THERE are hundreds of them squirming beneath moist newspaper shreds. Fat and glistening, they make their way under a compost of paper, rice hulls and earth. This is how to make black soil perfect for planting, she said. She picks up a few of the African night crawlers with a rake. Her face forms a mix of dread and disgust.
“Pasensya na po, ha. Takot kasi ako sa mga yan,” Bik-Bik apologizes.
We laugh at the thought of a farmer, so used to toiling the earth, squirming at the idea of touching worms.
To some extent, I agree with her. Her concept of farming, as has mine, has lost its romanticism. Strip off all images of pastures and rolling hills, and replace it with images of bent backs and blistered hands.
I grew up on a farm, you see, and spent my childhood with pigs and chickens, goats and cows. There were pigeons in the front yard that ate our leftover food and coconut trees that were always ready for picking.
Every morning, the tractor leaves, waking up the main house, to make its way to a different patch of land. When it returns, the operator, Noy Tonyo, would let me ride by his side, the four-foot wheels giving its passengers a feel of height and space.
Every weekend, the farm laborers would come to collect their weekly wages, and along with this, my grandfather would serve them a heaping plate of budbud and a jug of tsokolate.
Lest this imagery run away with me though, I remember too that there were numbers involved in farming. Numbers that became essential to its survival. Labor. Gas. Fertilizer. Seedlings. Oil. Animal feeds. Tractor maintenance. Not to mention bad planting cycles that may well leave you with no reap at all despite a few months’ collective effort.
Juggling numbers to maintain a farm is often arduous and cyclical.
That farm is long gone. My grandfather seemed to have brought it along with him.
The organic farm
This is where perhaps Sheridan’s Organic Farm differs tremendously from traditional farms.
Providing 80% of Sheridan Resort’s fruits and vegetables for its restaurants, as well as organic herbs for its nature spa, Sheridan’s symbiotic system allows the farm to always have instant market access, support and sustainability. In turn, the resort will have a stable supply of fresh produce and a chance to be constantly involved with the local community.
On top of a hillside gazebo just a few kilometers off their resort property, Bik – Bik prepares a spread of freshly-picked lettuce with native vinaigrette, grilled organic chicken, corn and tomato salad and pinakbet with a side of bago-ong. She knows when she picked each one and how it’s prepared.
“Swerte po kami kasi kami mismo dito na kumuha o bumibili. Nakakasigurado pa kami kung saan nanggaling.” she says.
A couple of years ago, the concept of organic farming was new to all of them including Bik-Bik. So used were they to the traditional method of spraying fertilizers and pesticides that most of them, by then supposedly seasoned farmers, had to start from scratch.
She shows us a couple of seedlings she is experimenting on. Basics like broccoli and cauliflower.
“Humahanap ako ng paraan na rumami to sila para meron na kaming ganitong gulay year-round. Ewan ko, sumuko na nga mga kasamahan ko. Pero ako, gusto ko pa rin subukan.”
Bik – Bik takes us through the nursery where she constantly tinkers with different varieties of lettuces, tomatoes and chives. She is getting ready for the wet season where plants that need heat and light such as fruit-bearing trees and root crops are sure to drop because of the arrival of rain.
With the changing of the seasons though, comes new crop offerings, such as increased production of their organic black rice. Bik – Bik isn’t worried. This is, after all, their natural cycle.
On her part, Bik – Bik has transformed herself into more than just a series of bent backs and blistered hands. She is now also part masseuse, tour guide, cook and overall trainer.
“Yan lang?” we joke with her.
Despite her multiplicity, it is encouraging to know that some part of herself still holds value in agriculture.
“Kailangan multi-tasker ka dito,” she says.
The farm’s pet rooster, Padaw-Padaw, strolls and looks on.
Stars and the underground
Later that night, the resident manager invites us to dinner under a canopy of stars. Sabang’s shore is empty. There are trails of acoustic songs from their nearby restaurant. On our right is a couple set in their own world, the light of their candles and their silhouettes the only things that we see from our point to the shoreline.
There, a group of fishermen drink a bottle of Tanduay, their own ode perhaps to Sabang’s darkness.
While it is light that brings in growth, the magical nature of photosynthesis, it is its absence that these fishermen on the shore seem to hold most dear. It is darkness that will allow them bigger bounty, darkness that will ultimately lure the fish out. There is a new moon. The absence of light of any form is just as important as its presence here.
Sabang, where the farm and resort lie, is found in the peripheries of a supernova, an Underground River that is now considered a seventh wonder of the world.
The places surrounding it, for many, seem to be considered a black hole to this burning star.
But this is never more so true than when you spend a few days in Sabang, where kilometers-long stretches of white sand, mangroves and jungle trails need to be explored, and their distinction given their own merit. Not to mention the budding relationship between the organic farm, the community and the eco-resort itself.
Mike, their resident manager, says this of Sabang: that there are more things undiscovered in the area that may become a game changer in the next few years.
There is talk of another underground river, a longer, more accessible one discovered recently by a foreign group who ventured off into a new island. Locals are still keeping mum about it, and rightfully so. One must have their own secrets to keep. The rest of us, in the intervals between light and darkness, will wait.