The Island of Negros has been envisioned by the past three Governors of Occidental Negros to be the Organic Food Bowl of Asia and almost a score or two decades later, the Island is closer to the dream. The two Negros provinces has perpetually banned genetically modified organisms or GMO crops from entering the island and has implemented LGU initiatives in promoting organic farming. Answering the call for organic products and seeing the great potential, Fresh Start Organics stood up to the test and is now one of the biggest organic promoting companies in the country.
Through the efforts of Negros Bloggers, the Philippine Blog Awards Visayas Participants were able to see the showcase of organic living in Negros. Chin-Chin Uy, the owner and operations manager of Fresh Start Organics was there himself to explain how the enterprise started. He started the business in 2005 and recalled having to climb the ladder of scrutiny in order to prove that there is future in organic farming. A few years after, he is now the President of ONOPRA or Organic na Negros Organic Producers and Retailers Association and an ambassador of organic farming. The secret to organic farming is the right formula for organic fertilizer which he shares willingly for those who want to learn.
The star of the show is the species of worms called nightcrawlers which is important in making your organic fertilizers. These nightcrawler worms are the booster version of the earthworms. Contrary to popular opinion, earthworms are not the primary animals responsible for organic farming since their role is rather to bore holes in the soil to promote airflow. Thousands of these worms are the most important “employee” of the farm which does the work 24/7 and so must be taken good care of. Processed compost is the main source of food for these worms. Mr. Uy explained to us that the farm started with only a couple of kilos nightcrawler worms and soon enough, they multiplied rapidly cutting the costs for another purchase. Did I mention that their food must be processed compost, right? Here’s how they process compost for the earthworms to digest and throw out.
Like how humans eat food, food for nightcrawlers need to be cut into manageable pieces too. That is where your shredder comes in which converts your large chunk of wood or leaves into almost powdery pieces. The shredder used for the demonstration is a pretty tough one which churned or rather shredded your large madre de cacao clippings into powdery fines. Fresh Start Organics have partnered up with Silay City LGU in converting biodegradable wastes into organic fertilizers that some public markets in the city have been equipped with shredders to ease transport. Apparently, you cannot just mix everything into one mix, you need to have a balance of nutrients with 75% carbon and 25% nitrogen by combining a quarter of nitrogen-rich plant matter like vine plants and the rest with various plant matters. The key to the best organic fertilizers is the right formula.
Shredded plant matter should also be processed before the worms can digest them. These plant matters are kept for weeks in order to rot which releases nutrients need for soil fertility. Enough heat is a necessary component to decompostion and as the plant matter decomposes, a machine is operated once every two days in order to sift through the decomposing matter. Sifting enhances the process for equal distribution of heat by friction. The process of decomposition takes another week before it can finally be used as food for the worms. Usually, the processed compost is set aside to cool down in order the worms to actually munch on them. Hot composts drives away worms and so may take days before they actually start to munch.
Processed compost is kept with your nightcrawler worms in this roofed shed in order to keep temperatures low. The processed compost can already be used as fertilizers but science has proven that those made with nightcrawlers yield higher nutrients for the soil. The nightcrawlers actually feed on the compost for nutrition and flush out the rest as wastes. Nightcrawler wastes have higher fertilizing effectivity than your chemical fertilizers. Since these worms are constantly hungry creatures, their “work” must be monitored in order to replace the wastes with new composts. You might wonder how the “worm poop” is harvested? The harvesters simply put new composts on two ends of the compost pits in order to encourage “migration” which the areas ready to be scooped out will be free of your precious nightcrawler worms and ready to be used on plants.
A plant by the sides of the compost pits also caught the attention of Iloilo Bloggers because of their unusual shapes and colors. These are another species of chilis which commonly grow in the most fertile of countrysides. The colorful hue of the seed pods attracted my attention too since I last saw this more than a decade ago when Dad brought home some. The colorful bloom of these seed pods and the strong green hue of the leaves are a strong indicator of a very good soil. Understandably it is because it is right by the compost pits. As if heralding the news that the soil is fertile, the nearby chili plants are in full bloom too. I took some with me to Manila hoping that it will grow on my pot at home. Mr. Uy led us to the lettuce patch to explain to us how organic farming is done with organic fertilizers and without pesticides.
Quite a lot noticed that the land patches are surrounded by sunflowers and some lemongrasses. As Mr. Uy explained to us, these sunflowers are not only for decorative purposes but actually serve as insect repellants. Lemongrass has insect repellant qualities which releases chemicals that drive away pests while your sunflower here attracts the attention of other pests which munch on the leaves of the sunflower instead of the vegetables. Despite the insect infestation that these sunflowers suffer, it continues to bloom and its seeds an added income for either the plain sunflower seeds or are turned to sunflower oil. I was glad that some employees in the Fresh Start Organic Farm let me take home mature sunflower seeds for my own personal consumption.
The colorful sceneries in the farm is a pleasing sight to my eyes with flowers in full color and full bloom. Fresh Start cultivates vine plants for use of organic fertilizer as mentioned earlier. Some vine plants like pea pods are sold as organic vegetables too with healthy flowers as an indication of a very healthy plant. Herbs are also grown in the farm like basil, oregano, turmeric among few others which are not only supplied in Bacólod-based restaurants but are also shipped to Manila resturants like Cibo, owned by a Negrénse entrepreneur. Among the herbs, what caught my attention but unfortunately was not documented by my camera is the stevia. Mr. Uy told us to try eating the leaves which I am hesitant at first but was worth the try since it was actually sweet! He said that companies like Pepsi are coming up with a study to utilize stevia as a natural alternative sweetener. Stevia is low in glucose content yet so sweet and so the future to sugarless foods lie in your stevia.
From the resthouse, one can see the colorful blooms of various lettuces growing from the farm patches. Fortunately for us, Mr. Uy allowed us to harvest lettuces for our delight. I was one of the first people to step in the challenge and experience lettuce harvesting myself. Negros Blogger Glady Tomulto of ExperienceNegros.com was their to document the whole harvest endeavour with another Negros Blogger Elena Gatanela of BacolodRealty.com. The lettuces were plumper than those I usually see in farms at Tagaytay and Baguio which is an indicator that the soil is indeed rich. Others jumped in the wagon as well and had their try of lettuce harvesting. The harvested lettuces were cleaned, processed and pack fresh for sale at a cheap cost of P50 for us. That is many times cheaper than those sold at the supermarkets of Bacólod and much more that of Manila or Cebú.
A little commotion at the back of the farm resthouse caught my attention as talks of a vegetarian pig spread around fast. Vegetarian pig? Was it a sort of vegetarian replacement for pork or is the pig vegetarian? The latter theory was correct since when I went to that little shed, I found a thin-looking pig. This vegetarian pig is not malnourished but lean because of its vegetable diet. I found this pig munching on madre de aguas leaves and the caretaker told me it also feeds on reject parts of the lettuce harvest. Pretty amazing for a a creature known to be fat, huh? Because of its diet, the pig’s manure does not smell too. The caretaker explained on that there actually used to be two pigs but the larger one has been made into lechon which will be delivered for our scheduled lunch at Balay Negrénse. Organic lechon for our lunch? Its the signal for me to leave with the group and head out to Balay Negrénse Museum near the downtown area of Silay and feast on our Organic Lunch.
More photos on Fresh Start Organic Farm in the Photo Blog.