In Negros, organic farm turns into ecotourism centerpieceBy Carla P. Gomez |Inquirer Visayas
BACOLOD CITY—What once was a demo organic farm recently became an ecotourism attraction all because of a Negrense couple’s passion for organic agriculture.
In 2010, Ramon and May Uy started work on their farm in Barangay Pahanocoy, Bacolod City to promote organic agriculture.
The farm, which they call “May’s Organic Garden” is now a showcase for organic farming. It sits on a 4.4-hectare property along the highway, 8 kilometers south of Bacolod City proper. It is also home to the RU Foundry and Machine Shop Corp. of the Uy couple.
The eco-technology farm, which is the resort proper of May’s Organic Garden, occupies about 2.4 hectares of the property.
Also, 1.5 hectares have been planted to organic rice, corn, lettuce and herbs, such as rosemary and mint. The remaining 500,000 square meters is for livestock, such as turkey, chicken, hogs, ducks, goats, sheep and horses.
At the farm, Ramon, 66, teaches visiting farmers how to produce organic crops, as well as medicinal plants, and how to raise organic farm animals such as odorless hogs.
When he was setting up the demo farm, his wife May, 60, started beautifying the place with decorative plants and other amenities, Ramon recalls.
When the couple saw the potential of May’s Organic Garden as a tourist attraction, they decided to turn their demo farm into a resort. The resort now has a 2-story building with 12 rooms, which can accommodate up to 60 guests.
Ramon also built a man-made lake at the farm while May focused on the decoration of the rooms for guests, the function areas for seminars, and the restaurant.
A conference hall located in the middle of the man-made lake is now under construction, while a small island is being developed to become a site for outdoor concerts.
Guests can go swimming, horseback riding, pedal across the lake in giant fiberglass ducks, harvest vegetables for an organic meal, learn about organic farming or just enjoy the food the place has to offer.
May makes mozzarella cheese from cow’s milk, organic piaya, cool malunggay shake and locally produced organic coffee, on top of an array of Ilonggo dishes that one can enjoy at the May’s Organic Restaurant.
The couple’s involvement in organic farming started in 1999 when Ramon invented an organic shredder that turns biodegradable materials into organic fertilizer, which he sold to local government units around the country.
The venture helped the Uys recover from the economic difficulties they faced during the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Ramon had borrowed P30 million in 1995 to finance the expansion of the RU Foundry and Machine Shop Corp., the company he established in 1968 for the fabrication of spare parts for sugar mills.
But when the financial crisis hit, he went broke because the interest alone on his loan had ballooned equivalent to the cost of a brand new car a month.
But Ramon’s invention helped him get back on his feet. He then committed to spreading the advantages of organic agriculture to help farmers, especially the small ones, earn more.
“It is my way of paying back my debt to agriculture for saving me,” he explains.
He began by convincing residents in Barangay Camalanda-an, Cauayan town, to plant lemon grass, instead of producing charcoal, Ramon tells the SundayBiz.
About 50 small farmers in the area who own properties less than a hectare in size now produce lemon grass that they sell for the production of oil for various uses. The farmers have been earning about P5,000 each in additional income a month, Ramon says.
He then set up the Ecological, Agricultural Development Foundation that trains farmers how to plant organic rice, among other crops. The foundation also buys coffee produced by farmers in La Castellana town for blending and roasting, which it sells in Negros and other parts of the country.
Ramon also has other inventions such as a machine that extracts oil from lemon grass. The oil is used for the production of soap, liniments and sprays against mosquitos carrying dengue fever.
He also has other machines, such as the one that crushes glass, rocks and plastics to be turned into decorative bricks for walls and footwalls, and another that turns wastepaper into “charcoal” for use in a stove.
Ramon also developed a portable elephant pump used to provide water to elevated areas for farm irrigation and a stationary exercise bike that is also used to shred waste for fertilizer. His multicolored windmills provide the water for the farm.
He was able to help small communities adopt sustainable livelihood to earn more through his inventions and foundation, in cooperation with local governments and cooperatives.
“We help them as long as they agree to go into organic farming,” Uy says.
The foundation serves as a marketing arm by buying the products of the farmers at higher prices than what they get if they sell their produce themselves, he adds.
Uy says it is important to work on various approaches to ensure the conservation of the environment and the safety of man and other living organisms, while helping communities to become self-sufficient.
The college dropout, who has studied in Mapua, Adamson University, Colegio de San Agustin, University of Negros Occidental Recoletos and the then West Negros College, has attained success in the field he has chosen.
From a man who went broke in 1997, Ramon has reinvented his life and priorities with the help of his wife, May.
As proof of his success, the bank that foreclosed his house in the 1990s recently invited him to be its inspirational speaker during a gathering of the bank’s big clients.
When asked what he has learned from their difficulties, Ramon says, “Never give up. Opportunities abound. It’s up to us to find these opportunities. One must sit back, look around and listen to find these opportunities.”
He also believes that helping others without expecting anything in return also brings rewards.
“I believe blessings come back in other forms,” Uy says.