The Benguet State University in La Trinidad has come up with a way to encourage farmers to go into organic crop production. How? By renting out space to interested growers of organic crops and then putting up a market where they can sell their harvests right on the school campus.
Today, there are 32 members of the Balili Organic Farmers Association (BOFA) who grow vegetables and other high-value crops in the area rented out to them at 500 square meters each. When it was started in 2009, the rent was P10 per square meter. When the contract was renewed for a five-year period in 2015, the rent was increased to P15 per square meter with 5% increase every year thereafter.
Did the renters complain about the increase in rent? Well, all of them renewed their contract, probably because the rate is still reasonable. They can still make money.
The project is one proof that even with a very small space, one can grow vegetables that can produce reasonable income to support one’s family. Just like Crisaldo Sagayo, the 29-year-old president of BOFA who used to derive his income from repairing electrical appliances. Now he is practically devoting his full time to organic farming, only rarely repairing appliances.
One of his favorite crops is the Toscana kale which he sells at P100 per kilo. The packing, however, is 250 grams per pack so it is easier to sell, especially to households with a few members, or those who cannot afford to pay bigger amounts. In Manila, kale is very expensive in upscale stores. It is selling for as much as P400 per kilo because it is said to possess important health benefits. Unlike other leafy vegetables which are harvested only once, kale is harvested by priming. The leaves are harvested every few days for a period of three to five months.
From four plots of 10 square meters each, he can harvest seven kilos worth P700 each week. Then he makes money from other varieties like lettuce, broccoli, pechay, and even camote tops. He programs his planting so that if possible he has something to deliver to the store every day.
The land renters have their own favorite varieties for their own good reasons. In the case of Cus Kilakil, a non-teaching staff at BSU, he specializes in lettuce and French beans although he also plants other varieties for crop rotation. At any one time, he devotes 180 to 200 square meters to different lettuce varieties like Grand Rapid, Red Rapid and Lollo Rosa. His new crop is zucchini which he intercrops with his lettuce.
In the earlier years, he used to plant broccoli. Now he finds broccoli to take a long time to mature. Broccoli requires labor in hilling-up the plants and it takes 65 to 75 days to mature whereas some of his lettuce varieties are harvestable in only 40 days after transplanting.
Cus observes that the biggest harvest is not necessarily the best. In fact, most customers don’t like the oversized vegetables. In the case of carrots, for instance, the most saleable at the BIGS store are the medium size roots.
Cus is very proud to say that they have not increased prices to the buying public since the start. They sold their lettuce at P100 per kilo when they started. Today, they are still charging the same. And that could be the reason why they sell most of their deliveries to the store which has a cut of 10 percent of the selling price as service fee.
Cus is also proud that the organic strawberries that his fellow farmers at the urban organic farm are sold cheaper
than those in the conventional markets in La Trinidad. They sell theirs at P200 per kilo whereas the usual price outside is P250 per kilo or even more than P300 per kilo. And he says that the organically grown strawberries are usually sweeter, and safer to eat.
Organic farmers who grow their crops in their own farms outside BSU also sell their harvests through BIGS store. Like Lita Salinas of Brgy Happy Hallow who produces organic leek, celery, flowering pechay, Baguio beans and others. Like the other organic farmers, Lita is very happy that the BIGS store is there where they can regularly sell their harvests.