Satisfaction and creativity with small things

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By Robert L. Domoguen

Mountain Light

Monday, May 5, 2014

NORTH is a direction where the road snakes around green towers, rugged mountainscapes jutting out and filling the void of an otherwise wide and endless open space from the Pacific to the South China Sea.

The car climbs higher and stops near a house past where the clouds hug the trees and valley floors. Two hours ride from Baguio City, the dance and song of dawn begins in these mountains.

The family of five living in this house awakens to the crowing of roosters, the gleeful sounds of birds and other creatures joining the chorus in a cathedral of morning worship. A few moments more and the darkness burrowed deep inside the bellies of our mountains.


The sunrise brushing the world's edge is red, lavender, orange and blue.
The door of wood facing the morning opens and Sarah (not her real name and 44) emerges, her image enhanced by the rays of the rising sun. "Good morning, you came early," she said.

The flavour of boiling brewed coffee rushed out through the door into our nosetrils and my companions responded to Sarah's greetings with the obvious, "umay kami maki-kape (we came to share in your coffee)" as they entered and followed Sarah to the kitchen.

I lingered a little longer outside appraising myself with this small house in the middle of small garden plots planted with a cornucopia of different vegetable varieties. Except the G.I. sheets that cover the roof and its walls, the scene reminded me of the popular ditty among school pupils in the 70's, "Bahay Kubo."

Joining the others inside, the discussion was well underway with Sarah articulating her organic farming philosophy and practices. I did not mind the talks that much. I knew Sarah's story already. With a flagging body, my mind was intent on pouring a cup of coffee sweetened with muscovado that some farmers in our mountains produce in their backyards. That done and feasting on an ancient yellow variety of camote with lavender interior slowly brought back my strength.

Sarah's farming is an old story actually, well set in the panorama of a rugged immensity of mountain ranges that can sustain small things here and there, and no more or we gamble and risk the future, including that of our children's. Women like Sarah would not allow that to happen. They cannot be content, as we all are, but are practical enough with the pursuit of things that provide satisfaction and peace of mind, like growing a little of everything in a garden that would make them live "quality lives" above or amongst the clouds.

Hours after visiting Sarah, a farmer with a truckload of cabbages was distributing his produce in the streets of Baguio in protest against the Department of Agriculture's (DA) inability to offer alternative schemes to the marketing of highland vegetable products, according to witnesses. At that time, the price of a kilo of cabbage plunged to PhP 1.00. The farmer was angry, according to the sources that interviewed me on the agency's position on the matter.

There was a time when experts talked and promoted production and economies of scale, applicable in the lowland plains would solve the problems associated to the quest for improved income and quality living among marginal farmers in our highland terrains. Its application is nothing but more of the same - pushing insatiable aspirations for huge and big things - to have and take everything, a gambler's discontent fitting itself into our temperaments and design of multiple colors for native shirts and skirts. Somehow it worked. For the present, we produce truckloads of cabbages, potatoes, carrots, beans, and others shipped daily to the traditional markets. We have done it at great expense though, in energy, cash, labour, inputs and nature capital.

Sarah's story, coming back to life at this time tells us that putting every space in our mountains into mono-production of root and table greens may not be the solution after all, but creating economies of scale from a myriad of small things is.

"No, I do not farm huge tracts of land or harvest truckloads of vegetables," she told a forum of women promoting gender concerns in development. "I farm a small patch of land, for our family and sell the extra we could not consume.

The extra produce are brought to the local market on Mondays and Wednesdays, or shipped in "bayongs," nicely packed in containers as food fit for human consumption in organic markets in Baguio or elsewhere by our group," she added.

So there, she is not alone. Sarah says, members of the group sell their products at premium prices, more than enough for their domestic and their children's schooling needs. They are a group that farm and market food products with a good mind and conscience, their ways are probably the alternative that farmers and consumers may need to keep the local vegetable industry afloat all year.

I say it is a farmer's choice or recommendation, one that understand the role of farming in sustaining well-being right at the source to the dining tables of the nation. At this stage, it is still a producer-consumer controlled farming. The DA is doing what it can to support their cause along with the other strategies of farming and shifting them to good agricultural practices in production and marketing.

Meantime, I really love to go a-wandering up north, whistling as I bring back the lyrics of "Bahay Kubo" and its theme on farming along the rugged terrains of our mountains. And valderie, valderah, how about that for a small patch of land to produce good food, lead peaceful quality lives on, than plundering whole mountains so we can pack our trucks with vegetables like livestock fodder and dump them in the nation's markets in a rage inspired by unmet needs.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on May 06, 2014.


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