After the urban farming company he helped establish Bahay Kubo Organics closed down, Enzo Pinga pursued agriculture even further. The 27-year-old is now based in Laguna, where he runs the Earthbeat Farms.
Can you tell us how farming came about for you?
My friends and I came from the US, where we finished college. I also worked for a bit for a non-profit in New York, where urban farming movement was picking up at that time. We decided we wanted to go home and do something, so we did a little research and went with aquaphonics.
After coming back to the Philippines we started Bahay Kubo Organics, an urban farming enterprise. Through this first venture I got exposed to farming in the provinces and successful organic farms. That is when the idea started growing on me. Over time I felt a stronger pull towards farming and moving out of Manila.
Has farming always been your life goal?
I never thought that I would get into farming. When I was younger, I wanted to be a professional football player or a Formula One race car driver. It was only recently that I really got into it. I really enjoy the connection with growing food, being outdoors and seeing the entire process from seed to end-user. Farming just felt like a natural next step for me after doing urban farming.
Can you tell me about the moment when you decided to just go for it?
At the time I was playing football in the United Football League and mulling when and how I can start a farm. There was already an opportunity to start a farm in San Pablo, Laguna, which was too good to pass up. Being preoccupied just gave me an excuse to delay the decision. It was not until I got seriously injured when I said, Ok, time to do this.
Of course there were fears and hesitations. It took me some months before I really decided to go for it. Before that, it was just a nice idea to do. The main concern was not having any prior experience in organic farming and of course the fear of failure comes with that. I had other things to distract me at the time to delay making a decision.
From urban farming, how did you end up starting an actual farm? Did you have to loan money to buy land, did you have a plot of land, to begin with?
One of our partners has land in San Pablo. Initally, we were going to start with that but a better property with structures was offered to us so we are currently renting. We still don’t have our own land that we can farm on for free. We started the farm before we stopped operations with BKO so there wasn’t any break. About two months after we started in San Pablo, we stopped BKO.
How about difficulties that almost broke you and made you think maybe this isn’t it?
The past summer was brutal. Our yields and harvests were very low and things were just slow. The extreme heat did not help our crops at all and put a strain on the operations of the farm. I knew this would be temporary and had to come up with ways to adapt and improve. Those few months were not very encouraging. It is just part of the struggle that farmers face in feeding us.
What is every day life like for you?
No one day is the same from the next. I am based on the farm in San Pablo. I try to spend as much time on the farm. While in Laguna, I either participate in the farm work, go around looking for supplies needed on the farm or visiting other farmers. I am running this all on my own at this point so I have to take care of it all. But luckily, it’s only 1.5 hours from where I live south of Manila. I make several trips into Manila every week for deliveries, marketing, events, buying supplies, and family.
What makes it worth it?
For me it is all about improving peoples’ lives. Through the farm I hope to improve our farmers’ lives and eventually provide the surrounding community with better opportunities. We also strive to provide products of high quality whether it is for restaurants or households that we serve directly. Adding value to our clients and seeing the satisfaction of our efforts brings fulfillment. Everything come from the soil and seeing what comes out of it and where it ends up is fun for me.
Advice for people who dream of becoming a farmer?
Do your homework and be patient. I entered farming without any prior background and so I had to attend seminars to gain a basic understanding. You will end up having to try and fail at a lot of it so being patient in finding the best farming methods for your location and soil will take time if you wish to do it organically and responsibly. You also have to be committed to being on the farm for long periods. This is essential to the success of any farm especially ones that are starting out.
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