Beyond the desk: Office worker retiree is a pioneer of sustainable farming in Jalajala, Rizal

Edna Sanchez, owner of Sanchez Agri Farm, during an exhibit of their product. (EV Sanchez Agri Farm)


Edna Sanchez retired from her 28-year career at Meralco in January 2008. After spending  many years working behind a desk, she yearned for a change of pace and wanted to pursue her passion for landscaping, which she had previously dabbled in as a hobby and sideline. It was during this time that the idea of starting a farm took root in her mind, offering her the freedom to follow her own vision. 

Edna Sanchez, owner of Sanchez Agri Farm, during an exhibit of their product. (EV Sanchez Agri Farm)

Edna Sanchez is the proud owner of Sanchez Farm, located in Jalajala, Rizal. Despite starting with no farming experience, she transformed her interest into a successful venture.

Discovering farming

In December 2010, Edna attended a harvest festival in Jalajala, where she had the chance to interact with local farmers and witness the bountiful produce they nurtured. She was deeply impressed by their dedication and camaraderie and felt an instant connection with them. This experience ignited her desire to work with these kind-hearted people and embrace the world of farming. As she journeyed back home after the festival, the sight of numerous farms along the way further fueled her aspiration to own her own farm.

Motivated by her newfound passion, Edna acquired a piece of land in Jalajala immediately. “We decided to start with pinakbet vegetables, even though I had no prior farming experience and knowledge,” she said. “Despite this, I was determined to make it work, so we planted a variety of vegetables.”

Dragon fruits are intercropped with papaya. (EV Sanchez Agri Farm)

However, they faced the problem of the fruits being infested with worms, posing a challenge for their budding farming venture. In response to this issue and to improve their farming practices, Edna and her team decided to take proactive steps. Whenever the Jalajala Office of the Agriculturist recommended seminars, they made sure to attend them diligently. These seminars provided valuable insights, enabling them to learn how to create their own fertilizers and concoctions. Through this continuous learning process, Edna and her team gained the knowledge and skills to tackle challenges and effectively enhance their farming methods.

Embracing natural farming

Despite the challenges, Edna and her team remained determined and continued cultivating their crops. However, they decided to shift their focus toward planting more dragon fruit due to its remarkable high antioxidant content. This decision was significantly influenced by Edna’s sibling who was battling cancer.

“I believed that growing dragon fruit would provide a healthier option for our diet, free from harmful chemicals,” she said. To realize this goal, Edna purchased 4000 dragon fruit cuttings from Cavite and planted them on their farm alongside the vegetables.

The windmill can pump water to fill the 5000-liter tank if there is sufficient wind. (EV Sanchez Agri Farm)

Edna and her team made a deliberate choice to plant red varieties of dragon fruit on their farm. They also experimented with planting white-fleshed dragon fruit. However, “We noticed that Filipino consumers preferred the sweeter taste of the red dragon fruit,” she said. “Taking this into consideration, we made the decision to focus on cultivating the red variety to meet the preferences of the local market.”

Farming without chemicals became Edna’s mission, and to combat pest attacks. “Typically, when people think of pesticides, they associate them with harmful chemicals,” Edna said. “However, that is not always the case. We discovered organic alternatives like OHN (Oriental Herbal Nutrients) and natural pesticides made from ingredients such as onion, garlic, chili, and vinegar. These are the natural pesticides we use on our farm.

In 2015, Edna Sanchez attended a seminar in Benguet, where she gained valuable knowledge on how to make mokusaku, also known as wood vinegar. Mokusako serves a dual purpose as both a fertilizer and a pesticide.

Mokusaku or wood vinegar made on the farm can be used both as fertilizer and pesticide. (EV Sanchez Agri Farm)

Following the informative seminar, Edna Sanchez took proactive steps and constructed the necessary equipment to produce mokusaku on her own. She was determined to ensure that her mokusaku met the required standards. Seeking confirmation, she approached the personnel from JAICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) to evaluate the mokusaku she had created. To her delight, they approved her homemade mokusaku, confirming that it met the necessary standards.

With the certification in hand, Edna proceeded to put her natural fertilizer to the test. She applied it to her dragon fruit crops, and it soon became the primary fertilizer used to nurture and support the growth of her precious dragon fruit plants.

“Interestingly, this technique is commonly used by Japanese farmers, especially in rice cultivation,” Edna said. “It has proven to be beneficial for our crops and has become an essential part of our farming practices.”

The kiln used to make mokusaku or wood vinegar. (EV Sanchez Agri Farm)

In addition to using mokusaku, Edna has consistently maintained organic farming practices, using a variety of organic materials such as vermicast, carbonized rice hull, shredded rice straws, animal manure, fermented plant juices, bokashi, and fish amino acids as fertilizers. For pest control, she employs natural alternatives like wood vinegar, chili, neem leaves, and fermented  kakawati. All of these are created using materials harvested from their farm.

Turning adversity into opportunity

In late October 2011, Edna faced an unexpected situation with her dragon fruit farm. Her crops bore a bountiful harvest, and in just a few days, the fruits began to ripen and turn red. However, during this time, the presence of the southwest monsoon caused concern. With an abundance of fruit, Edna feared that if she didn’t act quickly, her produce might spoil and go to waste.

Edna decided to sell her dragon fruits in Binondo, hoping to find buyers for her precious harvest. A fruit buyer expressed interest and purchased all the dragon fruit. Relieved, Edna awaited payment, but to her dismay, when the time came, the buyer contested that some of the fruits had spoiled and rotted. This unjust dispute led the buyer to pay Edna only a partial amount for her hard-earned produce.

Dragon Fruit vinegar with chilis. (EV Sanchez Agri Farm)

“Despite feeling unjustly treated, I reluctantly accepted a partial payment and returned home disheartened by the disappointing turn of events,” Edna said.

Middlemen can be a source of fear and frustration for farmers like Edna. Despite their hard work and dedication in the farm, they often find themselves being taken advantage of by these intermediaries. The products that they put so much effort into cultivating are sometimes bargained for unreasonably low prices, leaving them feeling undervalued and exploited.

“It’s disheartening to see the hard work we put into our farm result in our products being sold at such low prices,” Edna said. “We strive to cultivate our crops with dedication and care, and it’s disheartening to see our efforts go unrewarded when middlemen negotiate such cheap deals for our produce.”

The chamber is used to make carbonized rice hulls. (EV Sanchez Agri Farm)

Faced with the overwhelming abundance of dragon fruit and her unfortunate experience with middlemen, Edna Sanchez sought a solution and approached the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) for guidance. The DOST provided valuable assistance by teaching Edna and her team how to turn their excess dragon fruit into wine and vinegar through a process of fermentation.

Edna also utilized the chilis grown on her farm to create a spicy variant of the vinegar and wine, adding a unique and appealing twist to their products. By engaging in value-adding practices, they transformed their surplus dragon fruit into a range of value-added products, ensuring nothing went to waste.

With these innovative approaches, “we effectively prevented spoilage of our crops and transformed our oversupply into valuable products,” Edna said. “Now, I no longer fear having too much produce, as we have found innovative ways to utilize and add value to the abundance of dragon fruit we harvest.”

 The experience not only helped prevent spoilage but also opened up new opportunities for her to expand her products, making her farm more sustainable and economically viable.

Diversification and integrated farming

Edna Sanchez’s farm has seen significant growth over time. It began with 1.2 hectares and expanded with the purchase of an additional nearby plot of 0.8 hectares. She further extended the farm by adding 1.5 hectares, resulting in a total land area of 3.5 hectares. While not all of this land is dedicated to dragon fruit cultivation, a substantial portion is set aside for it.

Horses on the farm. (EV Sanchez Agri Farm)

Being an integrated farm, Edna’s agricultural pursuits are diverse. In addition to dragon fruit, her farm boasts a variety of animals, creating a harmonious balance between livestock and crops. Among the animals, she raises sheep, goats, ducks, chickens, native pigs, cows, and horses. The chickens are allowed to roam freely, enjoying a free-range environment.

Edna recalls a curious incident involving an unanticipated plot of tomato plants, seemingly appearing out of thin air. The origins of these tomatoes puzzled her as she had no recollection of planting them. After some contemplation, she realized that these tomato plants had actually sprouted from the pig manure that was used to fertilize the tomatoes. Subsequently, this pig manure was utilized as part of their organic fertilizer, alongside carbonized rice hull and soil.

“This incident perfectly exemplifies the integrated farming system that we practice, and I’m always amazed by this story, which I often share,” she said.

Efforts for sustainable farming

Edna faced a daunting challenge when the farm’s electricity bill soared to 4000 pesos per month, coinciding with a decline in the prices of tomatoes, okra, chili, and eggplant, which plummeted to a meager six pesos per kilo. This combination of high expenses and low returns rendered the cost unsustainable, and she feared the possibility of having to close down the farm.

However, when Edna noticed a windmill on her way to the farm, which sparked a brilliant idea. She decided to harness the power of wind energy by installing a windmill on their property to pump water from the ground.In 2017, Edna discovered a windmill supplier from Nueva Ecija and built a windmill on the farm. To further offset energy costs, the farm also became a part of Meralco’s net metering program by incorporating solar panels.

“The excess energy generated on our farm is now sold back to Meralco, effectively eliminating the need to pay for electricity bills,” Edna said. “While the initial investment was substantial, the benefits have been significant.”

Her dedication and resourcefulness caught the attention of the Department of Agriculture, and they granted her additional solar units and windmills with water pumps. Edna is profoundly grateful for the support received from the. She believes that perseverance and responsible utilization of government support are vital for achieving her success in farming.

Sharing of farm practices and technology

Edna Sanchez’s farm is more than just a place of cultivation as it serves as a multifaceted hub for learning. With a pavilion on-site, the farm doubles as a classroom for conducting various training sessions. Recognized by the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), the farm is an official agricultural learning site. Furthermore, the farm operates as a TESDA-accredited farm school, providing valuable training and skills development for aspiring farmers and agriculture enthusiasts. With GAP Certification (Good Agricultural Practices), the farm adheres to high-quality standards in its agricultural methods. In addition to its educational endeavors, the farm also embraces farm tourism, allowing visitors to experience and appreciate sustainable farming practices.

Native pigs raised on the farm. (EV Sanchez Agri Farm)

Edna’s wines and other products boast FDA listings, ensuring their compliance with safety and quality standards. To guarantee the excellence of their wines and vinegar, they undergo rigorous testing at UPLB (University of the Philippines Los Baños). Edna was delighted to discover that their dragon fruit wines were free of methanol and met all safety requirements.The farm’s cultivation efforts extend to other unique products, such as kasoy wine, derived from their two cashew trees. Despite challenges in establishing the farm, these trees proved to be exceptionally productive, providing ample fruit for the kasoy wine production.

The farm’s innovation also includes calabash wine, further adding to its diverse array of products.

To maintain the quality of the dragon fruit wine, which initially has a red color but may turn amber over time due to sensitivity to heat and light, Edna purchased two container vans installed with refrigeration. These vans serve as storage for our wines, ensuring they are well-preserved and ready for sale whenever customers visit our farm.

Challenges and the pursuit of expanding the market reach

Edna Sanchez faces significant challenges when it comes to marketing her wine and dragon fruit products. While they produce a substantial amount of wine, the demand is not always consistent, leaving them with excess inventory at times. They encounter difficulty in finding a steady market for their products, relying on occasional customer visits and institutional orders.

Edna needed to invest in sugar, bottles, and labels to keep up with wine production. Edna has managed to cycle the money effectively, but marketing remains the most challenging aspect of their business. Even events sponsored by the Department of Agriculture at SM do not provide a consistent solution due to their limited frequency.

Though Edna considers hiring a driver, seller, and vehicle to expand their market reach, she values the personal touch. “I still prefer personally explaining our product to customers,” she said.

All the profits earned are reinvested back into the farm, demonstrating Edna’s commitment to improving their operations and providing high incentives to her dedicated workers. Though the workforce has reduced from 8 to 6 over time, Edna maintains a harmonious and mutually beneficial relationship with her team.

Her genuine concern for her workers’ well-being and her commitment to ethical practices ensure that Edna can sleep well at night, knowing she treats her employees and customers with honesty and integrity.

Empowering people through farming

In the past, Edna offered TESDA training on NC II organic agriculture, providing valuable knowledge and skills to aspiring farmers. However, with the onset of the pandemic, the training had to adapt to virtual platforms.

The chapel is one of the first structures in the EV Sanchez farm. (EV Sanchez Agri Farm)

“As someone who is not tech-savvy, I found it challenging to navigate platforms like Zoom and struggled to adapt to virtual teaching and demonstrations,” Edna said. “My preferred method of teaching has always been in-person, as I believe that demonstrating practices directly on the farm enhances the learning experience.”

Edna had successfully educated numerous individuals about organic agriculture production, covering various aspects such as crops, goats, chickens, and pigs. Her dedication to sharing knowledge led her to a unique opportunity to teach people deprived of liberty (PDLs), people who are detained in correctional facilities or jails, in Rizal. Recognizing that many are hesitant to offer training to PDLs, Edna embraced the chance provided by TESDA.

Teaching PDLs posed its challenges, but Edna found the experience fulfilling. “The primary goal of the program for the PDLs is to provide them with an alternative and meaningful path once they rejoin society.,” she said. “By offering them training in organic agriculture, we aim to steer them away from their past wrongdoings and empower them to pursue a positive and productive path upon their release.”

Awards and recognitions

Ms. Edna Sanchez’s achievements and contributions to natural farming have earned her numerous accolades and recognitions. In 2013-2014, she was honored with the prestigious Regional Gawad Saka Award by the Department of Agriculture. Her dedication to organic farming practices did not go unnoticed in her local communities. In the same year, she was recognized as an outstanding citizen in both Angono and Jalajala, Rizal for her significant contributions to the field of natural farming.

Native free-range chicken. (EV Sanchez Agri Farm)

Her exemplary work and commitment to sustainable agriculture led to further recognition when she was named one of the Ten Outstanding Rizalenos by a private non-government organization in Rizal in 2014. The following year, in 2014, she was bestowed the esteemed title of “Farmer of the Year” by the Sangguniang Bayan ng Angono, adding to her growing list of accomplishments.

Various organizations and institutions have also expressed their appreciation for Edna’s work. Certificates of appreciation have been presented to her by the Bureau of Plant Industry, Department of Agriculture, University of Rizal System, MFI Foundation, Inc., and others, acknowledging her invaluable contributions to organic farming.

Advocacy for natural farming and future plans

Edna Sanchez’s farm is committed to organic farming practices, although they have not obtained official certifications yet due to financial constraints. Traditional certification processes can be costly, with fees ranging from 70,000 to 100,000 pesos, making it challenging for Edna to pursue formal organic certification.

However, a new approach introduced by the Department of Agriculture, called the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), offers a more accessible certifying option. “We are now preparing the farm to meet the requirements of the PGS certifying system,” she said.

In addition to pursuing PGS certification, Edna is also working towards recertifying her farm for Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and farm tourism. These certifications demonstrate her dedication to maintaining high standards in her agricultural practices and offering visitors a safe and enjoyable farm experience.

Edna Sanchez’s journey in organic farming is deeply connected to her personal mission to help cancer patients. Having experienced the loss of her sibling to cancer, Edna firmly believes that consuming organic food played a significant role in extending her sibling’s life.

The Participatory Guarantee System is an alternative certification system for organic farming. (EV Sanchez Agri Farm)

“I believe that everyone, not just those who are already sick, can benefit from consuming organic, healthy food to stay well,” she said. Edna is determined to continue her endeavors in organic farming, knowing that it has the potential to positively impact people’s lives. She envisions a future where everyone can access and benefit from organic produce, promoting overall well-being and healthier lifestyles.

In all aspects of life, not just in farming, Edna encourages a positive outlook, always asking, “Why not?” She believes in taking chances and embracing opportunities, as the potential gains often outweigh the risks. This optimistic mindset has been instrumental in her journey as a farmer and in other projects she pursues.

For those considering farming, Edna offers a word of caution. “If you’re considering farming, it requires dedication and hard work,” she said. “It’s not an easy job, but the fulfillment it brings is unmatched.”

Edna, at 72 years old, exemplifies the benefits of farming, as it has kept her active and strong. “I can still move and lift, thanks to farming, which has contributed to strengthening my body,” she said.

Farming has brought Edna immense joy and satisfaction, and she has no regrets about choosing this path. Her passion for organic agriculture and her desire to help others serve as a source of inspiration for those around her. Edna’s unwavering commitment to making a difference in people’s lives through natural farming is a demonstration of the transformative power of her positive outlook and dedicated efforts.

In the next article, Edna Sanchez will discuss the benefits of Mokusaku and its various farm applications, shedding light on its role in enhancing crop growth, and serving as an eco-friendly fertilizer and pest control.

READ: Mokusaku: A promising sustainable product for natural farming

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