A popular trend in our agricultural features are OFWs who come home to the Philippines and establish a farm for retirement, and it’s not hard to guess why. A farm in the province offers a serene life after decades of hectic work, but also helps one keep active and excited for new developments.
Danny Dionisio of Mang Danny’s Organic and Natural Farm is no stranger to that trend. After years of working in the Middle East as a clerk and executive secretary, Dionisio retired and came back to his hometown, Paombong, Bulacan. In 2019, Dionisio thought to turn one of his properties into a farm. Thus, the 1.7 hectare Mang Danny’s Organic and Natural Farm was born.
“My farm is 85% for aquaculture and 15% is for livestock and plants,” Dionisio said in Tagalog. “In aquaculture, we practice polyculture. That means tilapia, shrimps, and bangus are combined in one season.”
On land, Dionisio’s farm is abundant with fruit trees and vegetables. ”All areas on the farm that are possible to plant on, we plant on.” Dionisio said. “As long as there’s soil and there’s sunlight.” His farm has guava, apples, guyabano, langka, dragon fruit, lettuce, mustasa, talong, okra, and more. Of course, his farm has animals, too. Dionisio has Pekin ducks, and different varieties of chickens, including heritage breeds.
Despite being retired, Dionisio is kept busy by the new chapter of his life: being Mang Danny the farmer.
Health is wealth
Paombong has many aqua farmers due to seawater frequently entering its fields and making it unusable for agriculture. However, despite Paombong being his hometown, Dionisio doesn’t come from a fishing family, which is why he had to make the effort to learn everything from scratch.
“Two years before I retired, I prepared myself,” he said. “I attended seminars and sometimes [watched] YouTube to learn about insecticides and natural fertilizers.”
After careful consideration, Dioniso decided to venture into natural farming. What truly spurred his decision was the loss of his father and sister from cancer. “I thought, why should I not go the natural way when cancer can come from the use of synthetic fertilizers and insecticides,” he said. “So, I went organic. Aside from it sounding nice, it’s safe for the health of my family.”
Although not officially certified, Dionisio employs organic practices for his farm. For his fish, Dionisio doesn’t feed them commercial feed, but feeds them azolla that he grows. The same goes for his land animals; he feeds his ducks and chickens natural feed, like palay. He also refuses to use synthetic fertilizers and insecticides for his crops.
“My expenses for feeds (sic) are lessened so I can also profit more,” he said. Dionisio mentions that what is fed to the animals also enters the body, which is why he is conscious of what he feeds them. “I went natural and organic for our own benefit. And when I sell those to others, it will also benefit their health, as well as the environment. That’s my motivation.”
Although Dionisio said “sell,” he doesn’t bring his crops and animal products to the market. The crops he grows are mainly for his family and nearby community. He used to bring his fish to the fishport to sell, but has stopped ever since he opened his farm to the public.
A family friendly fish farm
Bringing the fish to the fishport was simple. Dionisio only had to bring the fish there, and after a few hours, he was given the cash equivalent to its value. However, it wasn’t enough to maintain the farm.
“To harvest the fish, I had to hire five people, get a motor to pump the water, pay for gas, then bring the fish to the market,” he said. “So to eliminate that, I thought why not open [the farm] to the public?”
He first learned about opening the farm as an attraction at a farm business school he attended. The business school was a collaboration between the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), Senator Cynthia Villar, and the Philippine government.
Dionisio saw potential in his farm, and developed it to be a fishing area friendly to visitors in September 2022.
“I opened it to the public for the [visitors] to fish. As they enter there’s an entrance fee, and we fixed up the farm so they would have somewhere to rest,” he said. The entrance fee that guests would have to pay is only around P50, and they can rent one of the farm’s six bahay kubos which range from P350 to P800.
The fish that the visitors catch will be weighed and sold to them at a lower price than the market price. They also have the option to have the fish cooked at the farm by one of the staff.
“This way, I’ve eliminated the costs of hiring for harvest, the motor, the gas, all of it.” he said. “Now, all they have to do is pay an entrance fee and, at the same time, the farm is marketed. So I have an income, while the [visitors] enjoy themselves. We are happy.”
Opening it to the public was a great business decision, and Mang Danny’s Organic and Natural Farm is visited by families and groups from different provinces. Sometimes, there aren’t even enough fish to cater to the volume of visitors.
To address that, Dionisio sometimes outsources fish from nearby fish farms, but he also has grow-out ponds which he always supplies with fingerlings to keep the supply of fish going.
Dionisio’s farm is a big hit for people who want to experience being a fisherman for a day, but it’s also a site for people wanting to be fish farmers for a lifetime.
Mang Danny’s Organic and Natural Farm is an accredited learning site for agriculture by the ATI. Although Dionisio isn’t the instructor for the students who enrolled in ATI courses, his farm serves as their learning venue.
They built a dormitory for the students to have somewhere to stay during their course, and provide their meals during their stay. The farm was accredited in 2021, but has only had three batches stay at their farm so far.
While he is happy to have his farm participate in the learning of others, he is mostly focused on the farm’s fishing activities for the public and isn’t pressured to increase students.
Farm education for the littles
What Dionisio is looking forward to in the future is developing his farm until it can be a site for children’s educational field trips.
“Here they can learn how I grow animals, how to enjoy nature. And I can show them all the plants and tell them that they give them food. That once you plant these, they’re gonna give you fruits forever,” he said gleefully. “I’ll tell them, ‘It’s true, I’ve seen it! After two years and every year after that there will be fruits until it dies. And that’s how easy it will be.’ “
He is already planning to go to DepEd to ask what children need, or what could qualify his farm for an educational trip.
“It’s what I want as an elderly. To contribute to the community and society by having [the farm] worth it [for] an educational trip,” he said. “Instead of developing the farm to have a swimming pool or additional income, I want to prioritize developing for the kids first.”
Although he started late, Dionisio cherishes every moment as a farmer. He wants to start kids young, but also wants to encourage the able youth of today to choose agriculture.
“Maybe [the youth] think that farming is too much [of a] job,” he said. “But I want to tell them that there is money in farming.” Dionisio believes it just takes a proper mindset and skill to grow a farm into a lifetime source of income.
“I hope in the very near future, [the youth] will see the potential of farming,” he said.
Photos courtesy of Danny Dionisio