Prayers, labor nurture organic farmingBy Jhoanna Marie Buenaobra |Inquirer Northern Luzon
BAGUIO CITY—In 2005, a group of Catholic nuns in Benguet chose to devote a portion of their prayer hours to till a vegetable farm in Tublay, Benguet. They did this to reach out to local farmers who were then engaged in the heavy use of pesticides.
Getting their hands dirty and interacting with farmers proved beneficial several years later, as the nuns were able to promote healthy lifestyle through organic vegetables and wean farmers from chemical use in growing their crops.
Sister Aurora Codiam, mother superior of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Congregation, says organic farming was the answer to their prayer of easing environmental degradation and remaining true to their vow to serve the poor, especially the indigenous peoples.
With the purchase of a plot along Km 21 in Tublay, it was faith transformed into action. Codiam says Sisters Olive Tayna and Maritess Batinan, both members of the congregation, started tilling the land and planting an assortment of vegetables.
“We want to be in the middle of farmers using fertilizers to show them that organic farming works,” says Codiam.
She attributes their success to the help of the Department of Agriculture, National Irrigation Administration and the Benguet State University.
When the group of nuns was starting the venture in 2005, students from BSU helped them plant coffee and trees. Codiam says their American friends gave them “good roots” or seedlings grown without chemicals.
The congregation has big plans for the farm and the surrounding community. “We have a vision to create Mamuyod Youth, a center for youth formation to love farming,” Codiam says.
Aside from influencing the farmers to try organic farming, they also want the youth to appreciate farming so when they grow up, they will continue what their parents started. Aside from farming, they also share the word of God to residents living near the farm.
Sustaining the project was not easy. In 2006, the congregation only had two sisters maintaining the farm.
But other congregation members committed their time to regularly visit Tublay and till the vegetable plots. Their efforts were not wasted and in 2008, the Mountain Grown Natural Food Producers Association (MGNF) was born.
With the marketing tagline, “Healthy Food, Healthy Lifestyle, Healthy You,” the MGNF’s outlet at the Baguio Cathedral compound has started attracting a steady stream of clients, many of them locals who drop by after attending Mass.
MGNF is managed by Codiam, Sister Bernadette Dawadeo (store manager), Sister Amelia Gorospe (finance administrator), Sisters Tayna and Batinan (in charge of the congregation’s farm) and Sister Julie Garinen (vegetable inspector).
MGNF sells organic vegetables grown by the nuns, by members of the La Trinidad Organic Practitioners Multipurpose Cooperative (La Top MC) and other independent organic farmers from Benguet.
“There is no competition [among these groups]. We come together and we help one another,” says Gorospe.
Aside from providing an outlet where farmers can sell their goods, the congregation also extends loans to them. As a religious congregation, the sisters do not forget to provide spiritual guidance to local farmers.
Gorospe says only 15 percent of their monthly income goes to the store and training while the rest go to farmers who supply them with organic vegetables.
One of MGNF’s beneficiaries is Billy Tanas, who has been delivering organic spinach, broccoli, potatoes, carrots, raddish, beans, pechay and cucumber to MGNF thrice weekly.
Tanas, who has been practicing organic farming for seven years now, says organic farming is better than commercial farming because the vegetables produced without chemical inputs are tastier and more nutritious. He says organic farmers also produce their own seeds.
At least 65 farmers have been regularly supplying MGNF with organic produce, Codiam says.
“Monitoring, inspection and surprise visits are held to make sure the vegetables are really organic,” says Gorospe.
Codiam adds the store will also start promoting the use of ecobags, stamped with their store’s name and tagline, in an effort to promote environmental consciousness among their customers.