Here’s a detailed story of Lily of the Valley Organic Farm that we have mentioned rather briefly in our blog. Owned and operated by Jefferson and Elisa Laruan, it is the first organic farm to be accredited as an agritourist destination in the Cordillera Administrative Region by the Department of Tourism. It produces organic high-value crops and in smaller scale, pigs, chickens and rabbits. It also has a Home Stay operation with Mrs. Laruan, a retired nurse, as in charge. The farm is only 2.2 hectares but the surface looks like it is five hectares because of the jagged terrain with some level portions.
Jeff, 64, finished a farm mechanics course and a four-year course in theology (he is a pastor). He started his organic farm in 2005 after growing highland vegetables the conventional way in another location. He thought of switching to organic farming after he nearly died of too much exposure to chemical pesticides. One day, he said, while spraying his vegetables in the middle of the day, he collapsed and became unconscious until the following morning. Since then, he vowed not to use synthetic chemicals in his farming.
In his first year in organic farming, he had very little income. He said he had to depend on the salary of Mrs. Laruan, a nurse who worked at the St. Louis University, to meet the expenses. For a start, he planted only 300 square meters. He gradually planted additional space until the whole area was planted to organic crops by the end of the year.
He planted broccoli in the first 300 square meters. He incorporated 8 to 10 kilos of compost per square meter. After one month, he side-dressed the same amount per square meter. That was all he did. If there were pests that attacked the plants, they were hand-picked. He remembers that he sold the broccoli in 2005 at P120 per kilo. The price is the same to this day.
Jeff is thankful that the local government hired Pat Acosta to train the farmers on the basics of organic farming. At that time they also organized the La Trinidad Organic Producers Multi-Purpose Cooperative (LATOP-MPC) for which he volunteered as manager for three years without salary. The co-op has become the main market for their harvests. There are now more than 200 co-op members.
INNOVATIVE – Jeff is very innovative. As an organic farming practitioner, he needed a shredder to shred leaves, grasses and other biomass for making organic fertilizer. But when he found out that a shredder made inQuezon City cost more one hundred thousand pesos, he decided to fabricate one for his own use. His shredder cost him only P47,000 to fabricate.
To help other organic farmers, he fabricated shredders for them. The farmers bought all the materials needed and they paid him P5,000 for his labor and other expenses. Actually, he said, the P5,000 was barely enough to cover labor expenses. But he is happy that he was able to help his fellow organic farmers.
Recently, Jeff fabricated a pelletizing machine which he will use to pelletize feeds for his pigs. Wastage is reduced when feeds are made into pellets. The nutrients are intact in the pellets.
It was also the LGU that was responsible in introducing the wood vinegar technology by inviting the Japanese proponent of the technology. Today, wood vinegar is well accepted in the CAR. The wood vinegar as a plant growth promotant is not only sprayed on the leaves. It is injected in the rootzone of the plants. This is injected with the use of a sprayer without nozzle.
As in his conventional farming days, Jeff’s favorite plants are still cabbage (green and purple) and broccoli. He likes cabbage because he has observed it to very well adapted to his farm. The green variety sells for P80 per kilo while the purple sells for P120 a kilo. The green one is harvestable in just 90 days while the purple is harvested 120 days from planting. On the average, he harvests 50 kilos of green cabbage a week and 25 kilos of the purple. On the other hand, he harvests about 50 to 60 kilos of broccoli a week.
GOOD MONEY MAKERS – Japanese and New Zealand spinach are two money-makers at the Lily of the Valley. Jeff harvest an average of 200 kilos a week from the two varieties which are sold at P100 a kilo. These are grown singly in plots or in combination with other vegetables like cabbage.
CROP ROTATION CROPS – As a usual technique, crop rotation is practiced by Jeff. For crop rotation, he plants garden pea, pole beans, French beans, carrot and sugar beet. These are also good money-makers. French beans sells for P150 per kilo; carrot and sugar beet at P120 per kilo while pole beans is P60 per kilo.
EXCITING – Kale keeps Jeff excited because more and more people are getting interested in the vegetable because of its avowed health benefits. Besides being adaptable to the weather conditions in La Trinidad, kale commands a price of P200 per kilo ex-farm, much higher compared to other varieties.
Jeff grows five kale varieties which have their own special uses. The Blue Curl is good for making soup; Red Ursa with fine leaves is good for juicing. Toscana which is also called Lacinato can be cooked as vegetable, mixed with others in soupy dishes, or it can be made into chips. To make kale chips, the leaves are brushed with olive oil, placed in a tray and then cooked in the oven until crispy. The fourth variety, Red Rusian, is good for juicing. On the other hand, Vates is good for making salad and smoothie.
Another crop that excites him is strawberry in containers installed on metal platform above the ground. He has just started growing 2,000 plants which are growing well and have started to bear fruit. We tasted the first harvest and they are juicy and sweet.
LETTUCE – Jeff grows three varieties of lettuce which he sells at P100 a kilo. However, he considers lettuce as a minor crop that may be intercropped with other varieties.
WATERCRESS – Jeff has a piped-in water from a spring so that unlike many other farmers in the highland, water is not a very big problem for him. And that is the reason why he can grow watercress in four small ponds. Watercress sells for P60 a kilo. It can be stir-fried or made into salad or juice.
WORK FORCE – Jeff himself works very hard in his farm. He has five salaried workers headed by a horticulture graduate from BSU. One is a transferee from a flower farm. Maybe, he was also avoiding the pesticides that are usually used in flower farms, according to Jeff.
Jeff has come up with a schedule that maximizes productivity. He has schedules for daily activity in making organic fertilizer. At least a portion of the day is devoted to the different chores in making compost. Twice a week, there is a schedule for handpicking of worms in the brassicas – cabbage and its relatives. That is as early as 5 in the morning before the worms fall to the ground.
FARM ANIMALS – Pigs, rabbits and chicken layers are raised in small scale but Jeff is increasing his breeders. With his pelletizing machine, he could provide good feed for his livestock and poultry. As of now, he is producing organic eggs which sells for P20 apiece.
HOME STAY – One will find the lodging and food at Lily of the Valley cheap. There’s a dormitory type for trainees at P200 to P300 a night. There is also a well-furnished room that could accommodate 6 visitors at P4,000 a night for the whole room.
And the food? It’s organic and very fresh. Very tasty and affordable, too. Mrs. Laruan and her staff of three take care of the needs of visitors. Next time you visit La Trinidad, why not stay overnight at the Lily of the Valley? It is in Puguis, La Trinidad, Benguet.