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Agriculture - 2021-09-01

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FAMILY FARM PRACTICES NATURAL FARMING TO PROVIDE SAFE, HEALTHY PRODUCE

Family Farm

BY PATRICIA BIANCA S. TACULAO

IT IS NO SECRET that parents want only what’s best for their children. This can manifest in many ways such as giving them quality education, providing them with emotional support, or even investing in fresh food options to secure their health. For partners Jenny Blancaflor and Mau Lopez, they too want only what’s best for their daughter, who used to suffer from atopic dermatitis (eczema), a common skin condition among children that causes the skin to be red and itchy. In May 2015, both Blancaflor and Lopez had just acquired 3.9 hectares of farmland, which they later named as Aianah’s Little by Little Integrated Farm, in Polonuling, Tupi, South Cotabato. “For a year, we allowed the previous land owners to plant corn, and we shared the profit after harvest. It gave them time to transition and us to learn,” said Blancaflor, a yoga teacher and wellness coach. But after one planting season, they realized that monocropping wasn’t profitable and if they wished to retire soon, they needed to find a better idea for their source of income. At the same time, they were also researching for a way to manage their daughter’s skin condition. “We learned that poultry and dairy can contribute to flare ups. That gave us an idea to research poultry farming. Additionally, we are also becoming more aware of how conventional farming can cause imbalances in our health and environment,” Blancaflor said. The couple ended up buying a flock of Rhode Island reds and Australorp chickens. The two are chicken breeds known for being layers that produce quality eggs. “Initially, we raised that in my parent’s backyard and moved most of the chickens to the farm after three months because of its growing number,” Blancaflor said. By then, Blancaflor and Lopez already had 60 pullets, or young hens, which they raised as naturally as they could. Some chickens were grass-fed in a contained area in their farm while others were housed in mobile chicken tractors to allow the land to recover from grazing. RAISING BROILER CHICKENS NATURALLY TO PROMOTE HEALTHY EATING After the couple established their progress with layers, they wondered next if it was possible to grow broiler chickens, which are raised for meat purposes, the natural way too. “This way, we can help many parents like us who want to feed their family the healthiest food available,” Blancaflor shared. Broiler chickens are designer chickens that can only grow in certain conditions and are not as hardy as native or free range type chickens. Nevertheless, the couple started growing broiler chickens in a natural farming system suggested coop. From there, Lopez, a retired mechanical engineer who used to work for multinational companies worldwide, innovated and created a mini version of tunnel vents since he and Blancaflor had difficulty in finding reliable farm hands while maintaining a well- organized management system for their poultry. “With this innovation, we are presently able to grow 16,000 broiler chickens which are fed with probiotics but are raised antibiotic free. These chickens are safe for our daughter and the only chicken our family eats,” Blancaflor said. Because they were able to provide a safe food source for their daughter that didn’t trigger her eczema, not to mention offer this kind of meat to other concerned parents, the couple were inspired to open up their farm and teach natural farming to interning high schoolers. “If we want to leave an impact, why not influence the younger generation, right? There are some who are seeking our mentorship and we are more than happy to help them,” Blancaflor said. SETTING UP AN INTEGRATED FARM According to Blancaflor, the term “Little by Little” in their farm’s name came from the Hiligaynon word “amat-amat,” which is often blurted out by Lopez. “[It] is one of the few words he learned when he stayed in Negros after his retirement eight years ago. When he said that as we were driving to our farm, something lit up and we decided to call the farm Aianah’s Little by Little Farm (its registered business name is Aianah’s Little by Little Integrated Farm),” she said. The reason behind this name is because it reflects their progress as farmers. “We want to create a holistic farm, and the only way to do it is to complete the cycle. Plants as feed source, and animal manure to fertilise the soil or grow more microbes,” she said. Other than their main produce of broiler chickens, the couple also grows oregano, which they ferment and add on to their chickens’ drink as a source of probiotic, corn for chicken feed, and different vegetables that they use in fermentation and also for personal consumption as well as selling purposes. The farm also has various fruit trees like coconuts, mangosteen, guyabano, and lanzones. Presently, the couple are experimenting on biofloc technology which would allow them to grow catfish and tilapia in small concrete ponds. “We learned that it’s best to have animals and plants on a farm to complete the cycle - animal manure to fertilize the soil and the plants are fed to some of our chickens. We also farm microbes to enrich the soil and overall health of our farm, including the farmers, through fermentation,” Blancaflor said. They also utilize solar energy by installing solar water pumps and solar panels for backup power sources. “In an integrated farm, or perhaps in our own system, there is no such thing as waste. Even the wastes can be useful and, oftentimes, can be another source of income. Some chicken manure is sold to farmers to fertilize their own farm lands,” the yoga teacher and wellness Blancaflor said. She added that it takes time to learn and find the best system that can work for a team. “We learned that complacency breeds failure, so we keep innovating and refining our systems based on what we learn,” she said. GETTING INVOLVED IN NATURAL FARMING Blancaflor said that their province of Polonuling, Tupi, South Cotabato is home to many fruit and poultry farmers. She admitted, however, that she and her partner Mau had no prior background in farming. “I worked as an offshore operations manager for five years and Mau was an in-demand traveling mechanical engineer working with different multinational companies,” Blancaflor said. Still, their lack of initial knowledge didn’t stop them from slowly learning the ropes through interacting with the other farmers and attending seminars on natural farming. “Everything we know now in farming comes from research, experience, and our training and mentorship with Mr. Andry Lim and Mrs. Jojie Gamboa who practice natural farming systems, and Mr. Youngsang Cho, who established the JADAM farming system,” Blancaflor said. JADAM is actually a group of organic farmers established by chemist and horticulturist Youngsang Cho who came with a set of easy, low-cost farming principles. “Conventional farming taught us that bacteria are bad. In natural farming, we are taught that there is a symbiotic relationship to all beings. Microbes are a helping hand, not a pest,” Blancaflor said. Moreover, the co-owner of Aianah’s Little by Little Integrated Farm added that these technologies use what’s naturally found in the environment like microbes, lactic acid, and many more through fermentation. An example of a JADAM technique is the use of a herbal solution that can become a potent but chemical-free pesticide. It simply makes use of the pest repellent properties already present in various plants by putting them together in one concoction that could be stored for a period of time. Since they practice natural farming and JADAM principles, Blancaflor and Lopez happily offer training of the farming techniques on their farm. “Don’t be afraid to spend on learning or getting coaching and mentorship. We have built a network of veteran farmers and we are learning so much from them, not only the skills, but also in honing our character as a farmer,” Blancaflor said. Photos from Aianah’s Little by Little Integrated Farm on Facebook

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