There are several kinds of farmers. The common types are the poor ones you often see plowing the fields using their carabaos. He’s the rural, do-it-yourself farmer. If he does not farm, his family will starve.
The other type is the landlord, who employs several farm hands to do all the backbreaking fieldwork for him. Then there are the big corporate farm companies such as Del Monte and Dole, employing hundreds of wage earners, heavily mechanized and using lots of agro-technology, producing and marketing branded fruit products.
I belong to that small group of retirees who decided to put part of their retirement fund in small enterprise farming. Some call us gentlemen farmers.
I’m a gentleman farmer kuno. All my backyard projects didn’t achieve what economists call sustainable growth. Malimit lugi. My only reward is psychic. I can smell the flowers in my garden and admire my colorful ornamentals. My friends envy me for being a gentleman farmer. They’re still working their butts off. I don’t tell them my losses.
My farm is a two-hectare piece of land at the foot of picturesque Mount Banahao in Laguna. It’s planted with coconuts, lanzones, a few santol and star apple trees. It has tremendous sentimental value to me. I inherited the land from my inay Aurea and lola Genia. I spent many adventurous moments in the farm when I was a growing child in the mid-1940s. There I learned to plant and raise kamoteng baging, kamoteng kahoy, gabi at saging na saba during the Japanese occupation, when there was food shortage.
In school we were taught to cultivate our own plots, and we planted repolyo, pechay, mustasa at labanos. My greatest joy was to bring home and show off my harvest to my inay Aurea. I never forget the fun I had planting crops when I was a boy. In my senior years, the agro-man in me is still yearning to fulfill his wishes.
Growing food to feed his family was probably the first civilized achievement of our pre-historic ancestors. Farming made them give up the nomadic hunter’s life as they settled down to raise a family within an agro village.
Farm work is physical and engrossing. Its movement is rhythmic, following a pattern while hoeing or plowing. When a man works in the farm, he is closest to nature. There’s serenity in concentrating on the task. There’s patience in the repetitious pattern.
Making things grow for food is mother nature’s way of telling humans that plants are a source of life.
In 1945, after the war, we moved to Manila where I studied, graduated from high school and college and built a career. I became one of the rat racers, holding fort in the glass building of Ayala Avenue. I spent 45 years in advertising and marketing management, leading creative groups in many advertising wars between the biggest brands in the Philippines.
In 1992, I anticipated retiring at age 65. And I built my retirement home in the village of my childhood in Laguna. I cleared the land and planted 500 rambutan trees, five meters apart, that were supposed to bear fruits in five years. I projected a gross of P150,000 per year for my harvest, just enough to maintain my farm.
Five years was a long wait. I thought of intercropping with tomatoes that grew easily in my land. When the tomatoes began to bear plenty of buds, we expected a bountiful harvest in the succeeding month. Then tragedy struck. A powerful typhoon blew the whole night, howling mad, shaking windows and roofs, felling trees and sending debris flying all over. It was scary.
The next morning our tomato plots were in total shambles. Every plant was uprooted and torn to shreds. My wife was on the verge of tears. Puring, the wife of our caretaker, cried. I was aghast and demoralized.
Try again. Try plants that crawl, not easy for winds to uproot. Ah, watermelon! Watermelon fetched P50 per kilo in the supermarket.
Growing watermelon was a unique experience for me. It was a beautiful sight to see round fruits the size of tennis balls all over. They grew fast, increasing in size every day. Watermelon plants drank water like fish. They need generous watering daily, at dawn when it was cool. The harvest was good.
We loaded my old Range Rover with watermelons and made “bagsak” at Farmers Market in Cubao. My wife, Encar, haggled upwards to get the best price, the opposite of her expertise, which was to haggle downwards when shopping for her clothes and accessories in Greenhills.
Our rambutan harvest was encouraging for the first three years. To look and feel like a gentleman farmer, I bought a new, red pickup truck that could load up to a dozen crates of rambutan. My wife was able to establish a business relationship with fruit stall owners in the public markets at BF Paranaque, Muntinlupa and San Andres. Still short of target, I needed at least P150,000 gross per year to maintain my farm.
On the fifth year the price per kilo of rambutan went down by 50 percent because of the glut. There was a deluge of cheap harvests from Mindoro. For two years, rambutan prices were drastically low because of over-supply. Parang hot pan de sal. We were forced to sell our fruits right on the trees to the mamamakyaw at P12-P15 per kilo.
In 2008, another strong typhoon destroyed 70 percent of my trees. I had to save them by heavy pruning, which meant there were no harvests, while the trees grew new branches. Abonado ako.
But I didn’t give up. I thought of a short- term fruit—papaya. I planted 300 trees. No luck. Papaya is infestation-prone. Only 30 percent survived. At least, my breakfast table was full of “Red Lady” papaya every morning. Nothing much to sell.
My last hurrah was a segurista move— lanzones! They are native to my place and resistant to typhoons. The only enemies are bats who like to raid your lanzones at night. And little boys who climb the trees to pick the fruits while no one looked.
I bought new grafted lanzones trees at P60 each from a nursery in Calauan, Laguna. They will bear fruit within eight to 10 years. “Baka hindi ko na abutin, 76 na ako, Amang,” I told the farmer in the nursery. “Naku sir, hihintayin kayo niyan,” he answered back with confidence.
In 10 years, I’ll be 85. A doddering gentleman farmer. Kuno pa rin.