Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Healing Power of Green Earth at Terra Verde Ecofarm & Resort in Maragondon, Cavite

A few months ago, I learned from a wise organic farmer that literally getting one's hands dirty can make you happy. He said there are microbes in soil that act as antidepressants, similar to Prozac's effect on the brain.  

imagine waking up to this every morning!
When I recently visited the beautiful Terra Verde Ecofarm & Resort in Cavite, I discovered that the  place was founded in 2007 because of a "medical prescription." Emerson Atanacio, one of Terra Verde's owners, was diagnosed with a thyroid condition triggered by stress from his job as a school administrator. The doctor recommended his patient to take up farming. 

Emer and Eric Atanacio with Agricultural Training Institute's
Region IV-A Director Pia Cosico
With the support of his brothers, Eric and Erwin, and their families, the Atanacios acquired a piece of land in Maragondon that, amazingly, they found through an ad in Buy and Sell. According to Eric, the place used to be filled with grass, trees, and shrubberies. "Masukal (wild)," he described. "But Emer, a true visionary, said 'Look how wonderful this could be!' So we came together and discussed ideas. We got inputs from family members and that's how the farm evolved."

at Terra Verde, you can find all the vegetables mentioned
in the song, Bahay Kubo, from singkamas down to linga!
Since then, the Atanacio clan has been spending their Christmases there with their extended families. They have also made it a tradition to share their blessings to people around the neighborhood. Last year, they had 300 kids and their parents over for Christmas Day.

an unripe ponkan fruit
The original plan for Terra Verde was simply to plant, harvest, and enjoy safely-grown food for family consumption. "Eventually, we learned a lot of things we need to be concerned about like the weather and the types of plants and animals to grow. Now, we understand better their roles in ecology. For instance, our bengala fowl not only helps control insects, they are also very good farm guards because they can be very noisy."

bengala fowl (outside the fence)
and other free range poultry
Part of their farming journey, according to Eric, is learning from other farmers, too. He told us the story of meeting one who grows ampalaya (bitter gourd) that turned out to filled with chemicals. When they asked him for some, the farmer told them they'll get the vegetables from one part of the farm, where they grow the ones for eating, and not from the produce that are for selling. 

organically grown chili peppers
The sad thing is, there's a market demand for blemish-free vegetables and consumers unknowingly choose those grown using harmful pesticides. "We are what we eat," Eric pointed out. "Our journey to safe food continued with new discoveries." 

organic pigs
Aside from growing organic vegetables, the Atanacios also raise their own livestock using safe farming technologies. "We advocate for people to eat safe food. We're not yet in the stage of selling to the market but we sell to friends and employees." He moreover affirmed that one doesn't have to have a huge parcel of land to farm. Done right, 500 square meters is enough to grow food that can feed a family and help them earn.  

lettuce plots
Eric gave us such good insights when he advised us, "When you're sick, you go to the doctor. When you are well, go to the farmers and build relationships with them." Why? Because farmers will then put a face on their consumers and probably develop a new mindset: "If I grow vegetables with chemicals, I would think twice about 'poisoning' somebody I know."  

meeting the farmers
OA (organic agriculture) bloggers and ATI staff
with the owners of Terra Verde 
"If we could educate consumers to demand organic food from the vendors, then the traders will tell farmers that there's a market," reasoned Eric. "Our concept of anything organic is that it's for the rich -- mahal (expensive). But, because of the value of being safe, organic agriculture should be for the benefit of everyone."

a beautiful reminder that nature should be taken cared of
The Atanacios are thankful that the Department of Agriculture is pushing for Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) in farms as this ensures food safety. "For example, using manure as fertilizer is good. But unprocessed ones may have e-coli. So GAP addresses that."

papaya trees, if properly cared for, can last up to 1 1/2 years
and bear 50kg of fruit per tree in its lifetime
"We are happy that more young people are now going into farming. But we need to educate more of them," added Eric. "If we can package agriculture as a tourism destination, then we can tap the traveling market." This, Terra Verde has already done as it was recently accredited as an agri-tourism farm/site by the Department of Tourism. They help Educate (converse with guests about their advocacies), Entertain (they have a track for racing RC cars, expansive air space for flying RC planes, and a stream for sailing RC boats), and EcoFarm (inspire people to be part of the agricultural ecology).

a great reminder on one wall of the mess hall
Visitors (by invitation or by appointment) can tour the farm -- along with taking a lot of selfies in numerous Instagrammable areas -- and even spend the night in a tent or one of the kubins (a cluster of bahay kubo that evolved into cabins). My husband and I slept in one and had such a good night's rest thanks to the quiet environment and cool weather. Too bad, though, that it rained that evening so we didn't get to experience lighting a bonfire in the middle of lounging chairs arranged in a circle on the expansive lawn.

honeymooners or retirees? LOL
I hope many of our farmers get to meet the Atanacios because the brothers have a lot of practical lessons to share that, I am positive, would help the struggling ones to finally learn how to evolve with the times while earning more than what they have been getting for years. Eric emphasized, "If we don't study the food chain, the farmers suffer as well as the consumers." 

mornings at Terra Verde be like ...
"Responsible farming is our commitment for a healthy nation," he affirmed. "At the end of the day, it is our survival as a people that is at stake."

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