By Vina Medenilla
Daryl Balmoria-Garcia, an architect and registered environmental planner, and her husband, Jose D. Garcia Jr., a policeman in the Mandaue City Police Office, have been growing plants ever since they got married.
In their residence’s limited space, they practice vertical gardening to cultivate different varieties of vegetables, medicinal plants, and fruits like grapes and strawberries. They maximize available spaces at home and grow plants on walls, fences, railings, windows, and roof.
Their shared interest in farming prompted them to purchase a farm in 2019 and develop it over the quarantine period.
Like many Filipinos, the couple hopes to retire on a farm where they can live a healthy and peaceful life.
Working professionals on weekdays, farmers on weekends
Azienda Gracia is a 1.8-hectare farm in Sitio Cambilog, Barangay Guba, Cebu City that is aligned with the rhythms of nature.
It is, in fact, the couple’s second farm. Their first farmland, Azienda Rita, named after Daryl’s grandmother Rita, is in Leyte and will serve as their future retirement home.
Today, the Garcias spend their weekends and days off tending to Azienda Gracia in Cebu, which is considerably closer to them than Azienda Rita.
Owing to this, they make sure that Azienda Rita is taken care of by family members and workers while they’re away.
“Azienda Gracia is our practice and trial farm. [It is] where we experiment and try out several methods or ways to do natural farming. As we try them, we discover certain practices that work best for us,” says Daryl.
The couple’s dedication to natural farming was strengthened when Daryl’s mother became ill 15 years ago and spent five months in and out of the intensive care unit.
Daryl said that it was malunggay that saved her mother’s life. Since then, their objective is to raise food in the most natural way possible.
With the intention to become self-sufficient and independent of store-bought food, the Garcias grow food at home and on their farm amid the pandemic.
Now, Azienda Gracia regularly supplies their family with fruits, vegetables, medicinal herbs, fish, honey, and eggs.
The farm rears rabbits for meat and manure, native and heritage chickens for eggs and meat, and native stingless bees for honey and crop pollination.
It also houses Itik Pinas, guinea fowls, sheep, geese, pigs, ducks, pigeons, and red tilapia.
Corn bran and forage crops such as napier and madre agua are fed to the animals. These are supplemented with azolla and duckweed. Since the majority of the livestock are kept in natural conditions, they are free to eat crops they have access to.
Making progress and overcoming obstacles
The couple was not spared from the setbacks. At first, the farm was unproductive due to its unfertile clay soil and exposure to conventional farming methods.
With the sloping terrains of the farm, the husband-and-wife team also needed to make adjustments to prevent soil erosion.
One method that they found effective in keeping the soil intact is Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT), a farming approach that conserves the soil and boosts the efficiency of upland food production.
Lasagna gardening, a technique that does not require tilling and digging, is something that the couple also adapts in some parts of the land to produce rich soil.
“By developing terraced plots, we are not only able to grow vegetables successfully, but also retain water and avoid run-off during heavy rains.” They strategically installed rainwater catchment systems around the farm, which aids in retaining water when it rains.
Daryl added, when choosing varieties to plant, they choose native species since these have a higher survival rate than non-native ones.
“Over the years, we studied and learned the methods and then developed our own method that we can easily do given our busy schedules at work and home.”
The couple tries to apply permaculture principles in which they “mimic how Mother Nature grows and nourishes.”
Azienda Gracia practices companion planting and maximizes the area by intercropping fruit trees with dwarf trees, edible shrubs, root crops like sweet potatoes, and leafy greens for ground cover. Climbers such as cucumbers and squash are planted alongside other crops.
Aside from making use of rabbit and chicken manure, the Garcias make their own fertilizers and other concoctions to help plants and animals flourish naturally.
What does this natural farm have to offer?
Azienda Gracia is situated within the Central Cebu Protected Landscape and boasts a collection of native trees. At the foot of the farm, adventurous guests can also trek up to Sayaw Waterfalls. There’s also a waterfall on the farm premises called Mermaid Falls.
Many of their amenities like the treehouse are made of native materials such as bamboo, nipa, and cogon grasses.
Their on-site store, BunnyChow, offers various home-cooked meals like duck adobo sa gata and edible flower salads that are integrated with farm-grown ingredients.
One distinct dish in their menu that guests can try is their specialty rabbit lechon and dessert called Bibiko, a combination of the Filipino sticky rice cake biko and buko.
The harvests are mainly for the family’s consumption and a part of it is served to farm guests.
Food safety and security
Growing their food and understanding where it comes from gives the family a sense of security.
Daryl stresses, “With the COVID-19 pandemic happening, we have reinforced our commitment to better our farm practices so that, whatever happens, we’ll be able to provide food for our family the best way possible.”
One effective defense against any diseases, she added, is a healthy body and mind.
The farm not only nourishes their bodies, but also provides them with a form of exercise, a source of inspiration to look forward to every weekend, and a sense of security regardless of external factors.
The couple proves that plants can grow healthily without the use of synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides. They promote natural farming in hopes of changing the conventional agricultural beliefs of their neighboring farms.
The Garcias are examples that anyone can practice their profession while pursuing something they are passionate about. They may be weekend farmers, but they make sure that every farm visit counts.
Photos courtesy of Azienda Gracia
For more information, visit Azienda Gracia