When I was asked if I was interested in joining the Lotus Pod agritour and learn organic backyard farming, I was hesitant. I’m not a proponent of organic food for two reasons: 1) organic food is expensive and 2) organic food is expensive. It’s a great choice for those who can afford the organic food lifestyle but that’s a very small percentage of the population. So, although I’m all for sustainable farming, part of me wants to push for the kind of farming that will feed more people at less cost. In terms of agribusiness, that translates to fertilizers and pesticides. Use fertilizers to harvest more; use pesticides to make sure that the crops won’t be eaten by pests before they reach us consumers.
My, bad, right? A lot of chemical fertilizers and pesticides are health hazards, and their use pollutes the environment. Not all, I’ve read, but what chemical fertilizer and pesticide maker will voluntarily label their products as health and environmental hazards? The public is kept in the dark and most farmers will simply make the most cost-effective choice which may or may not be toxic. These are the very reasons why organic farming has been getting more push and press lately — it eliminates the guessing game because both chemical fertilizer and pesticide are removed from the equation.
Still, organic farming has failed to address what, for me, is the bigger issue of feeding more people with agricultural produce that they can afford. If organic farming were a puzzle, then, all pieces are in place except that one piece — the one that would make organic food accessible to the majority.
I thought hard about the agritour, its underlying organic farming philosophy, and realized that it was THE answer to the organic farming puzzle. It was the missing piece. If we could all raise vegetables organically for our own consumption, including people with no large plots of land, then we can eat chemical-free food without the headache-inducing price tag.
The day-long Lotus Pod agritour consisted of several parts and we drove back and forth between the Lotus Pod farm in Bay, Laguna to nearby U.P. Los Baños. If I wrote this post in the exact sequence that the activities took place, it would be confusing. So, I’ve organized the post according to the major portions and topics of the tour.
The Lotus Pod Farm
The Lotus Pod farm, where we had lunch, is located in Bay, Laguna, a ten-minute drive from U.P. Los Baños. The farm is jaw-dropping beautiful. Click, click, click went the cameras, the iPhones and the iPads.
In the photo above, the lotus pond, Speedy and me at lunch, me taking photos, and me with Lotus Pod big boss Cheche Lazaro.
But what did we do there aside from going photo-crazy? We toured the farm and harvested organic fruits and vegetables. In this heat? It is summer and it was a scorching hot day but that did not make anything less fun. It was so much fun. What did I harvest? The only produce that was kept out of the sun, of course (it was so hot, right?) — mushrooms. But we went home with more than the mushrooms I harvested (more on all of that in future posts).
The instructional portions of the tour consisted of three parts: 1) tissue culture; 2) hydroponics; and 3) vermin-composting.
Plant tissue culture
Dr. Lilian Pateña took us to her laboratory in U.P. Los Baños to show us how plants can be propagated without a traditional farm via tissue culture. You can Google “plant tissue culture” if you want to know more. The tissue culture segment of the tour is essentially an introduction to alternative methods of farming.
Tissue culture is an amazing topic. It actually includes cloning but don’t let that shock you. Think of tissue culture as a science that makes it possible to grow more plants in less time and with less space. In terms of feeding the population and creating business opportunities, I can’t overstress its importance.
And while it may sound too highfalutin for the average person, to actually SEE what was being discussed made all the difference. The jars in the top right photo above? They would become what you see in the bottom right photo.
The SNAP Hydroponics demonstration
This is the part where we learned that a large garden is not a requirement for backyard farming. Even if you live in a condo or an apartment, it is possible to grow your own vegetables.
SNAP means simple nutrient addition program. Hydroponics is the “process of growing plants in sand, gravel, or liquid (or other mediums), with added nutrients but without soil.” The resource speaker was Primitivo Jose A. Santos (Plant Physiology Laboratory at the Institute of Plant Breeding, UP Los Baños) whose fields of specialization include Plant Nutrition, Plant Physiology and Horticulture.
SNAP Hydroponics utilizes discarded fruit crates and used plastic cups (click here for the paper on SNAP Hydroponics). A similar demonstration is captured in a Youtube video, embedded below, but the video won’t give you the benefit of the Q&A portion which clarifies anything and everything, including sourcing the liquid nutrients.
Finally, there was the vermi-composting lecture and demonstration by Ms. Agripina Lasco (Institute of Plant Breeding, UP Los Baños), the topic that Speedy was so interested in because he wanted to know how to turn the dead leaves in our garden into compost.
Compost is, of course, organic fertilizer made by decomposing organic materials. The process is not complicated but it requires space. It’s not something that can be done in an average backyard. BUT for people who are interested in making compost for selling, especially proponents of organic farming, the vermin-composting lecture should be heaven-sent.
There is probably nothing among the topics in the Lotus Pod agritour that you can’t Google and read about. But there is a huge difference between reading and SEEING. And the real kicker — the resource persons in the agritour are respected members of the scientific community and not just some pretend experts. And they are very generous with their expertise. They answer questions and explain in terms understandable to the non-scientific person. Speedy and I were practically consulting with Ms. Lasco and Dr. Pateña about our particular gardening problems (the red clay soil of Antipolo, the pests, the mango tree that refuses to bear fruit) and they were so helpful. But more on all that in future posts on specific topics. This is a post about the agritour, after all.
For home gardeners, and for those who are just curious about backyard vegetable gardening, I highly recommend the Lotus Pod agritour. I have one word to describe it — enriching. When I decided to go, I wasn’t really sure if Speedy would enjoy it but, when we got home, he was the first to start implementing everything we learned in the agritour. Our garden looks different now. Well, partially. I’ll take photos eventually.
You can just click on the poster on the right to read the details about the Lotus Pod Agritour (I’ve just been informed that there is another tour scheduled on May 17) and to find the contact info if you have questions about the tour.
Thank you, dear daughter Sam, for the lovely photos.