The town of El Nido has always been known for its magnificent and breathtaking white-sand shores, hidden lagoons, coral-crusted reefs, mysterious caves, lush forests, and towering cliffs, but behind the pristine beauty of El Nido is Brgy. Manlag where a wide and productive vegetable farm of Jonie Fernandez, a determined and hardworking Magsasakang Siyentista can find.
Venturing into vegetable production is no easy decision for Jonie since it was not popular in their place. Most people were into construction, fishing and gathering of balinsasayaw nest.
“It was hard at first knowing that vegetable is not known in our place. Few people only eat and serve vegetables in their tables,” he shared as he reminisced his older years in farming.
With so much doubt and uncertainty, Jonie still pushed through his endeavor. He started planting pakbet veggies (i.e. sitao, okra, eggplant, ampalaya and squash) in his 500 sqm rented land. However, after harvest, no one was interested in buying his vegetables.
“It was quite depressing during that time because my produce got rotten. They don’t know how to cook vegetables,” Jonie narrates. “But I keep reminding myself that if they don’t know me or my products, I should make ways to be known,” he added.
What he did was he taught the people of different recipes of vegetable. While in market, he demonstrated how to cook vegetables and made them taste afterwards. That was his promotional strategy and the start of his business.
He said, however, that he was still neophyte and has a lot more to learn about cultivating vegetables; thus, he sought for help from El Nido Foundation to increase his knowledge and skills in farming, especially, the different technologies in vegetable production.
El Nido Foundation sent him to different trainings of East West Seeds to become skilled in off-season vegetable production which he applied to his farm afterwards. Because of that, he was tapped by the foundation to lecture about vegetables in different communities they are supporting. His effort was heard and recognized by Ms. Virginia Balderas, Municipal Agriculturist of El Nido who at that time managed the FITS Center-El Nido. MA Balderas invited him to be the Magsasakang Siyentista of the Center which he gladly accepted.
Being an MS made Jonie explore wider scope of technologies in vegetable production. However, his practice in farming was changed when he attended trainings of Agricultural Training Institute – MiMaRoPa in Organic Agriculture.
“When I met the staff of ATI who facilitated our training in Organic, that was the time when I realized the benefits of organic. I, have been experiencing health problems, which I think is because of the food I intake,” Jonie shared.
Jonie recalled that one of the first things he did was adopt the technologies he learned from the training, particularly the application of organic concoctions. He also acquired new ideas and concepts in farming through expository tours conducted by ATI-MiMaRoPa.
He even discovered new concoctions which he applied to his farms such as madre cacao juice, forest wastes and his self-discovered concoction which he dubbed as “7WH” or7-Wild Herbs.
“Among the organic concoctions I have discovered and made, 7WH is the most effective as far as organic insecticide is concerned. I apply the 7WH to all kinds of plants and vegetables,” he uttered.
Vegetable farming is indeed good to Jonie. From his earnings, he was able to send his son to college. “My son earned a bachelor degree out of our income in vegetable,” Jonie proudly expressed.
Aside from bankrolling education of his son, he was able to expand his farm from 500 sqm to two hectare-farm. He also added vegetable crops such as bellpepper, hotpepper, pechay, carrots, lettuce and basil, among others.
More importantly, he was able to help his town mates by giving them jobs. He has four regular farm workers, but hires more laborers during peak season. He said that it is quite rewarding knowing that he could help his neighbors in small ways. Jonie further narrated that two of his previous farm workers established their own vegetable farms and were able to send their children to college out of its income. “When they came to me for a job, I told them that I cannot give them big salary but they can have my technologies and soon replicate it when they want to stand in their own.”
Being the largest vegetable farm in El Nido, Jonie is now the biggest supplier of vegetable in town. Further, various clients including farmers, students, foreigners, buyers, among others, visited his farms. Some called for a trip which he unhesitantly accommodated. He also serves as lecturer in his farm and to various trainings conducted by FITS-El Nido.
He also claimed that after he converted his farm from conventional to organic farming, his income in vegetable increases.
Jonie’s highest recognition came in 2014 when he was hailed as Most Outstanding MS during the Region 4A and 4B Joint Techno Gabay Summit held at Tanza, Cavite, because of his numerous and valuable accomplishments. Also, he is one of the nominees for 2015 National Gawad Saka for High Value Commercial Development Program.
But the said recognition never stops him from attending trainings and seminars conducted by different agencies. In fact, despite a mile-long travel and expenses, he attended the four-month Season-Long Training of Trainers on Vegetable Production conducted by ATI-MiMaRoPa in Naujan, Oriental Mindoro.
“I am certain that in every training that I have attended, different knowledge and skills will be gained,” he said with full of conviction. “For all the accomplishments and recognitions I have received, I am still hungry to improve myself as a farmer and plan to develop my farm into agro-tourism.”
For Jonie, he doesn’t have to go anywhere in El Nido to find a paradise, he has already found one – right in his vegetable farm.