Organic Agriculture Training and Farm Tour at Lily of the Valley Organic Farms in La Trinidad, Benguet

So, I've just told you about that awesome Victory Liner bus trip up north and how I got to Baguio then La Trinidad from Manila. Today, let me tell you about the reason why I went all the way here for =) Last year, I got my first taste of an organic agriculture retreat at Costales Nature Farms in Laguna (just a few hours away, south of Manila). Our gracious host - the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) of the Philippine Department of Agriculture (you can find them at www.ati.da.gov.ph and www.e-extension.gov.ph) - gave us with such a nice experience that got me so curious about being a farmer. Hehe. That first experience was all about food, food and eating more delicious organic food. It's the fastest way to win me over and it's something so basic that we all can relate to =) I was so thrilled that I agreed to 5 days in the mountains this time around! Hahaha. I just remembered: I should call it the "highlands" now hehe and it's where arabica coffee grows ;) But before all of that, let me take you to the first of the four organic farms we visited! Let's go to the Lily of the Valley Organic Farms by Mr. Jefferson Laruan in La Trinidad, Benguet! Each farm left a unique impression on me and a different set of organic info overload (LOL) so make sure you tune in to the next posts about The Master's Garden by Mr. Pat Acosta, the Garden of Light Farm by Mr. Felix Tan and all the way to Mang Osenio Lay-os' Organic Coffee Farm in Sagada.  

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Well, I couldn't get over the yummy food at the ATI-CAR dorm where we stayed. Haha. For breakfast, I was in for another treat (Pork Tapa and Fish) 

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and a new discovery! Have you eaten Sayote Tops?! I heard it doesn't even reach Manila much hehe. Um because it all gets eaten here! Fresh and surprisingly good

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with tomatoes, calamansi and bagoong (the one made of fish, this one had chunks of fish like tuyo).

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It's an odd combination but I just followed suit from the ATI-mates that come here often =) They were talking about this the night before and voila! It tasted addicting-ly superb hahaha. You only have to put a little of that super salty bagoong and go back for A LOT MORE. It was a pleasant idea to serve this very Pinoy salad in the morning. I'm guessing this was organic too.

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9:50 a.m. It took us less than an hour to get to the Lily of the Valley Farm from the dorm. We learned that this farm is now a designated ATI-CAR Learning Site. It's one of the places where the government agencies like the ATI conduct organic agriculture trainings for the extension workers who in turn spread the knowledge to fellow Filipinos. 

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This farm became 100% organic in 2005 and they produce veggies, crops and herbs for the markets in La Trinidad, Baguio and Manila. Check out the history of LOV here.

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Since Mr. Jefferson Laruan was still indisposed and tending to his farm, his wife Mrs. Elisa Laruan took us to the Lily of the Farm Nursery! There I found out what a broccoli and cauliflower plant actually looked like! Hahaha. One single spear occupied so much space. There's a difference in the leaf aside from the actual stalk color =D 

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And, and there's that newly-found appreciation and knowledge - that it will take a lot of weeks and care for one of these to grow beautifully. 

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It takes dedication and passion from farmers to care for several hectares of all-organic plants every day. In a sense, she's the mother of all plants here and the produce will speak for itself. LOV's (stands for: Lily of the Valley) top-selling crops include broccoli, cauliflower and spinach =)

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One of the things she told us that was very important was crop programming. If I understand it correctly, you should have a long-term plan on how you're going to use your land and get your produce to the market, use and develop technologies that are suitable to the local situation and share knowledge effectively, e.g. alternate the plants to keep the soil healthy, you have to stop for 2 weeks after harvest before planting and you don't plant the same crop. 

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This is Mr. Laruan (left) =) He was awarded CAR's "Outstanding Organic Agriculture Farmer" in 2012 under the "Gawad Saka Program" of the Department of Agriculture.

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We went on a short walk down (around 8-10 minutes) to see the farm. Make sure you wear shoes if you plan do a farm tour here, loose stones on the track. Don't forget a hat too! Rates: P150 for 1 hour farm tour and lecture, minimum 5 pax (includes drinks and organic snack). P2000 for 2-day organic technology training, minimum 10 pax, maximum 25 pax (includes organic lunch and snacks, lecture, demo, handouts, certificate of training).

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As you go down, you'll see roofed structures

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against a mountain backdrop. You'll soon get to a paved walkway

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and be introduced to his compost! It's a major player in his organic farm and the technology / know-how he uses is from Japan. Mr. Laruan also fabricates custom shredders for the farmers. From these (shredded trimmings and weeds),

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he adds "mokusaku". He calls it "wood vinegar" and it smells like BBQ really. So his compost doesn't stink from a distance away Haha. It's essentially a condensate (wood is burned and produces smoke, which they will turn into liquid through a chimney they made). The by-product of this process is charcoal (which they use in the house or sell) and mokusaku from the smoke. They will ferment this liquid for 6 months then add it to the green pile above with probiotics. Mr. Laruan says if you distill the mokusaku, it can be used for tummyaches..

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He will spray the mokusaku 1 time and turn the pile several times. Eventually, the pile will turn darker and can be used already as fertilizer for the soil.

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In picking the things to use in the green pile, a farmer must also be aware not to add in toxic plants like eucalyptus, etc.

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He introduced us to his plants next. I missed the part on greenhouse vs. open-field.. I think this is open-field with a roof =) Anyway, he said that farmers need to learn crop rotation, instead of mono-cropping (planting just one kind of crop the whole year), so that the nutrients in the soil will even up.

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He showed us the finished brown pile with mokuzaku in action (below right).

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I was surprised when he suddenly said to be careful of his corn. I'm sorry I stepped on it.. I really didn't notice them (below, did you?). This farmer knows every corner of his farm. He says it took him 8 months to produce the quality of organic produce that he wanted..

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Mr. Laruan told us about locals forming a cooperative next. The farmers slowly realized the benefits of organic farming, organized themselves into the La Trinidad Organic Practitioners Multi Purpose Cooperative (LATOP MPC) to help each other out.

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One important thing to note that is Mr. Laruan's advice to farmers - not all of these methods and crops will suit your farm. You must be innovative / creative enough as a farmer to test / know which plants are suited to your soil, weather condition and location. In a few years and with enough love, you'll be able to figure it out and like him, what a joy it must be to discover it for yourself. =D Why don't you give organic farming a try? The LOV Organic Farm and the ATI Pinoy E-Extension will be very happy to give you the information you need to start your agro-eco tourism farm. =)

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Red cabbage patch! 

I was dizzy from the direct heat under the sun by this time and from the info overload. I think I've learned a lot from an hour's session. Not bad for a beginner, eh? Haha. Now let's hike back up to the home of the Laruans for the homestay and camping in La Trinidad, Benguet option ;)

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Jefferson Laruan
MC-075 Puguis, La Trinidad, Benguet
+63949-3397126
lilyofthevalley.benguet@gmail.com
Organic Farm Rank: 6 stars (there is such a thing)

To visit the different ATI-assisted projects (Organic Farming Learning Sites), you can drop by or ask the ATI Regional Training Center nearest you or inquire through:
Call -
982AGRI (982-2474) for Metro Manila calls
1-800-10-982AGRI (1-800-10-9822474) for provincial toll-free calls using PLDT landlines
Text -
For Smart and Talk & Text Subscribers, send a message to 391-DA (391-32). 
For non-Smart Subscribers, send a message to 0920-946AGRI (0920-9462474).












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