her response: “When I joined East-West Seed, I got the privilege to meet successful vegetable farmers whom we call ‘farmer-heroes’ and to know their stories. The farmer-heroes that I met sparked my interest in farming.”
After learning that farming can be a profitable business, she shared the experience with her family and introduced them to a farmer-hero she met at work. It all began with that.
“In 2019, our family had the opportunity to invest in agricultural land in San Ildefonso, Bulacan. In June that year, we started to slowly develop the farm.”
In addition to the mango trees that had previously been planted on the property, the couple was able to grow their first crop: Sultan sweet pepper. This was made possible with the help of their family and colleagues who gave them free consultations.
Soon after growing sweet peppers, they also began to add more crops to their 3,000 sqm vegetable patch, including bitter gourd, eggplant, tomato, lettuce, kangkong, and pechay.
They prune and fertilize their mango trees every year. The couple also eventually learned how to induce flowers on them.
In 2021, they were able to harvest about 11 tons of mangoes, which they sold to a mango dealer. They successfully produced mangoes again this year, but due to rainfall in their area, they only collected more or less three tons of mango fruits.
“What we did differently [this year] is that we brought our produce directly to a warehouse in Blumentritt and also sold some directly to consumers.”
“Although we didn’t harvest and earn as much as last year, we’re still grateful that we learned a lot from this [year’s] mango season. We know that we can apply these learnings in the next mango season.”
Green Panda Farm is currently filled with ampalaya, chili peppers, and mangoes. The De Guzmans also planted their favorite fruits, such as atis, avocado, chico, star apple, and mulberry.
Since the family is new to farming, they are not spared from the difficulties. Pests and fluctuating prices of produce are their two main concerns at present.
“Catering to the retail market is not easy and takes a lot of time and effort vs. selling your produce to middlemen. But seeing where your harvests go and hearing the feedback of those who’ve tried them is very fulfilling. Plus, you can offer your produce at a price that you think is fair,” she said.
As much as they can, they bring their farm produce directly to consumers. In 2021, they supplied vegetables to vegetable stall owners. This 2022, they have also tried online selling.
At this point, the couple consider themselves as weekend farmers because they still practice their main profession. The family recognizes their farmhand, Alfredo “Fred” del Rosario, who lives on the farm and manages day-to-day tasks when they are not around. They also hire on-call helpers during harvest period.
Now in their fourth year in farming, De Guzman shared five important things that they learned so far in growing mangoes.
“(1) Take care of your trees by fertilizing them with organic and inorganic fertilizer at least once a year during the rainy season. (2) Prune the branches of your trees so more air and sunlight can reach the branches. (3) Induce flowers at the right time. Leaves should be mature enough before you start flower induction. (4) Ensure that the canopy or area around your tree is clean with minimal weeds so pests won’t thrive in that area. (5) Use the fruit bagging method to serve as additional protection from pests.”
Looking forward, the De Guzmans intend to develop their farm into an agritourism destination that provides tours and activities to everyone. “We want to be able to offer this farm, especially to children,” adds De Guzman, who has recently become a mother.
Her story demonstrates how someone with a non-agricultural academic degree, such as herself, can become a farmer. People from all walks of life, regardless of socioeconomic background, may grow food and even generate money from it through hard work and perseverance.
Photos courtesy of Leah de Ocampo-de Guzman
For more information, visit Green Panda Farm