Filipino-Lebanese couple farms in Pangasinan after early retirement
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Manila Bulletin Publishing Corp
FARMING is not merely about growing food; it can also be a means of nurturing love and connections that transcend language, distance, and cultural differences. Mashistro Farms’ proprietors, Rida and Rosemarie Mahshi, came from two different countries and cultural backgrounds. Rida is a Lebanese national whereas Rosemarie is a Filipino who used to work in Lebanon. What strengthens their bond is their shared love for farming, animals, and God’s creations. In 2017, the Mahshis took the plunge and went into early retirement to invest their time and resources into agriculture. Early retirement is risky, and in their case, everything worked out for the best through careful planning and teamwork. “There are some crucial steps we need to take first. Some of these steps are physical and some are mental,” said Rida. “Before we started looking for land, we [talked] about our plans, financial issues, markets, and even where we wanted to live,” he added. Farming isn’t only a post-retirement hobby for them because it connects them to their roots. In 2013, the couple’s plans became more concrete when they purchased property in Rosemarie’s hometown in Pangasinan. They spent the years that followed developing the land. In 2017, they chose to retire for good and live on their farm, now known as Mashistro Farms. Mashistro Farms is a contraction of the duo’s family names, Mahshi and Castro. Their 2.5-hectare farm is located on a hill overlooking the rice terraces of San Vicente, Bani, Pangasinan. “Our goal is to enhance the tourism appeal of rural areas and educate the public about sustainable farming. We chose sustainable farming for a better, healthy living.” They follow a Diversified Farming System (DFS) in raising mangoes, dragon fruit, rice, vegetables, coconuts, date palms, as well as farm animals. Among the aforementioned, they consider mango as their main commodity. To protect the farm trees, they installed cyclone fences with concrete posts that also double as dragon fruit trellises. They also apply plastic mulching during the planting of mango seedlings and stop mulching when the mangoes reach five to six years old. This method is “meant to protect the roots, reduce erosion, and preserve moisture during the hot season, especially when they are still seedlings.” Mashistro Farms also houses Brahman cows, Royal Palm turkeys, Chinese geese, and chickens of native, Texas, Sasso, and mixed breeds. RAISING FREE-RANGE POULTRY AND LIVESTOCK According to Rida, all the animals, except for the Brahman cows, are fed with rice hull and rice pegpeg (rice crack) twice a day: early morning and before dawn. Since most of the animals are kept in natural conditions, they also have access to insects, worms, and fruits. “The Brahman cows are raised by the locals who live around the farm. The farm has provided work for the locals. They let the [cows] roam in the fields where there is good vegetation, check on them every morning and evening, and provide them with fresh water twice a day.” In the event of inclement weather, the animals are kept within their pens. The animal housing is disinfected and maintained regularly to keep termites and viruses at bay. Visitors are also asked to disinfect their shoes and hands and wear their face masks at all times during their visit to prevent the transmission of diseases. A SAFE SPACE FOR GUESTS (AND WILDLIFE!) The farm celebrates the mango season with a mango festival, which mainly includes a pick and pay activity, meaning guests can pick their mangoes from the trees. “After that, we give visitors a farm tour, followed by a break at the farm’s guest house where they can eat, buy farm produce, like eggs, chickens, jams, fruit trees, and other products, which [contribute to the farm’s development] year after year.” Mashistro Farms is an ecotourism destination where “Tourists can stay, work, and produce their own food. Seminars are also conducted to educate the locals [on sustainable agriculture].” The farm offers free admission to the public as a means of sustaining the farm and providing employment for the community. Everything from crops to animals is grown naturally. Wildlife has also found a home on the farm as a result of its natural farming practices. There, endemic and migratory birds such as the Philippine grass owls or Eastern grass owls (Tyto longimembris) can be found, watched, and documented. Although the farm is still in progress, it is already successful in providing a home not only for the Mahshis and the farm workers, but also for crops and animals of both domesticated and undomesticated kinds.