This fabulous nextgen natural farmer is a good role model to young people

During VJ’s early engagement with the SAFE Young Organic Farmers, he taught them how to plant, manage, and harvest their garden vegetables like the bounty of lettuce VJ is carrying. The batch of lettuce is the group’s first time harvest from their own cultivated garden plots. photo 2: SAFE Young Organic Farmers Founder, VJ Tagupa, advocates organic agriculture and is passionate in involving the youth in their community. Through their productivity and bountiful harvest, VJ has proven that young people can be an asset in terms of sustainable agriculture. (Palarca and Dona/ ATI)

By: Angelli C. Doña and Vic Thor Palarca

“My plans for the organic movement is about leaving an impact in the community through organic agriculture. I’ll start with the youth in our village.”—VJ F. Tagupa

Vic Jason Kristoffer F. Tagupa, or VJ, fondly recalled how he was directed to farming after five years of working in the corporate world. “It was in 2019 when I was fortunate enough to be part of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) Asia Organic International Course by Asian Local Governments for Organic Agriculture (ALGOA). There were 21 of us from Southeast Asia, and I was one out of the four representatives from the Philippines. It was an 11-day exposure to organic agriculture in South Korea, and the experience was life-changing. When I got back home, I realized that it is not every day that you get to experience being a scholar, and I told myself that I have to put my experience into action. Organic agriculture sparked something in me, why not affect others as well?”

During VJ’s early engagement with the SAFE Young Organic Farmers, he taught them how to plant, manage, and harvest their garden vegetables like the bounty of lettuce VJ is carrying. The batch of lettuce is the group’s first time harvest from their own cultivated garden plots. (Palarca and Dona/ ATI)

True enough, VJ founded the SAFE Young Organic Farmers in their hometown Balingasag, Misamis Oriental. It was during the height of the pandemic when he saw the opportunity of building and nurturing young minds to love organic agriculture. He shares that if it was not because of the pandemic, he could not have stayed. “The pandemic brought us together here, and eventually if you love what you are doing, you will stay. I tried it, I liked it, and I stayed,” he said.

Influencing the community with Organic Agriculture VJ’s unexpected farm stay became a way of bringing the community together in an even fruitful cause.  He says, “I think the most apparent effect, besides teaching them organic farming, is the bond and the relationship that we have built as neighbors, sharing the same cause, working for something to an organization, the technical skills, record-keeping, marketing, these are some of the few things that I have shared with them, and that I am proud of.” There were definitely times where the organization was put to the test by certain challenges, but VJ firmly says that in any failure, one should learn from it, take it as a lesson, and avoid repeating the same mistake.

In practicing organic agriculture and staying with the SAFE Young, he says, “If you know your personal self, everything in the universe conspires for you to reach it, and for me, I’d like to say that I am slowly reaching it. I have to make sure that the SAFE Young works, I will take charge of this, and I will make this work.”

The SAFE Young Organic Farmers vow to embrace the core principles of organic agriculture by upholding proper care, health, ecology, and fairness among consumers. (Palarca and Dona/ ATI)

Founding the SAFE Young Organic Farmers

The Tagupa family donated three plots of land to be cultivated by the 15 youths from their community who were eager to learn organic farming. “I came up with the SAFE Young Organic because I wanted to teach them, and let them see the value that the safest way of farming is doing it the organic way. And since our farm, SAFEGCC (Sustainable Agriculture Family-centered Entrepreneurial Group of Co-Creators) is a corporation, the SAFE Young is our social responsibility since SAFEGCC’s mission is to contribute in ending hunger with safe and nutritious food, and empowering family farms by making them climate-resilient.” VJ said.

SAFEGCC Inc., being an ATI-accredited Learning Site for Agriculture (LSA), fulfills their duty to share their farming technologies to the clients, which makes the SAFE Young very lucky to have  both Mr. Victoriano F. Tagupa, and Ms. Marivic F. Tagupa as their mentors in organic farming.

In a farm day’s work, VJ provides free training about organic agriculture, the basics of planting and plot management. The Tagupa family then provides the initial seeds or seedlings for planting as well. The three plots will be tended by the 15 core youths for them to manage from planting, to harvesting, up to equal sharing of profit.

“We teach them mainly about organic. We do not promote or encourage them to use chemicals in their plots. Since we make and have our own organic foliars, they can use it instead of resorting to using chemicals. They also have access to our composts and naturally-made fertilizers. Aside from that, we also impart knowledge on biodynamic agriculture, and as much as possible, we encourage them to try the biodynamic calendar.

As to the whereabouts of the 15 youths since the pandemic, they are all still active today since they are planting for consumption and experience. “We are aspiring to become the main lettuce producers here in Balingasag although making that happen is a challenge. I am currently eyeing other international organizations which organize contests or can provide and grant us funds for small and starting groups like ours. If I can find one, I’m really leaning on coming up with lettuce production to concentrate on for the Safe Young.”

The dynamics and increased popularity of Safe Young is making the farming community of Balingasag notice and aware of the group’s existence. VJ shares that the biggest challenge is getting the attention and sustaining the interest of the members to get involved, but with his parents backing him up, it was more of a ‘challenge accepted’. As VJ says, “You cannot expect them to be effective in what they do if they do not have the slightest idea about it, but if you also get their interest, you would have to make sure that they understand what they are doing, and why they are doing it.”

The SAFEGCC, Inc-Breadlife Family Farm practices the “baboyang walang amoy” in their piggery area. According to VJ, feeding the pigs with naturally sourced ingredients like azola, kangkong, salt, madre de agua, lime, and fresh grated coconuts greatly reduces the foul smell in their vicinity. Spraying liquidized IMO (Indigenous Micro Organism) also helps as well as flooring the pig pen with discarded corn cobs. (Palarca and Dona/ ATI)

Sexuality and preference not an issue

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, VJ was candid that people around him, whether in his hometown and even abroad, have no issues with his lifestyle and personal preference. “I never had any issue at all. When I had my 10 days Organic Foundation Course last 2019 in South Korea with 20 other international students, it was not an issue. It was not even brought up at all! I guess we were all just focused on studying about organic farming. Even during the International Rice Conference in Bislig City in Surigao del Sur last 2018 where I worked as the Project Assistant during the event, I don’t think it mattered at all. I think that the international community is not particularly hard on the LGBT community.

I even stayed in the same accommodation for a week with the President of IFOAM Asia and the Executive Director of IFOAM Asia. It was not an issue at all.” VJ said. With VJ’s presence and visibility in the farming community, SAFE Young is also making a safe place for young people who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ and who also happens to love farming and agriculture.

VJ with proud parents Victoriano F. Tagupa and Marivic F. Tagupa, both as his mentors in organic farming and the ways of sustainable agriculture with long term goals like environmental health, profitability, as well as social and economic equity. (Palarca and Dona/ ATI)

Connections they did not see coming

“On a personal assessment, I must be doing something good, because I never thought we would receive funds from organizations and companies.” VJ said when asked how he sees the outcome of the organization he has built.

Young as the organization is, they have already received numerous fundings from various organizations, and from people who believe in their cause. The organization is thankful to CITIBank, the former company where VJ used to work, and Naturland Germany for paving a way for the SAFE Young members to have a farm educational tour at Alomah’s Place and Nature Farm in Manolo Fortich Bukidnon.

Alomah’s Place and Nature Farm was instrumental in teaching VJ how to plant lettuce and the implementation of other agri-technologies. VJ also takes pride in being the interim president of the Youth in Agriculture in the Philippines, where the SAFE Young was also recognized and featured internationally. The organization is indeed overwhelmed with the positive feedback they receive from people telling them that they are an inspiration to them, and hopes they continue with their movement.

On a side note, VJ also thinks that being a graduate of Development Communication has also helped him a lot in expressing their vision of growing safe and nutritious food. “I think being a DevCom graduate has helped me a lot, especially when you have a solid foundation of what communication is and its dynamics, and of course, my skills in communicating definitely led me to the right people, people who believed in SAFE Young.”

Photos by Angelli C. Doña and Vic Thor Palarca

This article was first published in

This article appeared in Agriculture Magazine’s October 2022 issue.

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