Family works hand-in-hand to manage a mango and vegetable farm in Batangas
BY PATRICIA BIANCA S. TACULAO
Sisters Jercyl and Fiona Uy consider farming a family affair since they work together with their parents in managing their farm known as Batangas Sunset Farm in the town of Lian, Batangas. “Together, we work with our parents for Batangas Sunset Farm. Jercyl is assigned the marketing, web and business development tasks while Fiona is in charge of the purchasing, branding, and design work,” the sisters explained. Due to their digital skills and familiarity with online platforms, the sisters thought that their knowledge could contribute to the front end of their farm’s effort in bringing its produce directly to consumers to help provide food security, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Batangas Sunset Integrated Farm (BSF) is a mango and vegetable farm that also serves as a goat sanctuary. “We originally wanted to name it ‘Ananda’ which is Sanskrit for ‘happiness’ as it is our refuge from the city. But since our bahay kubo is situated at the highest point of the property, we get to revel in a gorgeous sunset everyday. We decided that the chosen name was more apt for the spectacular view,” the sisters said. THE HISTORY BEHIND THE FARM It was around February 2019 when the family acquired the farm. By then, the area already had fruit-bearing mango trees of the Philippine carabao and Pico variety. The Pico variety is more slender, tender, richer, and sweeter but lacks the distinct aroma of the Philippine carabao mango. One reason why the family decided to go into farming is because they are working towards following a plant-based diet. As their vegetable consumption increased, they thought of growing their own food since it’s more practical and sustainable. They also want to create a safe haven for animals on their farm. “Our family is strongly against animal cruelty—our dad being the biggest advocate. He often rescues stray cats and dogs who were supposed to be the original inhabitants of the farm. In the end, the pets stayed in the city because our father preferred to put goats in since they serve as natural mowers on our mango farm. There, they can freely roam the area and eat as much grass as they want,” Jercyl and Fiona said. Prior to BSF, the family patriarch worked and lived for a while in Batangas City as a consultant in designing caging systems for livestock. While doing so, he liked the farm lifestyle and learned a few things about operating a farm. At BSF, the Uy sisters shared that their father is in charge of farm operations. Jercyl and Fiona would visit the farm weekly to keep track of progress, align with the staff, and plan their next steps. “One of our favorite activities on the farm is putting seeds in seed trays for germination,” they said. By working hand-in-hand with their father and the staff on the farm, Jercyl and Fiona not only assist in promoting the farm in the already competitive market, but they also get to help with the tasks on the farm while immersing themselves in the farm life that they have come to love. MANGOES, VEGETABLES, AND GOATS “Aside from mango trees, we also grow lowland vegetables such as chili, okra, sitaw, eggplant, patola, tomato, and cucumber,” the Uy sisters said. The sisters added that they are also starting to plant corn that they can feed to their goats and they are also planning to start growing papayas soon. Meanwhile, the farm is presently harvesting around 150 kilos of lowland vegetables every week which they sell at prices that are 30 to 40 percent lower than those in the market. Their goal is to triple the yield in the next quarter as they maximize the space available for tillage. When it comes to maintaining their crops, the sisters said that they try to steer clear of using a lot of chemical fertilizers and insecticides on the farm. They also use goat manure to enrich the soil before they transplant the seedlings onto prepared plots. “Our main goal is to make the soil healthier for our vegetables and plants. The weeds and unwanted growth are fed to our goats,” Jercyl and Fiona said. Their goats are a mix of the Anglo-Nubian variety and some native ones. Since the family patriarch is an advocate of animal welfare, the goats in BSF have their own sanitary bamboo house and are fed by the staff regularly throughout the day. “We do not actually earn any income from our goats as of the moment. They are with us for humanitarian reasons. By having them, we remind ourselves to be compassionate towards other sentient living beings. Besides, they give us tremendous joy with their funny antics,” the sisters said. Apart from the crops that grow on the farm, BSF makes an income from by-products made from its chili harvest. This includes chili flakes, chili sauces, and chili garlic crunch. The sisters added that they also sell plant-themed eco-friendly items like tote bags, aprons, and harvest bags. LEARNING HOW TO MANAGE THE FARM WITH THE HELP OF OTHERS Prior to BSF, the sisters had little experience in farming which they made up for by researching and accessing any available material on farming knowledge. “We did experiment with several crops last year to develop the skills needed in order to prepare in growing more crops on a commercial scale. We [also] get tips from our friendly farmer neighbors, friends, experienced staff, and from our grandfather who grew up with exposure from their own farm in Nueva Vizcaya,” the sisters said. Aside from this, they also completed online courses from the Agricultural Training Institute and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority. But when it comes to running the farm, the sisters need not worry since their father created a planting and harvest schedule to ensure that the land is properly utilized. There’s a daily work schedule for the staff and their main activities include feeding and checking on the goats' health condition, watering and pruning the crops, as well as checking the crops’ status like its growth, pests and weed control, and preparation of compost. “We salute the hard work of our staff and the support we’re getting from our neighbors especially during the lockdown. In the near future, we hope to integrate modern farming practices to improve monitoring and efficiency,” said Jercyl and Fiona Uy. Photos courtesy of Jercyl and Fiona Uy and from Batangas Sunset Farm on Facebook Retiring to the province and farming has always been a common dream among Filipinos. Because in farming, one can live a simple life in the presence of nature while also getting the satisfying feeling of growing their own food. Yet, starting a farm isn’t as easy as it seems. Jercyl and Fiona Uy, sisters who run Batangas Sunset Farm in Lian, Batangas, are familiar with this situation since they didn’t have any farming experience before they began running a farm with their father. Batangas Sunset Farm is a mango and vegetable farm in Lian, Batangas that is also a safe haven for goats who serve as natural mowers for the farm since they are free to graze and eat all the grass that they want in the area. It was acquired by the Uy family in February 2019 and has taken the sisters some time to learn the ropes before they got to help out in the farm’s functions. For aspiring farmers who have little to no exposure in farming, the sisters offer the following tips to encourage them to pursue their agricultural dream: 1. READ. READ. READ. “Since online materials are easily accessible, it’s convenient for us to find and read farming articles, watch videos, and base it as a resource to experiments on how to grow your crops,” Jercyl and Fiona Uy said. They advise potential farmers to read about topics like soil and water management techniques, pests and diseases and its role in the ecosystem, as well as the effects of environmental changes on planting and harvest. Reading, they added, can help people gauge if farming is one's cup of tea because it takes a lot of patience to understand the trade. 2. DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP. One thing that helped the sisters learn about farming is by asking their farming staff, farming neighbors, and friends for assistance on how to best tend to a farm. “They’re always very kind and helpful and they’re very willing to guide you for tips from cultivation to harvest,” they said. 3. INVEST. Invest in the proper equipment and products to maximize the land while also getting your money’s worth. One example is buying seeds from registered and reliable suppliers. 4. CONSIDER YOUR BUDGET AND OTHER CIRCUMSTANCES “If you’re working on a limited budget like us, choose crops and varieties that you can afford to maintain that match the soil type and location of your farm. There are crops that thrive organically in certains locations so capitalize on that,” the Uy sisters said. 5. THINK ABOUT YOUR MARKET Batangas Sunset Farm grows mangoes and vegetables in its vicinity. From these, the Uy family makes a profit even if they offer their produce at 30 to 40 percent lower than the usual market price. Still, they believe it's best to define your market to make sure that the produce won’t go to waste. “Vegetables are highly perishable. This means there’s a need to secure where the produce will go prior to planting the crops. Otherwise, you’ll be left with no choice but to sell your produce at below rock bottom prices, which is a common problem for us farmers,” they said. The sisters added that it’s also advisable to turn to the B2C (business to customer) route wherein farmers directly sell its produce to customers. Through this method, the farmer sells at a fair price and the customers buy at very affordable costs.