After three years of distance learning, internship at this natural farm provides overdue field experience for agriculture students

Diane Cabusas is an incoming fourth year agricultural engineering student taking her internship in Sanctuario.

The current generation of college students will graduate, with more than half of their college life reduced to an online experience. There are plans to re-open schools within 2022, but should the COVD-19 pandemic have another resurgence in light of the new cases of Omicron subvariants, resumption of face-to-face classes might be put to a halt.

Diane Cabusas and her friends only have one year left in college before they graduate. They are incoming fourth year students studying agricultural and biosystems engineering in Cavite State University (CvSU) and are now taking up their internship as part of their summer semester. 

Since the number of reported COVID-19 cases had stabilized at relatively low figures until June, the country opened up, allowing more face-to-face activities such as physical internship programs. Perhaps spending the next few weeks of their internship in Santuario Nature Farms, a natural farm in Indang, Cavite, is what Diane and her friends need to make up for everything they did not experience during the pandemic.

Diane Cabusas is an incoming fourth year agricultural engineering student taking her internship in Sanctuario.

Sanctuario Nature Farms is accredited by the Agricultural Training Institute as a learning site for agriculture. It is also a registered farm school under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for students aiming to take Organic Agriculture Production NCII. The farm covers an area of 2.5 hectares, all of it dedicated to natural farming. They grow lettuce, their main crop, and a vast assortment of medicinal and culinary herbs. They also raise pigs, goats, chickens, and rabbits.

“Parang nandito na lahat na pwede naming matutunan — may crops, livestock, and irrigation (It seems the farm has everything we need to learn. They have crops, livestock, and an irrigation system),” Diane said.

Diane took up a degree in agricultural engineering because of the influence of her family. “Noong elementary ako, sa farm nagwowork yung tatay ko. Then minsan sinasama kami sa farm. Nung nag-college yung kuya ko, sa agriculture din siya, nakita ko po yung mga papers niya. Medyo natuwa ako sa pagbabasa ng ganyan (When I was in elementary school, my father worked at a farm, where he also used to take us. When my older brother entered college, he also took agriculture. I saw his papers, which were fascinating to read),” Diane said.

Diane’s three friends are also taking their internship in Sanctuario.

Asked if she and her friends considered other places for their internship, she said that they could have worked for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). “Sa DENR po sana, kaso admin work. Okay sana doon kaso dahil required po sa amin mag-field, naghanap pa po kami ng iba na pwede. Kaya eto yung nakita nami. (We could have worked at DENR but it was only admin work. Our  internship requires field experience, so we tried looking for other places and found this farm),” Diane said.

“Expectations ko talaga ay marami akong matutunan dito kasi virtual kami natututo. Di naman kasi sa lahat ng oras sa virtual ay matatake-in ng utak kung paano ba talaga eto gawin, kung tama ba ginagawa ko. Through sa experience ko dito, malalman po namin yung tamang way and ano pa dapat yung kailangan malaman talaga (I expect to learn a lot here. It’s hard to absorb knowledge in virtual classes. I feel like I’m not doing things correctly. By taking my internship here, I’ll learn to do things the right way and understand the things we need to learn),” Diane said.

Sanctuario Nature Farms accepts students from any school. Other than CvSU, farm managers and couple Katherine Calingasan and Cliff Ballesteros said that the farm has taken students from De La Salle University Dasmariñas (DSLU-D) and has previously collaborated with University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) and Central Luzon State University (CLSU).

Couple Katherine Calingasan and Cliff Ballesteros are the farm managers of Sanctuario Nature Farms.

The couple said that they want to tailor their student’s interning experience to fit what they need to learn, according to their specialization. Diane and her friends are taking up agricultural engineering. For this, Katherine and Cliff aim to get them exposed to the farm’s engineering infrastructure, particularly their drip irrigation system. 

On top of that, students will also get exposed to different aspects of farming. “Tinanong namin sila, ‘are you okay to try farm tourism, herbs?’ And they’re willing, kasi parang additional knowledge na yun (We asked them if they want to learn about farm tourism and herbs. They said they were willing because it is additional knowledge for them),” Katherine shared.

“We’re not like other companies na just to accomplish the 240 hours, we’ll let you do anything lang. Halimbawa linisin mo yan, okay na yan, tapos time out ka na — hindi. We’ll make sure na may matutunan (We’ not like other companies that have basic internship programs where students just do simple tasks. We will make sure that they will learn,” Katherine added. 

Sanctuario’s roots trace back to educating the youth

The farm’s inclination to support students goes way back to its past. The farm was founded in 2006 by a practicing Buddhist philanthropist. It is said that the farm was meant to be educational in nature. “Yung initial conception is just an educational farm kaya malapit sa CvSU. The former owner, gusto niya ma-elevate yung farmers… Gusto niyang ipakita sa mga bata na may other way of farming pala (The initial conception of the farm was to be educational, therefore the reason it’s near CvSU. The former owner wanted to elevate the life of farmers. He wanted to show the youth that there are other ways of farming),” a board director of Santcuario Nature Farms Corp said.

On top of allowing students to take their internship in the farm, students are encouraged to use the facilities of the farm for their research. They may use a plot of land and utilize other resources in the farm free of charge.

“Inencourage namin yung mga students to do their research here. Tapos kung magsusulat sila ng book o thesis, pwede nila isulat na Sanctuario as their research center, yung lang yung kapalit. Baka ma-fund pa sila ng Sanctuario (We encourage students to conduct their studies here. All they have to do in return is to indicate that they conducted their research here. The farm might even fund their study,” Cliff said.

Katherine added that students just need to send a project proposal to indicate what they need from the farm. They added that Sanctuario has helped not only college students, but also more experienced graduate students and even high school students.

After years of being a private farm that was mostly utilized as a research center, the farm was incorporated into Santcuario Nature Farms Corp in 2015, which was when the farm was opened to the public. 

The farm has a dedicated area for concoctions where they demonstrate how natural fertilizers are made.

The farm now offers guided farm tours where visitors can get to experience all sorts of various farming activities. They may interact with and feed farm animals such as pigs, goats, chickens, and rabbits. They may help in sowing seeds and in harvesting crops that they want to buy and take home. 

The farm also has a dedicated area for concoctions where they demonstrate how natural fertilizers such as fermented plant juice, fermented fruit juice, and oriental herb nutrients are made. Outside the concoction area is a pathway lined with different herbs. The tour guide would go through each of the herbs, explaining their use, while engaging the visitors by letting them taste the herbs on the spot. 

Visitors may also learn about the several varieties of bamboo that grow in the farm. Other learning opportunities include the farm’s drip irrigation system and how the farm is able to sustainably nourish their soil through vegan vermiculture.

Visitors may take a longer stay in the farm by renting a dorm.

Farm tours are packaged with snacks and drinks but they may also order additional meals if they want to try rabbit meat, cochinillo, salad, and other dishes. For visitors looking to enjoy farming life for a longer period of time, they may rent a space in a dorm for a reasonable price of P3,500 per month.

Photos by Jerome Sagcal.

For inquiries, contact Sanctuario Nature Farms through Facebook.

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