By Zac B. Sarian
In a previous edition of this page, we featured the importance of wood vinegar in operating an organic farm, particularly the Lily of the Valley Organic Farm of Jefferson and Elisa Laruan of La Trinidad, Benguet.
Well, here’s more about Lily of the Valley. 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 bed and breakfast 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 flat 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 never again to use synthetic chemicals in his farming.
ORGANIC CABBAGE – Jefferson Laruan produces two kinds of cabbage – the green variety and the purple. The green variety develops big heads and are ready for harvest 90 days after transplanting. One kilo sells for R80. On the other hand, the purple variety is harvested 120 days after transplanting and sells at R120 a kilo. Jeff observes that cabbage is well adapted to the growing conditions in his farm.
BROCCOLI is a favorite crop at the Lily of the Valley Organic Farm. Even during his conventional farming days, broccoli was already a top choice of Jeff. It is in demand in the market and it commands a reasonably high price. Photo shows Mrs. Elisa Laruan posing with a broccoli ready for harvest.
JEFFERSON LARUAN is featured on the cover of the May issue of Agriculture Magazine. In the photo, he is applying to his potted strawberry plants fermented banana trunk extract which is rich in zinc and potassium. Both zinc and potassium make fruits more juicy and sweeter.
CONTINUOUS SEEDLING PRODUCTION – Jeff is shown with Weng Bienes of Allied Botanical Corporation inside the farm’s nursery. Seedling production is continuous to maintain a year-round production of organic vegetables.
BREAKFAST FARE AT LILY OF THE VALLEY – Tourists are always attracted to destinations where they can experience good food. And that could be the other attraction for visitors to Lily of the Valley. Mrs. Laruan cooks excellent meals that are very affordable. Photo shows a full meal for breakfast. The red rice and the coffee or juice are not shown the photo.
LETTUCE INTERCROPPED WITH SPINACH – Jeff Laruan considers lettuce as a minor product from Lily of the Valley. It is being used as intercrop with other vegetables to maximize productivity. Here, he is shown with a plot of lettuce with spinach as intercrop.
BENEFICIAL FUNGUS – Jefferson Laruan (right) is very thankful that Dr. Ronaldo Sumaoang of Novatech visited Lily of the Valley. That was because Dr. Sumaoang was able to identify the fungus that had proliferated in a portion of Jeff’s organic farm. It was identified as a mycorrhiza, a beneficial fungus which can be cultured and multiplied. When multiplied and made into powder form, it could be used to accelerate decomposition of biodegradable biomass. It is therefore useful for making compost or organic fertilizer. It can be commercially produced and sold to organic farmers.
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. Luis University, to meet the expenses. For a start, he planted only 300 square meters, gradually planting 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 or 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 in Quezon City cost more than one hundred thousand pesos, he decided to fabricate his own. 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 feed for his pigs. Wastage is reduced when feeds are made into pellets. The nutrients are intact in the pellets.
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 the varieties to be 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 90 days while the purple is harvested 120 days after planting. On the average, he harvests 50 kilos of the 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.
His other crops are the Japanese and the New Zealand spinach, five varieties of kaie, strawberry, watercress, pole beans, French beans, garden pea, lettuce and sugar beet.