Beekeeper’s La Union farm is proof of the harmony between sustainability and profitability

Pineapples grow well at the farm as the surrounding forest provides nourishment.

By Daniel Jason M. Maches

If there is one farm that showcases how profit and sustainability can harmonize, that would be Lotus Valley Farm. Located in the surfing town of San Juan in La Union, this farm is pioneering an ecological-based system of agriculture, specifically customized permaculture.

Mr. Toby Tamayo, proprietor of the farm, proves that by restoring biodiversity and ecological balance, one can create a profitable and at the same time, sustainable farm. As his tangible model, Lotus Valley Farm is now gaining recognition not only in terms of organic production, but also as a commune for nature lovers, birdwatchers, and spiritual seekers. For that reason, I can’t help but keep coming back to the farm to listen to the stories of Tamayo as an advocate of sustainable living.

Lotus Valley Farm sits atop a mountain which used to be deforested and denuded. Today, it’s a
thriving ecosystem with a wide array of biodiversity. (Maches)

How did Tamayo turn a bald mountain into a forest?

The five-hectare Lotus Valley Farm sits atop a secluded mountain which used to be covered only with grass and a few shrubs.

When Tamayo bought the property in 2005, he already noticed signs of erosion. The creeks that ran through the property were completely dry, making the area almost look like a wasteland. This was a result of years of kaingin, or slash and burn farming, which left the mountain almost bare. But all that did not stop Tamayo, who by then was already a professional beekeeper, from putting his permaculture knowledge and experience into practice.

The first thing he did was to carefully study the terrain, the direction of the wind, the condition of the soil, the remaining vegetation, and all other natural elements and factors. In that way, he could create a system that harmonizes with natural regeneration and restoration.

He then started planting native trees including fruit-bearing species on the slopes of the mountain. He also practiced assisted regeneration, which means he did not clear the existing vegetation but let it grow while intercropping proper trees and plants.

After years of hard work and persistence, Tamayo was able to grow a forest farm thriving with biodiversity. He even recorded several bird species which the surrounding communities thought to be extinct. Bees began returning while monitor lizards and different snake species were frequently spotted in the area.

Moreover, a steady water flow emerged in the creeks, attracting frogs and other aquatic species. The water is also drinkable, even without boiling. From a bald mountain, the area is now an ecological hub that nourishes the surrounding communities and rice paddies.

Tamayo’s farm also harbors different vegetable and fruit species including banana. He uses
banana trunks as fertilizers to vegetable crops. (Maches)

What are the perks of a forest farm?

While most of Lotus Valley Farm consists of a rainforest, there are also rice paddies, vegetable gardens, and bamboo groves.

Take a walk and you’ll notice how healthy the crops here are. According to Tamayo, that is because the forests provide crucial ecological services that sustain the farm. This includes a continuous water supply, soil nutrients, and protection from strong winds and erosion.

“The farm is a self-sustaining ecosystem harmonized with the natural systems and processes of the forest. When you restore and protect the forest, the forest in turn protects your crops and farms,” shared Tamayo.

He also cited that the bees that inhabit the forest help in pollinating the crops while the birds eat insects that feed on leaves of vegetables. Furthermore, the leaves falling from the trees decompose and fertilize the soil. “When you have a forest farm, there is no need to incorporate chemical inputs. Basically, everything is there and you just have to render minimal intervention. The crops grow according to the ways of the forest,” added Tamayo.

The farm also contains native forest species including dipterocarp trees which makes it a
favorable spot for birds. (Maches)

Tamayo shares that sustainable is profitable

While many would think that going organic or sustainable is not profitable, Tamayo would prove otherwise. He shared that more and more people are becoming health conscious, thus, they prefer to eat organically-grown and plant-based meals. He added that most conscious companies and local consumers are willing to pay more for products that contribute to environmental preservation.

But that is not to say without proof. In fact, Tamayo’s forest farm produces organic heirloom rice (Oryza sativa) and vegetables that are sold at a high price for their excellent nutrient content. Because bee colonies abound in the farm, he also practices sustainable harvesting of honey which is in demand among high-end consumers.

In addition, he put up two bamboo nipa houses which guests and tourists can rent for P6000 per night. Who would not love the feel of staying in such rustic amenity while relishing the views of the forest farm?

Anahaw, the Philippines’ national leaf, abound in the farm. Farmers traditionally use the leaf as
a protection from rains and the sun.

Today, the farm is becoming a popular respite among vegans, sustainability advocates, and even curious visitors who just want to experience the rustic setting. On regular days, Tamayo and his team would organize sessions such as meditation and seminars to teach participants how to live sustainably.

Here is an interesting fact. Tamayo also chairs the Science of Identity Foundation which implements community-based programs and projects to promote and realize sustainability. One of their main thrusts is the conservation of the endangered Pawikan, or Pacific green turtle.

Pineapples grow well at the farm as the surrounding forest provides nourishment.

Indeed, Tamayo proves that profitability can go hand in hand with sustainability. His forest farm is proof that you can earn an income while protecting and restoring natural ecosystems.

Photos by Daniel Jason M. Maches

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