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A model working farm school

Joy Fong, Domini Torrevillas, Mila Alora, Sen. Cynthia Villar, the author, guest Rep. Conrad Estrella,  Jullie Yap Daza at the farm school in Las Piñas

Joy Fong, Domini Torrevillas, Mila Alora, Sen. Cynthia Villar, the author, guest Rep. Conrad Estrella, Jullie Yap Daza at the farm school in Las Piñas

ANGEL THOUGHTS

“The Filipino is worth dying for”— Senator Benigno Aquino jr.

 

Today is the 33rd death anniversary of Senator Ninoy Aquino Jr. His assassination woke us up to the real horrors of Martial Law. His willingness to die for his people started our movement to freedom. His death strengthened us to fight the dictatorship until we ousted him through our peaceful People Power Revolution. Please remember him in your prayers.

There will be ceremonies at the NAIA tarmac at 8 a.m. today and at 11 a.m., wreath-laying ceremonies at Ninoy’s bust at Terminal 3.

Now, my first outing with my Bulong Pulungan group after my vacation was to visit the Farm School of Sen. Cynthia Villar in Las Piñas. We took it as the prefect occasion to present her an award (long over-due) for her efforts in helping the bamboo reforestation program of Ed Manda’s Philippine Bamboo Foundation.

Two sculpted carabaos graze in the farm school yard

Two sculpted carabaos graze in the farm school yard

Some 135 farmer-trainees of Villar SIPAG (Social Institute for Poverty Alleviation and Governance) had recently celebrated the culmination of their training program with a harvest festival at the foundation’s farm school. SIPAG partnered with Allied Botanical Corporation (ABC) to teach modern farming processes and machineries to local farmers. ABC is the only 100 percent Filipino-owned seed company with a research and development program. Now it was our turn to see the SIPAG Farm School and we were not disappointed!

The trainees came from Valenzuela, Makati, Navotas, Las Piñas, Parañaque, Cavite, and Laguna. They started their hands-on training on Feb. 10, 2016 with modules on sowing, plotting, and harvesting. They were also trained on backyard farming the organic way.

“I am positive that our farmer-trainees will be able to benefit from the classroom and hands-on lessons and help improve their income from farming,” Sen. Cynthia told us enthusiastically. A tour around the eight-hectare facility sitting on the boundary of Las Piñas and Bacoor, Cavite left us in awe of the visionary and action-oriented senadora. She knows her farm from A to Z.

In the mornings the students are in the field and then they move to their classrooms within the farm grounds too. Villar is also interested in putting up a farmer’s market that will not only feature the produce of the trainees but with the produce of farmers nearby. She said this will be a good venue for farmers to market their crops to consumers.

As the final phase of the three-month training program, the trainees were taught how to handle the crops during harvest. They harvested ampalaya, upo, sitaw, cucumber, mais, sili, kamatis, talong, watermelon, melon, and  cherry tomato.

“We will continue to work hand in hand with various groups to give our farmers training programs and workshops throughout the year. I expect to see more people becoming interested in farming as we spread the word that we have an urban farm school offering free and quality training programs,” Villar said.

The farm is adjacent to a river and a dam which was built by Fr. Ezequiel Moreno (now a canonized saint and has a church in La Piñas built by the Villars). On rainy days like the day we visited, the dam waters rush through the river and the sound is a perfect backdrop to the serenity of the rest house with a wrap-around porch and an anahaw roof. We walked to the dam and saw for ourselves the skill of St. Ezequiel in diverting the rushing waters to irrigate the farmlands in his day.

A boat made entirely of one-liter plastic bottles ferries people of the farm across the dam. It’s sturdy enough to hold six people.

True to her vision to make more learning sites  accessible to farmers, Sen. Cynthia Villar also opened another farm school in San Jose del Monte City in Bulacan recently.

The second four-hectare farm school is the Villar SIPAG (Social Institute for Poverty Alleviation and Governance), which is a foundation initiated by the Villar family headed by former Senate President Manny Villar and is the  Corporate Social Responsibility arm of real estate giant Vista Land.           “We are calling on our farmers, farm workers as well as individuals in agriculture-related industries to take advantage of our free on-site trainings, which can help them boost their income as agricultural entrepreneurs,” Cynthia, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, told us. They aim to provide technical expertise and knowhow in mechanization to Filipino farmers to be able to make them more competitive and successful.

“We partnered with reputable organizations to help marginalized small-scale farmers become self-sufficient by equipping them with latest knowledge in agricultural technology,” she added. Through her initiative, the TESDA has allotted R500 million to fund 45,000 scholars at R12,000 each in agriculture courses. She is now encouraging farm owners to convert their farms into farm schools, teach farmers and children of farmers and avail of these scholarships. The four-hectare Villar SIPAG Farm School in Bulacan has a training area, a dormitory with nine double-deck beds, farm house and kitchen area. It also features a vermi-composting facility, kitchen waste composting facility, greenhouse, starting livestock of native chicken and swine, and aquaculture of red tilapia. School desks are made from recycled plastics, and these desks are used by DepEd too, Cynthia proudly pointed out. Similar to the first farm school, it will also promote the Farm Business School modules of the Agri-business Training Institute and the United Nations’ (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that will enable farmers to operate their family farms as business enterprises. On our visit we saw the mini bamboo plantation with 70 varieties of bamboo and adjacent to it, a blooming herbal garden of medicinal plants. Pascual Laboratories helped her with seedlings here.

In line with her advocacy to boost the income of our farmers and improve their living conditions, Senator Cynthia has also launched urban gardening for food security at the farm in Las Piñas City.

Villar said the project, in cooperation with Macondray Plastics Products, Inc. and SM Foundation, will benefit people from various communities, particularly those from Las Piñas City and the neighboring cities of Parañaque and Bacoor, Dasmariñas and Imus, all in Cavite province.

“Of course, with Macondray, there is the MacPlas Urban Organic Agriculture Advocacy supported by the 7-K Values or what they called the blessings of ‘kaalaman, kalikasan, kagandahan, kalakasan, kabuhayan, komunidad, at kaanak.’ All of these resonate SIPAG’s own thrusts, especially on empowering people with employable skills, sources of livelihood and entrepreneurial mindset,” added the senator.

We came away with baskets of farm-harvested “melon” and “suha.” We also met an old acquaintance,  Cong. Conrad Estrella  who came to see how he could set up a similar facility in his native Pangasinan.