The second day of our immersion experience involved getting down and dirty again, this time at the Ten Knots Philippines organic farm and greenhouses. Vegetables were seen, planted, harvested, and eaten, while tilapia were fed and caught. Jamie and I also mucked out and observed the orderly piggery where TKP raises pigs for eventual pork consumption at the resorts.
Our day started early again with a big breakfast and a large cup of coffee (I need coffee to live – don’t judge me). Our first stop of the day: the lettuce greenhouses in Lio airport. Apulit Island Resort in Taytay just put in an order for 20 kilos of lettuce and who are we to disappoint? We were met by Kuya Robert, the Land Productivity Assistant who manages the day-to-day operations of the farm and the greenhouses. He took us to one of the five greenhouses in the airport and ushered us in. Did you know that our greenhouses are home to different types of salad greens? You can find Red Rapid, Green Glory, and Curly Green lettuce in our greenhouses, plus arugula. The greenhouses are also home to the organically grown herbs used in the resorts (your morning tea comes from here!). Apulit wanted Red Rapid that day and harvest them we did. Harvesting lettuce is actually pretty easy. They’re annual plants and their roots are just under the surface, making them very easy to pull out. Since the lettuce we were harvesting were a little older than the usual, their stems were firmer and harder to break off. For more information on our greenhouses, watch our “Enchanting El Nido” episode!
We harvested the lettuce in less than an hour then brought them to the sinks for washing. Some leaves broke off during the washing because we handled them a bit roughly (sorry!) but Kuya Robert was nice about it and let us keep the broken leaves to eat for lunch (yay!). After washing, we set them on a crate for drying and weighing. We then packed the lettuce into insulated boxes for trucking to Taytay.
After the lettuce, Kuya Robert brought us to the shed across the organic farm where they prepare the soil and compost mixture and potting bags for the plants. Our first task was to fill the empty potting bags with the prepared soil mix and plant string beans in them. Jamie and I filled all the remaining bags in less than an hour. Yay us! After using the pre-mix, it was time to make our own soil mixture. The Ten Knots Philippines organic farm doesn’t use artificial fertilizers and pesticides. To keep the plants healthy, Kuya Robert and the other workers prepare a special soil mix composed of cooked soil, vermicompost, and carbonized rice hull. The soil is cooked to kill any microorganisms that may be present to minimize the use of pesticides (whether natural or artificial). Vermicompost is what the worms produce after they’re done eating the regular compost produced in the MRF. Vermicompost is looser and has more nutrients compared to regular compost. The carbonized rice hull also keeps the soil loose and increases its water retention.
I mentioned that we also got to plant vegetables. Kuya Robert also let us help out in planting tomatoes at the farm. They’d already prepared the plots and covered them with thick plastic. The plastic helps keep the moisture in (so that they don’t have to water the seedlings so often) and the insects out (again, no insects means no pesticides). Since the plastic is tough, it can be reused again and again. He taught us how to use the “hole-maker” they made to punch through the plastic easily and quickly. After punching the hole, you just carefully remove the seedlings from the potting bags with their potting soil intact (be careful with the roots!), place them in the hole, then add more soil to level off the hole. Don’t pack the soil in as this will make it harder for the seedling’s roots to grow. We planted twelve tomato seedlings each. We also ended up squishing mud between our toes because we forgot our socks and so couldn’t borrow the farm staff’s rubber work boots. It wasn’t an icky feeling – just sticky.
After planting the tomatoes, it was time to meet the piggies! TKP raises pigs to supply the resorts with fresh pork. Compared to other piggeries, our pigs are not overfed and are kept in clean stalls with enough room to move. Because they’re not crowded together and their areas are clean, our pigs don’t get sick and so don’t receive antibiotics. Our piggery is also water-efficient because we don’t use water troughs to keep the pigs hydrated. We have a “spout system” instead, where the pig sips water out of a non-drip water spout at snout-level. The system works for piglets all the way to the boars – we just adjust the height of the spout at the pig grows.
Our job in the piggery: muck out the stalls! Kuya Robert handed us a stiff broom, a dustpan, and new work boots and told us to get to work. Ha! We did a pretty good job, if I do say so myself. We used a hose to loosen up the chunks stuck to the floor, as well as give the pigs a mini-bath. All of the animal waste is collected, stored in sacks, and allowed to decompose naturally. We don’t discharge any animal waste into the environment, especially the nearby river.
We met the fish next! The TKP farm is also home to several fishpens where they raise tilapia for the resorts. Tilapia are freshwater fish so the pens are located in the river that runs through the farm. There are only 2-3 pens in a group and the groups are spread over the length of the river to make sure that there’s enough water flow (and thus enough oxygen) for the fish. The fish are also fed with just the right amount of feed to make sure that there’s no buildup of extra feed that will decompose and lead to anoxic waters, the main reason for major fishkills. We got to observe the fingerlings and feed the bigger fish. Since the fishpens are in the river, we used a kayak to get to them. As for catching our fishy lunch, we left those to the experts. We did, however, de-scale and clean our own lunch, as well as prepare the lemongrass stuffing for our grilled fish.
All in all, it was an amazing learning experience. It’s not every day you get to see where your food comes from, as well as meet the people who make it all possible. You’re also assured that your food is raised sustainably with as little impact on the environment as possible. In line with this, we’ll let you in on a little secret: we’re working on including a tour of the greenhouses and farm in our list of guest activities! This is part of our quest to bring our guests closer to our sustainability partners and see how our partnerships work. Everything is still in the planning stages but we’re very excited. Here’s to more fun stuff!Macy Anonuevo.