Learning from a mistake is a golden opportunity to grow and emerge better. For some, they even emerge victorious and have completely overcome the challenge.
Jan Dalton “JD” and Lorena Omaña are a couple who used to live in Quezon City and worked as programmers and digital marketers. After years of living in the midst of the city, they were offered to buy properties in their hometown, Unisan, Quezon, which led to them acquiring a 30,000 sqm area of land. In 2015, they decided to start a farm.
But, here’s the catch: they had absolutely zero knowledge in farming.
However, the couple wanted a farm that could produce their own food, and as chocolate lovers, they had a dream to make their own chocolate. So they bought 500 cacao seedlings and 200 banana seedlings and then hired a caretaker to tend to the farm while they stayed in Quezon City.
Sadly, all the seedlings dried up.
But they didn’t lose heart. After that first failure, the couple decided to raise livestock on the farm. They bought goats, specifically Boer and native goats, and chickens. Again, they hired a caretaker to raise the animals while they continued work in Quezon City.
But that didn’t go well either.
Both these failures were expensive and quite crushing, and failures of this scale would send anyone into a depressive and discouraged mood.
But not for this couple, because these events had become a wake up call to them. They realized they could no longer leave it to others to build their dream farm, they had to step up and do it themselves.
JD and Lorena took it upon themselves to finally gain the knowledge they needed. They attended seminars, workshops, and training sessions to learn how to correctly approach farming.
Bit by bit, they were growing from the zero-knowledge couple they were. Years later, they have a thriving farm, and even became the first ever Learning Site for Agriculture in Unisan, Quezon.
Farming newbies to farming experts
“Our thinking was when you place it in soil, it would grow already,” Lorena said. “You water it sometimes, give it sunlight, that’s what we thought.”
It wasn’t just Lorena who thought this way, there are plenty of people who believe that a plant only needs some soil, water, and sun to thrive. But this is often a misconception corrected by experience.
When they first started the farm, they believed hiring a caretaker for the farm was enough to keep it going. “What we used to normally do was to call [the caretaker], and visit the farm on the weekends when we had time,” JD said. “But we didn’t really have knowledge on what we had them plant and grow, so that must have been the reason why it didn’t go well.”
As programmers and digital marketers, they admitted that agriculture truly wasn’t in their field. But as they didn’t want to give up on their dream farm, the couple sought ways to learn what they needed.
“After that we tried to find seminars and trainings,”JD said. “And that’s when we discovered ATI.”
The Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) is an extension of the Department of Agriculture (DA) that helps people learn more about farming, whether it be basic knowledge or developing techniques.
Aside from attending seminars, they went into farm business school and Lorena studied agri-crops production. They earned certifications from the sessions they diligently attended, and in 2019, the couple felt ready to re-start the farm using the knowledge they gained.
“We finally became better, compared to before where it felt like we were in the dark not knowing what we were doing,” JD said.
They established the Omaña Farm, a coconut-based farm integrated with a wide variety of cash crops, such as eggplants, sitaw, okra, sili, pechay and more. Of course, the couple hasn’t given up on their initial chocolate making dream, so their farm also has several cacao trees.
They still have goats left over from their second attempt at farming, as well as pigs and chickens which helps them employ organic practices at their farm. “We don’t use chemicals here, we practice organic,” JD said.
“We also have a lot of banana trunks that we use to give nutrients to our crops,” added Lorena.
In March of 2023, the ATI had awarded the Omaña Farm accreditation to be a Learning Site for Agriculture. It is the couple’s pride that their farm is the very first LSA in Unisan, and that they are an available venue closer to the locals who want to learn agriculture.
However, since they were accredited only recently, they were past the season of accepting trainees. While there are no interns or trainees yet at the farm, the Omaña farm serves as the venue for the local Cocobuhayan program of the Philippine Coconut Authority’s (PCA) in cooperation with the ATI.
Aside from the couple, the Omaña Farm has five employed staff that help around the farm. They all have their roles which range from harvesting, watering, and developing the plots. The couple’s main focus right now, however, is developing systems to make farming smarter.
“When we were visited by the ATI, we thought of what could make our farm unique,” JD said. “What I’ve always said is before, at my previous work, I always held a keyboard but now I always hold soil.”
Although they moved on from their careers in tech, the couple still uses their skills and integrate it into the new chapter of their lives. They have a goal in digitalizing the traditional systems of agriculture.
Their first project is to develop an automated system for drip water irrigation. The location of their farm already has a stable supply of water, but they believe it wouldn’t always be that way.
“The system we thought [to develop] is less use of water but a more accurate way of watering the soil,” JD explained. The system will be made to have a sensor connected to the Internet which can detect when to drip water on the crops. “It’s less manual labor, and the person can focus on cleaning up the area while watering can be handled by the system irrigation.”
At the time of the interview, they said that the project was 40% complete. They created ten raised beds and made a greenhouse for it. The next step is to set up the water and electricity, which would be solar. Once that’s done, they would then start placing the devices and connecting the sensors to the Internet. They believe the project will be done in the coming months.
The second project they have in mind is hydroponics that can be connected to the Internet. They want to develop a way to monitor the pump of their hydroponics farm and check whether or not it is actively pumping the hydroponics system or not. “Sometimes, you wouldn’t really know whether it’s on or not, so that’s what we want to change,” JD said.
They continuously try to think of ways to modernize their farming systems and it helps that they come from a background in tech. They learn from online resources on how to develop their projects and maintain connections from their previous careers who could help and guide them.
“Now that we’re an LSA, we want to offer them new technologies that would make work at the farm easier,” they said. “Of course, the traditional way [will still be taught] but we will slowly offer farming techniques that are more modern.”
Good for the soul
“We start our days at six in the morning and by walking,” JD said. “Like we said, we used to work in Manila and we were always sitting down, so our health was compromised.”
He added how they used to live in an area where fast food was easily accessible and that’s what they usually ate. But now that they are on the farm, their diet mainly consists of vegetables they grew on the farm. “We also drink a lot of coconut water because it’s abundant on the farm,” Lorena said.
“We can say that our health truly improved,” she added. “Our health literally got better because we lost weight, and we feel better on the inside.”
“We thought if we didn’t fix our health first and foremost, then our farm wouldn’t last. We wouldn’t be here to manage the farm,” JD said with a laugh.
They have a big vision for the farm. The whole 30,000 sqm land isn’t limited to planting crops, and the couple could see the farm’s potential to be a thriving agritourism site, a goal they will be working towards after all their current projects.
From being hands-off owners in the city, the couple has truly grown to become dedicated farmers and owners of their land in Unisan.
“A lot of my friends ask me if I don’t have a hard time living here,” Lorena said, as she admittedly was a city girl. “Of course, I had to adjust, but health-wise, it may be a bit too deep to say this, but here there is peace of mind.”
“Here I can say it’s truly good for the soul,” she continues.
The Omaña Farm is proof that there can be success even after multiple failures, and they are an inspiration for others to rise from challenges to discover a new and exciting path for themselves.
Photos courtesy of Omaña Farm