Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Organic Farm Tour Series, Part 2: A Visit to The Master's Garden in La Trinidad, Benguet

The Master's Garden in La Trinidad was the first farm in Benguet to be certified organic by the Organic Certification Center of the Philippines (OCCP) in 2009. The 3000sqm. area was considered by its owner, Mr. Ambrosio "Pat" Acosta, as a God-given opportunity to develop raw land. He was awarded Natatanging Organic Farmer of 2009-2010 by the Department of Agriculture.

The farm was envisioned to be an area where salad greens and vegetables could be grown. In 1999, Mr. Acosta and his workers started to carefully and manually carve his land's rolling terrain. At the same time, they gathered wild vegetation around the area to make compost. He recalled that soil restoration was very difficult that their first harvested vegetables were small and sickly. "We had to augment nutrition to the soil by incorporating animal manure, sawdust, leaf moulds, organic fertilizer, sea vegetation, and the compost we produced in the area," he described.

After acquiring a shredding machine in 2003 to make compost faster and better, the farm's soil improved. In six months, the vegetable harvests became two to three times more in size and weight. Since then, Mr. Acosta's crops stayed healthy and robust.

Shredder, grass, and compost
When I toured the farm with fellow bloggers, we were impressed at how the minimal land space was maximized well while working harmoniously with nature. The farming techniques we were shown are simple, practical, and involve low technology. "In organic agriculture, we have to extend practices that are simple and will not require much from the farmer aside from his effort," explained Mr. Acosta. "So everything that we will need to make this system prosper has to be within his reach already."

The size of The Master's Garden is actually very manageable that a family of four can run it easily. "Anyone can put it together, operate it, and enjoy the many benefits of comfortable living in this lifetime." Mr. Acosta emphasizes that every guest's visit is very important because, through it, "We share information that good soil, wholesome food, a healthy you, and a safe environment, is how we can ensure the next generation's survival."

Grow crops from quality seeds and transplant seedlings carefully  
All crops in this farm are free from pesticides and are very resistant to pests. Why? Because good soil + good crops = good harvest. According to Mr. Acosta, crops are a reflection of soil health. Their cells are sturdy and hard to chew for pests unlike crops raised using chemical fertilizers that may look bulky but are actually just filled with water, which makes the cells brittle and easy to munch on by pests.

Non-organic vegetables also wilt easily. Those who buy organic or have home gardens and who do not use fertilizers know that veggies harvested from their own backyards last longer in the refrigerator than those normally bought from the supermarkets. I've proven that for myself many times.

Those interested to learn more about low input sustainable agriculture and how to start their own organic farms are encouraged to attend Mr. Acosta's workshops/seminars for 2, 7, or 14  days. Fees are at P1,000/person/day. Likewise, school children are very much welcome in the farm so they can learn topics on soil, decomposition, recycling, food production, and the food chain.  

When you do drop by, make sure you order a set meal at the multi-purpose hall. The Master's Garden serves tasty dishes made with organically-grown greens and cooked by Mr. Acosta's wife. Our lunch there was sumptuous and tummy-filling.

Personally, one of the things I value most from my visit was finding out that the longer a vegetable's roots dig deep into the soil, the more nutritious it is. Now I know what veggies to prioritize when blending food for my special child's tube-fed meals. I just hope I find organic sugar beets in Manila after the supply I bought from Benguet runs out.

The Master's Garden is located at ME-133 Lamtang-Pico Road, Barangay Puguis, La Trinidad, Benguet.  For inquiries, please call or text them at 0917-9258499 (Pat) or 0917-6468134 (Ana).

For more information on organic agriculture, log on to www.ati.da.gov.ph and www.e-extension.gov.ph.

* Note: You can read Part 1 of this Organic Farm Tour Series here and see more photos taken during our farm visits here.

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