Monday, February 15, 2010

SIBAT Friends and Their Organic Farm

Landing in Manila on February 11, after a 22 hour trip from Portland, to LA then through Seoul, Korea, we headed to our Quezon City hotel, the Fersal Inn, for a nap. A basket of sweet yellow mangoes, a bunch of bananas, raw sugar and a jar of honey sent by Shen Maglinte of SIBAT, a Green Empowerment partner, surprised us at hotel reception.

The next day we met our friends from SIBAT for lunch at a near-by restaurant, The Tree House. Shen had ordered in advance, so as soon as we sat down, the food started coming. Tilapia, milk fish, sautéed greens in oyster sauce topped with tofu, stuffed lettuce rolls, roasted chicken, hot and sour flavored soup, and on it came. After a filling lunch, we all loaded into tricycles for a short ride to the SIBAT office to meet Ileene the marketing manager of the SIBAT organic foods store and for Michael to begin his interviews with Executive Director Vicki Lopez.

The next afternoon the SIBAT driver picked us up and after collecting Ileene and Vicki, then Vicki’s friends all on slower-than-planned Filipino time, we headed two hours north to TarLac to visit the SIBAT organic farm.

It was past sundown when workers at the farm greeted us with boiled cassava, (filling) and lemon grass tea (refreshing) as we chatted and got to know Vicki’s friends. Back into the van, we headed out to dinner. We were the only customers at The May Farm Restaurant, whose menu heralded organic vegetables and rare meats. Mounted on the wall, heads of small deer looked down on our table and an array of photos showed off the hunting prowess of the owner and his son. One was a photo of a younger man carrying a hoary wild boar on his back with blood dripping down his legs. A brief allusion to the mysterious death of the owner and his son and suggestion of a political murder added to the hunter’s mystic and the weirdness of the restaurant. The soup was tasty, though.

Back at the farm---- Raised beds are planted with a wide variety of rotated crops of leafy greens, peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables. Deep purple egg plants hang from their plants ready to harvest. Farm workers make sure there is enough harvest each week to provision the small organic food store in Quezon City. The farm is a teaching opportunity for surrounding farmers to learn sustainable agriculture. SIBAT’s goal is to teach the teachers to help farmers learn how to farm sustainably, without being dependent on commercial seed and fertilizers.

The main farm building is built of decorative woven palm panels over bamboo poles with a palm thatch roof. We slept soundly on a foam pad laid out under mosquito netting on a split bamboo floor. Roosters all over the country side competing with each other woke us before dawn, early enough to sit outside and watch sunlight creep over the green rice fields of the adjacent farm, shining on the farmer who was already working in his field. A farm worker showed me where hot cups of coffee sat on a counter waiting for takers. The coffee was thick and sweetened with raw sugar. After daylight I found three gently curled, soft downy feathers lying on top of our mosquito netting. Rooster noise woke us but the sparrow flying through our bedroom didn’t.

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