Author: gkenchantedfarmsummer17

Goodbye GKEF / Closing Thoughts

Goodbye GKEF / Closing Thoughts

Well, I’m writing this last blog post in the airport as I await my flight back to the US. It has been an exciting 2 months and I feel like I’ve learned a lot, both on and off the farm. I will definitely be taking many good memories back with me. I felt like I was out of my comfort zone for the first few weeks I was here, constantly meeting new people, being looked at as a foreigner and experiencing a developing country for the first time. But these last couple weeks, I’ve felt a deeper connection with the community and some of the other interns. It has been two months, and looking back we’ve done a lot, but it feel like it flew by. I was able to spend some quality time with my favorite community members this week, and I ate with Tita Aida and Tito Ver and their family twice this week. Saying goodbye was actually pretty sad, but Laurence and I assured them that we will come visit if we are ever in the Philippines again.

My last week was spend primarily meeting the new batch of SEED students that just arrived on the farm this week. This is the largest and most diverse group of students as they are coming from all over the Philippines. The SEED Philippines program initially started with students only from the surrounding areas in Bulacan. They were all very excited to be on the farm, starting their two year journey and discovering all there is on the farm. It was cool to meet them and hear some of their stories even though I won’t spend any time with them. I also planted more string beans, and got the Need for Seed project ready for the next interns. While I’ve been here, I realized how many things are very similar to the US, even though I initially came in with this idea that things would be wildly different. I’ve noticed that the Filipinos are very resourceful and reuse a lot of things, which may be out of necessity, but it is something that you don’t see as often in the US. People are more likely to throw away “old” things or “garbage” and just buy new stuff, instead of trying to repurpose or continue using the old things. This kind of thinking is something I’d like to take back to the US with me. I’ve also observed a lot of other sustainable and unsustainable practices while here.

Almost every meal we ate here was eaten off of banana leaves, which is not only economical, but also sustainable. The banana leaves don’t need to be washed after, they are simply composted. I’ve also seen big plastic bottles be used as planters for gardens. Although a large amount of garbage is produced, they still find ways to make their garbage useful. However, I have also noticed that mostly everything is sold in small, single servings, which seems to be part of their current way of life. Most people cannot afford to buy, say laundry detergent, in bulk so they must buy individual packages, which produces much more waste and is very unsustainable. I did notice that all of their plastic bags (ones you would get from a grocery store) were labeled that they were biodegradable. This is something I’ve never seen on plastic bags in the US, but whether or not I truly believe that those bags are biodegradable is another issue.

As far as other sustainable practices, carpooling is big in the Philippines… we actually had a couple people from the farm ride along with us into Manila on our way to the airport. They planned to go into the city later in the day anyway and heard we were leaving early Saturday morning, so they decided to get a ride. I’ve been told that in Manila cars are not allowed to drive on the roads one day each week. This is determined by a certain letter on their license plate and they will be fined if they are caught driving on that specific day. Manila traffic is horrific and the streets are often congested and there is visible pollution. This initiative was taken by the government to limit the amount of vehicles on the road and to help cut down pollution. Although I’m not entirely impressed, it does show that the government is at least taking action to try and address the pollution problem.

Here in the Philippines, mostly all glass bottles have a deposit on them, so technically there is an incentive to recycle. Some states already do this, but most do not, but I think they should because it could increase the amount of recyclables diverted from landfills. And, I know some of the community members sometimes collect glass bottles to make extra money, so it was also a way to help support some people.

I was glad to see that composting was a big thing on the farm, with the vermicomposting station as well as other areas set aside for composting. We had helped initiate a large compost project and a lot of food waste is diverted from the garbage to feed to the dogs, cats and pigs as well. Watching food be thrown away at home is something that has always bothered me, so to see the things that the farm is doing was reassuring.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, a good amount of garbage is burned, which is terrible for the environment and for our health. Although poverty does induce or perpetuate unsustainable practices that many of not necessarily aware of, it also includes many sustainable practices. Overall my time in the Philippines and at GKEF was an incredible experience, and it has definitely changed the way I view the world and has made me think about all my privileges. It has made me think about what I value and helped me expand my definition of family. My experiences have helped me think more broadly about the global environment and the challenges we face, and helped me compare the similarities and differences between a less developed country and a more developed country. I will remember everyone I met at the Enchanted Farm fondly and I thank the community for letting me be a part of their lives this summer.

Thanks for reading!

JM

Some Observations on Development

Some Observations on Development

Dear Reader,

I am in my last week here on the farm, and I am ready to come home, but it does feel bittersweet. In hindsight, these past two months have flown by, and I do already feel changed by this experience. I also feel as though I am part of the community, which is terrible timing, but it really feels like I have assimilated into the Enchanted Farm community. Instead of people starring and asking me who I am and how long I’ll be here and what I’m doing, they instead just say hello and ask how I’m doing, or invite me to lunch or to help them with what they are doing. Laurence and I had a big dinner with Tita Aida and her whole extended family yesterday, and although we weren’t always talking, it was nice and I felt welcome and at home. So, needless to say, the experience is wrapping up and I’ll soon be back in Chicago, but this last weekend we had the opportunity to travel north to Baler, a popular surfing destination, for our last weekend getaway. Though the waves were rather flat, we still had fun and we were able to go trekking through the fully-forested mountains. We were actually in a watershed, so we were able to go to a river and swim and I learned that the water in the nearby town has a constant source of free water because of their proximity to the river. The town was home to the Altas, another native people and ethnic minority in the Philippines. We got to eat lunch with them— jack fruit and coconut milk dish was delicious!

Later on we visited a small cocoa farm and got to try their sugar-free chocolate ice cream. Despite the ability to grow cocoa in the Philippines, not much land is dedicated to cocoa production. I learned that the Philippines actually imports over 80% of their chocolate products, but this importation issue is not specific to chocolate alone. I have noticed that imported products dominate the shelves here in the Philippines. This can be a bad thing for a couple reasons. If there is a mindset that imported products are superior, products made in the Philippines are not likely to thrive and there will be no pride in products made domestically. This issue is being confronted by several social enterprises on the farm, including Plush and Play and First Harvest. Additionally, while a trade deficit is not necessarily a bad thing, if the Philippines continues to export raw materials, this could generate less wealth than if they were to manufacture processed products like coconut oil, peanut butter or coffee. Although the Philippines produces the most coconuts in the world, I have still yet to see coconut oil being sold in stores. At home, all the coconut oil I’ve used usually says “coconuts product of the Philippines.” I do acknowledge that this is a complex issue, and there might not be a domestic market for such products, but if agriculture and industry were to be pared together here in the Philippines, intuitively this would mean a cheaper product for Filipinos. But alas, we live in a globalized world where it is cheaper to manufacture goods in elongated supply chains that involve transporting goods around the world. Like the current cocoa production, another issue is underproduction of certain agricultural products, such as coffee and peanuts. Agriculture does not account for that large of a percentage of the economy, however it does account for a larger portion of the workforce. About 25-30% of the workforce is employed as farmers, and many of them make just enough to feed themselves and their families. Increased coffee, cocoa or peanut production also has the ability to help the currently unemployed. Another interesting thing is that even though coffee is produced here in the Philippines and there is a rather large consumption rate, everyone drinks nescafe or some other instant coffee. These are just a few of the things I’ve been observing that I find interesting.

Growth in the Philippines has been relatively constant over the past few years, which is a good sign, especially considering the fact that foreign direct investment has been limited due to laws that restrict foreign ownership of land and important sectors of the economy. The 2017 World Happiness Index actually rates the Philippines 72nd, in comparison to neighboring China (79) and Indonesia (81). This score may be a better indicator of social progress compared to the usual monetary indicators of development, such as GDP growth.

While my experiences in the Philippines mostly come from a rural perspective, it has been intriguing to observe the development in this country over these last two months. For one thing, I have been on a couple social/eco-tourism trips through MAD Travel, which has been incredible to see a harmonious relationship between business and the conservation of the environment, and helping an indigenous community, in the case of the Aetas. I remember learning that tourists often bring a lot of pollution (in all forms) with them, which is something I have even witnessed firsthand on the farm. Another interesting aspect of development in the Philippines is the level of cell phone/ internet usage. I know it is now popular for developing nations to skip the landline phase of telecommunications, but I am actually impressed by the amount of people who have smartphones and internet access here in Angat. I have also observed the lack of middle class here in the Philippines. While traveling through Manila, I’ve experienced overpopulation and seen the pollution, and been in an extremely nice neighborhood and then 20 minutes later been passing by a very poor slum. One of the last things that has been very evident over the past two months, especially by traveling on the weekends, is the poor infrastructure. We’ve been traveling to places that are only 150 miles (250km) away, but it takes half a day to drive there. The lack of proper housing is another aspect of infrastructure, which is still the chief mission of Gawad Kalinga to help end poverty in the Philippines. While I am noticing all of these things, I have to say that Filipinos are still among the nicest and most hard working people I’ve ever met. Despite all the environmental and social issues in the Philippines, the people are incredibly kind and resilient.

Sincerely,

JM

A Rice Weekend

A Rice Weekend

It’s hard to believe that my internship is almost done and I have less than two weeks left in the Philippines. It has been a great experience thus far, and I can feel things winding down, especially since a lot of the French interns are also getting ready to leave soon, but I am still working and finishing my work on the Need for Seed project. I’m still working on the seed saving guide to pass along to the next intern working on this project, but currently the mission is making sure there is someone who will continue this work. A good portion of the seeds I planted have sprouted, so someone will soon need to care for them. If no one is able to take on this project, I will see if someone from MAD Travel will take all the seedlings to the Aetas. This is probably the most important task on hand because I want my work to be passed on and actually aid the Aetas’ need for seeds and plants. It has also been exciting and encouraging to actually have the plants sprout after a few trials and some small frustrations. I’ve found that the seeds do the best drying out and growing in the green house, near the animal farm, which currently is not being utilized for anything. So far we’ve planted tomato, squash, cucumber and kalamansi. The squash and tomatoes have sprouted and grown the most, and none of the kalamansi have sprouted yet. I’ve been using soil from different areas, so that could be a factor. I also bought some worm castings from Tito Jun’s vermicomposting enterprise to mix with the soil for the last 40 seeds I planted, so we will see if that makes any difference.

This past weekend we traveled north to Banaue and Sagada and hiked through the mountains to see the famous rice terraces and the “sea of clouds” at Kiltepan’s Peak. It was an awesome experience and an exhausting weekend, but the landscapes were among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I’ve spent so much time on the farm or near an urban area that being so high up in the mountains, it was easy to forget I was still in the Philippines, it even got a little chilly up there! Over the last two months, it has been amazing to see the diversity of landscapes in the Philippines— and that’s just in Luzon, we didn’t even travel to the south.

The rice terraces in Banaue are more than 2,000 years old, and considered the oldest rice terraces in the world. Many Filipinos refer to them as the “eighth wonder of the world,” but I found out that was just something they say here, and I also found out that it is not an UNESCO World Heritage site, which I wrongly assumed it would be before we went. I visited Cahokia Mounds (a UNESCO site in Illinois) earlier this year, and I have to say the terraces were much more impressive, both were built long ago entirely by hand. The views were amazing, and the different hues of green were beautiful, but the natural irrigation system at the terraces was probably the most impressive. The water naturally irrigates down from the rainforests in the mountaintops above the terraces, and trickles down through each of the terraces. The terraces were all planted with rice, which was actually in the process of being harvested when we arrived. Many of the people of Ifugao, Banaue are rice farmers, but many of them also work as tour guides or other similar hospitality jobs since the area is a popular tourist destination. However, rice is still at the center of their lives, and they have many ceremonies and festivals that involve rice or special times in the year— like the rice harvest. They only have one rice planting per year, so only one harvest per year, but interestingly they don’t sell any of their rice, it is all for their own consumption. The planted rice terraces were beautiful, but I am curious what they look like when no rice is growing. Rice is so interesting because it is such a labor intensive crop, but it is so cheap. We helped clear the rice fields this week for planting (which we will do next week), and even that was hard labor. I definitely have a new respect and appreciation for farmers after this internship, having got to help do hard farm work on some occasions.

We also visited Sagada and visited Kiltepan Viewpoint to see the “Sea of Clouds,” where we saw the sun rise over the mountain tops and we were actually above the clouds. It was a breathtaking view, and hiking the mountains got me excited for my trip to Colorado next month. It was also refreshing to see the beautiful forest, which unfortunately no longer exists in many parts of the Philippines. The last part of the trip was a trip to Buscalan to visit the Butbut people and the famous Whang-od, who is a 100 year old tattoo artist. Two of the other interns wanted to visit her and get her traditional charcoal tattoo. Unfortunately, this destination was also very touristy and we were unable to actually meet her, but she has taught her granddaughters and grandnieces, who were able to give them tattoos. The process looked incredibly painful and unsanitary, but it was cool for me to see how tattoos would have been done more than a hundred years ago. Originally only headhunters— people who protected the village and brought back the heads of enemies— and women in the community were the ones to receive the traditional batok tattoo, but today, she tattoos mostly tourists who come to visit her.

Overall, it was a rice weekend, despite it being the most uncomfortable road trip I’ve ever taken…we were 16 people in a 14 person van! But I look forward to my final days in the Philippines, and I will keep you updated.

Thanks for reading.

JM

Zambales, the Aetas and Seed Saving

Zambales, the Aetas and Seed Saving

The last couple weeks, I’ve been working on seed saving for the Need for Seed project and creating a seed saving guide as well as a journal of my experimentations. I say experimentations because I’ve never tried to save seeds then plant them, and it has proven to be difficult. I’ve found that finding the right place to dry the seeds is difficult for a couple reasons. They need to be in a place nearby, so I can check on them, but they shouldn’t be in a place where they would attract animals or bugs (which is extremely difficult). Also, it rains pretty much everyday, so they should be in a place where they won’t get rained on (or else they will rot), but still need to be exposed to the right amount of direct sunlight without drying out too much. I’ve tried to keep them inside my room to dry, but the air-conditioned room is actually too cold for the seeds, and some of the seeds have turned black because they got too cold. So, as you might be able to tell, this has been kind of challenging, but I’ve been researching and trying to find a good place on the farm where the seeds will dry out and not rot. I’ve been keeping a journal for Max, a long-term intern working for MAD Travel who will soon work on this project with me, and pick up the work after I leave. Tracking down materials has still proven to be difficult, but I have been able to get a few glass bottles (seeds need to be kept in glass) from the garbage and have been using banana leaves to dry the seeds on. I also got some seedling bags from the farm supply store, which I have used to start planting some of the seeds I’ve gathered. I’ve planted tomato, cucumber, squash and calamansi so far. Also, remember that I saved all these seeds from being thrown away, so what once was considered garbage will now (hopefully) grow into food.

I’ve been putting together a seed saving guide with pictures of the plant and the seeds along with proper drying and storing techniques and planting instructions. I didn’t know too much about seed saving and planting before this project, so this research has been informative and it will be helpful in the future as well.

Last weekend we visited San Felipe Zambales and got to meet a native tribe called the Aetas. The trip was through MAD Travel, so part of their profit goes back to the tribe and we also got to help their reforestation efforts. It was an amazing trip, one of my best weekends in the Philippines thus far. The Need for Seed project was started to give back to the Aetas, so it brought more meaning to my work and it was cool to meet the people and the land that would eventually receive what I’ve been planting. It was also largely a learning experience, from seeing how this indigenous tribe lived to learning about their ancestral homeland and the environmental issues they face. Their land is largely covered in volcanic ash-sand and denuded mountains and hills, with some streams. It is a beautiful landscape, but lacks a lot of the necessary forest/vegetation. The whole area has faced large amounts of deforestation, but not because of the Aetas. Unlike much of the Philippines, this deforestation was caused by a volcanic eruption in 1991 by Mt. Pinotubo. Twenty-six years have passed, and still they have not fully recovered. During the hour and a half trek into their village from the main road, I was trying to imagine what it would have looked like before almost completely forested. It was hard to imagine, and it was also hard to imagine how the Aetas still lived here after such a drastic change. The lack of trees completely disrupts the water cycle, which causes both floods and droughts. Trees contribute to the water cycle through transpiration, which helps maintain the water cycle, so a lack of trees can cause a decline in rainfall, and thus droughts occur. Trees also absorb and retain a good amount of water after a heavy rainfall, so during the rainy season (the current season) floods are more common when there is a lack of trees. Additionally, when there are heavy floods, the nutrients from the soil are carried away and lost, which leads to lower fertility rates in the soil. I actually recently learned that because of this, many plants native to this area have adapted or prefer soil with lower nutrient levels. Anyway, the implications of deforestation are many and long-reaching. The Aetas had contributed minimally to the deforestation in the area before the eruption, but Mt. Pinotubo did the majority of the damage.

The Aetas were some of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met, and as a group we were able to visit the Aetas’ nursery and help them plant over 1,000 seeds, and we also helped plant a couple trees. They were primarily growing trees to reforest the mountains, and I noticed that they did have a need for fruit plants. This made me feel better about what I’ve been doing with seed saving from the kitchen on the farm, even if it doesn’t feel like that much. They mostly still eat a lot of meat and hunt for their meals, although we did try fried ube (purple yam) chips and they were delicious. We got the chance to practice archery using their handmade bows and arrows, as well as learn some of their songs and dances. It was a very unique experience and I’m glad to have gone. It was also cool to see them preserve their culture while also being so similar to regular, modern society. I feel like there is a misconception that indigenous peoples live in the past, or in a primitive way, but really they are just people. We also got to learn about their herbal medicine beliefs. They still have a large amount of herbs growing in their village which they believe to have medicinal qualities for basically every type of ailment. I don’t remember any of the names of the plants, and it was nice to see a reliance and trust in the Earth’s healing qualities. If I have the chance to visit them again, I would do it in a heartbeat.

That is all for now.

JM

Update #4 from the Philippines

Update #4 from the Philippines

Hello! Sorry for the delay in updating my blog, I’ve been keeping busy these last couple of weeks and have been traveling on the weekends. Two weekends ago we went to Cagbalete island for a little getaway— It was amazing! We just chilled and went swimming and actually camped out right on the beach. We went with a bunch of Filipinos, so you can imagine the fun we had partying with the locals. For being on an island, we still managed to eat some amazing food, I tried sea urchin, went snorkeling and played volleyball. The island isn’t a hot tourist destination, and the resorts there weren’t commercialized, so it was very quiet and relaxing. It was a much needed vacation.

Last week I split my time between giving tours for the Management team and working on the Need for Seed project. Some people were away last week and the farm had a lot of guests coming to visit, so I was asked to help give tours. I hadn’t really given any tours before, so the first one was more of me shadowing someone else give a tour, but after that I was giving tours by myself. They take a couple hours since the farm is so big, but it is a nice way of familiarizing myself with the social enterprises on the farm and getting to share their missions and goals, as well as how they fit into the overarching goal of GK— ending poverty for 5millions families by 2024. I got to introduce them to some of my favorite community members, and it was also cool to meet all the people who come to visit the farm. People come from all over to see the farm and to learn from what is going on here. Some people have heard of the Enchanted Farm and just want to check it out, others are prospective partners who have business ideas, others want to try and replicate the farm where they are from and are primarily here to learn, etc. I also get to share my story and how I ended up here and what I’ve been working on, which does help to fortify my place here on the farm. One of the struggles of being a short-term intern is that I’m only here for a short period of time, so it was difficult to identify what I can do in my time here that can contribute to GKEF, while also having the prospect of being carried on after I leave. Anyway, giving tours has been a good experience, and is another way that I can give back to the community.

I was also invited to help teach English to some of the Japanese interns here on the farm. After this invitation, it occurred to me that I am one of the only native English speakers on the farm, but mostly everyone speaks some English. The Japanese are part of a social enterprise that has Japanese students come to the farm to learn English. The SEED students have the opportunity to help them learn English as a part of their studies, which helps them build their confidence in English while the Japanese learn. If you are confused as to why Japanese students would come to the Philippines to learn English, I was too, but it makes sense. English is suppose to be the second language here in the Philippines, and it is a lot closer and cheaper to travel from Japan to the Philippines than to the US. This also give SEED students a chance to better their English and actually teach it. The SEED students competencies in English are noticeably higher compared to the rest of the community, but the generational difference is also a part of this. I feel really lucky that mostly everyone speaks some English here, but I also feel the pressure to learn a second language. I’m excited to help with the Japanese interns with their conversational skills in the coming weeks!

JM

 

Composting and New Project!

Composting and New Project!

Last week, the US interns and I took the initiative to revitalize a previously unfinished composting project on the farm. Since there is no one directly overseeing us and telling us what to do everyday, somedays can be a bit dull, but we all got up everyday before 6am to start work. We cleared an overgrown plot of land of a bunch of weeds (by hand). Then we collected dead leaves and sticks from the surrounding area. Finally, we gathered a bunch of goat, sheep and chicken poop to spread on the piles as well. In total we made 15 large compost heaps, which, in 4-6 months, will be used as fertilizer by the fermentation team. This project was attempted a couple months ago by a long-term French intern, but she was unable to complete it because she was working alone. This project was not too difficult because of the amount of people we had, and it didn’t require too much research because we all knew a little bit about composting going into the project. However, I am curious whether or not the climate here will affect how fast the material decomposes. It is hot and humid and rains at least once a day, but I’m not sure if this will have any affect on the natural processes taking place in our compost piles. I think there are still a few finishing touches left, like building small barriers to keep each pile contained, and a few other aesthetic-related tasks, but the main objective is complete. Laurence and I also dug a hole for the SEED students to use for composting purposes, since they were doing a lot of weeding around the bamboo villa— and they asked us to when we showed up ready to work.

I also spent time researching ideas for the waste management program we intend on presenting to the school children, and maybe eventually the larger community. We need to make sure the program addresses the problem, while also being fun and something they can understand. A translator will be needed for this program, which is another challenge, especially for the pre-schoolers and older people, but I think that most of the elementary school kids will understand it in English. Ideally, we would like to talk about composting, recycling, but the main focus will probably be on not littering and promoting a clean environment. Hopefully, we will also be able to incorporate another project that got brought to our attention last week called “ecobricks.” Ecobricks are a really cool idea for reusing plastics to use as building material for infrastructure projects. Check out this link if you are interested in learning more, http://www.ecobricks.org/what/. I will only be working on this project peripherally, but the challenge with ecobricks is actually getting the waste into the bottles, so to promote this amongst the students would be a good way to hopefully get them involved and produce more sustainable building materials. If we can get enough ecobricks together here in the community, we plan on making benches for the basketball court or something similar to show to the community the potential benefit.

I was also able to contact one of the interns from IWU who was here at GKEF a couple years ago to get some suggestions on how to go about working on the waste management projects. She had worked on something similar, but specifically increasing awareness through increased visibility of garbage cans, including added signage and making more waste bins. She was able to tell me what worked well and gave some suggestions for addressing the challenges she faced, and also who were helpful people to contact. Thanks Becky!

I’ve also started working on a new project called Need for Seed, which is in partnership with Make A Difference (MAD) Travel. It was brought to my attention when Prof. Amoloza, one of the professors from my school that made this whole internship program possible, came to visit us at the farm and met with Raf Dionisio, one of the founders of MAD Travel. MAD Travel is a business focused on social and eco-tourism. They were already scheduled to meet because there are a couple other students from my school living here on the farm with us interning with MAD Travel, and they made the connection that this project might be something I would be interested in doing.

Need for Seed is a campaign to save seeds that would otherwise be thrown away in order to redistribute those seeds to the Aetas, an indigenous tribe in Zambales, which is a few hours west of where I’m staying in Angat. They have 3,000 hectares of land, but their ancestral homelands have seen massive amounts of deforestation. Additionally, indigenous communities are commonly mistreated or neglected by governments. As such, they have a hard time supporting themselves and feeding themselves, and largely still hunt for food. It was explained to me like this, seeds to the Aetas are considered gold. They don’t want money because that could be misspent, but they see the value in seeds because they can ensure long-term prosperity and sustainable livelihoods. We already have plans to visit the Aetas in Zambales through MAD Travel, where we will meet the Aetas, learn about their culture and plant trees to help in reforestation efforts. Sounds amazing, I’m excited! You can check out this little advertisement, but I’ll be sure to post pictures after. https://youtu.be/csGm6o1WXSo

So, what I’ve been doing for Need for Seed is trying to collect seeds from the kitchen and from the community. I was given a list of seeds that are wanted, and researched what they looked like to make a guide that includes how to prepare and store them. After a little confusion with the people in the kitchen, I think we maneuvered passed the language barrier and I finally have them on board. I was able to collect a bunch of calamanci, tomato, cucumber and squash seeds the other day. The hard part with this project so far is my lack of resources… I don’t really have anything. So I’ve had to borrow a strainer from the kitchen and get resourceful by reusing glass bottles. Hopefully I can get some materials and possibly even wax paper in town within the next week. Seed storage is also kind of tricky because I don’t want them to rot or germinate, so there has definitely been a learning curve trying to figure out the best way to keep them stored properly. I also plan on actually planting some of the seeds here on the farm with the intention of both redistributing the seedlings and planting some more fruits and veggies on the farm. I was able to help plant some string beans last week, but I really want to plant a mango seed so I can come back and have my own mango tree—!

I’ve also been creating web content for the Need for Seed Facebook page as a way of promoting the campaign. As of right now, there is nothing on the page, so I pretty much get to design the whole thing. Hopefully in the next couple weeks I’ll be able to talk to the local school and the rest of the community to have them save their seeds from being thrown away.

I’m still having a fun time meeting people in the community and eating dinner with Tita Aida and Tito Ver and their family. I befriended one of the women who works for Karabella, the ice cream enterprise that makes some delicious ice cream from Carabao (water buffalo) milk. And, this weekend we’re going off the grid— one of our supervisors runs an island-hopping company called Camp Isla, so we’re going camping on a nearby island. She is taking us to Cagbalete, Quezon. We’ll be able to go snorkeling and I may try to surf. More adventures and pictures to come!

JM

P.S. As of today, I am officially famous in the Philippines!…Not really, but a couple weeks ago one of the news stations, GMA, was doing a little story on the Enchanted Farm and one of the social enterprises, Plush and Play, and I was asked to just say something I liked about the Philippines as a foreigner. I guess it finally aired a couple days ago because a few of the community members let me know that they saw me on TV!

Week 2: Adjusting & Preparing for the Weeks to Come

Week 2: Adjusting & Preparing for the Weeks to Come

Week 2 has largely been spent establishing goals, researching and preparing for accomplishing those goals and getting used to living in my temporary new home near the equator… I didn’t even notice the summer solstice this year as the sun rises and sets at pretty much the same time everyday. I’m getting to know more of the community, and they are getting to know me as well. The farm has a lot of visitors that come through, so the community members are used to seeing people for a few days, but many have realized that I’ll be here for a while and are making an effort to get to know me and make me feel more at home. I got a sore throat and lost my voice this week, but some of the Titas in the community have been telling me what to do to take care of myself and the women in the kitchen gave me a ginger-calamondin-honey tea that definitely helped.

Mangoes are still being harvested, and I have helped clean duck eggs for an enterprise called The Golden Egg, which is essentially a healthier take on a classic dish— the red salted duck egg. The duck eggs are usually extremely salty and are colored red with some harmful chemicals, but these are less salty and colored with turmeric instead, which gives them a golden hue. I’m still learning about some of the social enterprises here on the farm, and it is really eye-opening to see a business run in an unselfish manner. These people care about their businesses thriving, but they also want to help their employees and help their country.

Since I am only here on the farm for a short period of time (2 months), we have not been assigned to work with a specific social enterprise, however, I will be working on several different projects— some of my choosing and others that my supervisors want me to work on. So, if my weeks seem like they are all over the place, that is because they are, but I’m learning to roll with the changes and make the most of my time here.

A quick aside— The Filipino people have something they call “Filipino time,” which basically means that most meetings or events start about half an hour later than stated. This is something that I’m already fond of and am definitely enjoying about the culture. However, this is not to say that the Filipino people are lazy or anything, actually quite the opposite, its just time is perceived differently, and I like it.

I am also working on putting together a feasibility analysis report for vermicomposting (worm composting with African night crawlers) as a social enterprise. I have been talking with Tito June about the intended buyers of the worm castings and how the product should/would be marketed. There is still work to do with this though, so hopefully more on this in the future.

Another project that I hope to undertake is putting together a waste management educational program. There are doctors that come to the community every once in a while (still unclear on frequency) to present on a health/wellness issue, so I figured this could be a good opportunity to talk about waste management and pollution. There is a noticeable amount of litter around the community and I have witnessed people burning plastics, which releases dioxin and is terrible for our health, so I think there is room for education and improvement. Although, I must admit, I do feel strange coming in and telling these people about what they are doing wrong from my perspective. They might not be aware of these problems, but they might be conscious of other issues I don’t know about or are more worried about other things like feeding their families. I think this educational program will prove to be challenging, and must be approached with some caution and prior knowledge. I intend on investigating what happens to the garbage/recycling here and if littering is even perceived as a problem. Our on-site supervisors want us to implement a nutrition program and “green” program, and I think this program idea will tie in nicely.

Additionally, we have been working on reviving and improving a compost area that was previously attempted, though they lacked the man power. We have spent some time clearing weeds from a patch of land that will hopefully become the new composting area. I don’t think this will initially be for food waste from the community, but rather plant waste and animal waste for the time being, but eventually could be expanded to have the capacity for food waste. We are working with a french intern who attempted this project two months ago. Working in a team, on the composting project and other projects, continues to be a challenge for me. I’m usually more of an independent worker, but it is nice to get a range of viewpoints and expertise— and, many hands make light work!

We also had the opportunity to travel to other GK communities outside of the farm in Bulacan last Friday. This was another great experience as these people are less used to foreigners and, even though they are in the same province, have much different lives than the people living at GKEF. These communities ranged in size and didn’t have large scale farms or a university program like at the Enchanted Farm. They also didn’t have social enterprises set up, which was the most notable. The people earned their livelihoods from various professions outside of their communities, and one community lived as farmers, primarily growing string beans. On the outer edge of this village there was a planted forest— a clear sign of reforestation efforts that I noticed immediately. The trees were planted in a uniform pattern and looked anything but natural. I already knew that the Philippines had undergone massive deforestation in the past, with more than two-thirds of their forest cover gone before the 21st century. This was something I had been looking out for since I got here and discreetly asking people if they were aware of the ecological damage that had taken place in the past. It was definitely interesting to see this type of reforestation, and I am curious to know if it helped the environment in that area as deforestation has many long-reaching environmental implications (google search this, if you are interested).

That is all for now. I will continue living and I encourage you to do the same!

JM