WWOOFFing at ENCA Organic Farm, Acop, Philippines, 16th March 2011

Olive busy in the kitchen

I wake to the clear morning light of the dawn broken. The fresh breeze stirs many branches overhead. Giant black prehistoric looking ants patrol around my  clock. In the roof space above, around 6 young kittens begin to meow in unison, like hungry baby birds, they fancy some breakfast. Looking through the windows, without glass, I can see cypress, acacia, ipil-ipil, pine, papaya, calamansi and banana trees through the hazy vision of newly opened eyes. Mountain coffee beans and native rice dries on the clearing beside the bathroom, I fill my bucket from a hose laying in a flowery bush inhabited by many wasps. Spring water comes gushing out, flowing down the hill, gravity powered and crystal. A large black butterfly joins me inside the hut, flying without grace into walls, as I go about a quick bucket wash. The clouds are deep and ridged, billowing wider as they rise up. The sky is the brightest blue and small birds sing merry songs as they flit about.  All is well on the farm today.

The big red cottage pokes out over the forest

I set off for Olives hut and a warm bowl of porridge and banana. After eating and drinking 3 cups of fresh local coffee, and a gentle briefing, it’s time to walk down to the fields. Past the cow, the still pond, under the trees and the dangling horned caterpillars.

Momma Sophie

Olive is a great cook and rustles up some real organic delights. I have never left her little hut without a very full belly. The farm has belonged to the Cosalan family since 1800 and has been used to educate many about the native Ibaloi cultire.  In the ’70’s the government attempted to take away the families land the ensuing court case was won by the Cosalan family, a landmark case in the protection of indeginous peoples lands within the Philippines.

There is no electricity and activity occurs under the bright sun and inactivity occurs under the waxing moon. One night I am fortunate to witness a radiant silver full moon, each detail pronounced above a roaring wood fire and cup of steaming Tanduay rum and coffee.  I sleep well here, with many vivid dreams. Mornings are spent from 8am to 12:30pm weeding the green beans or clearing space for new varieties of plants. Next crop in the veg garden will be more legumes and some lettuces. There are edible ferns growing, a local favourite, yellow ginger (turmeric), coffee trees grow in the shade, peanuts and corn soon to follow. All the veg is bursting with flavour and vitality, the difference between a vac-packed supermarket attempt is complete. Cooking with this pungent produce is a real treat.  The green beans are the length of a tall witches finger and have an apple-like bite to them. They are consume locally or sold in a small organic market in Baguio twice a week. The soil here is nurtured and carefully managed. Micro-organisms kept in check, cultivated and regularly sprayed around the place.

On the way to the field, civet dung can be found on the flat trunk of their favourite horizontally growing tree. Civets are cat-like creatures with alien goggle eyes. Good for night vision. They love munching on the red berries surrounding coffee beans. The bean passes through its digestive system and emerges whole and grey. This bean can then be dried, roasted and ground to make the most expensive and sought after coffee in the world. Retailing at normally $10 per cup. It has quite a funky tang. It apparently cures colon cancer, parkinsons and asthma.  We estimate that this mornings long dung is worth around $15 dollars, but is a little fresh for any closer inspection.

Heart Shaped Flower

Lunch is served up on the ridge, normally fresh veggies and rice, with luscious mangos for dessert. Then at 1:30pm its back down to the veg gardens for maybe some mulching (sorting compost), harvesting coffee or green beans and more weeding. The work can be sweaty, hard on the back and thorns regularly draw blood. Tiny black flies hover around your eyeballs, making you dizzy. They then go for the ears, sounding like an old war plane spiralling out of control in the distance. This also happens when you are sleeping and can be a confusing noise to wake up to in the middle of the night. Ants get into your boots and attack your toes.  But in reality, I did more reading about farming techniques than actually working.  Relaxed pace and all.

Dinner is served by candlelight in Olives kitchen, Rockey the one-eyed dog, yelps for scraps. He loves bread. Olley, the affection needy cat, is normally draped on someones lap. Spoilt as a kitten by a German Buddhist, I have never met such a friendly feline. We eat black beans and red rice, occasional peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (PB&J’s). These sandwiches arrive via Eric and Christina, my fellow WWOOFERs and great company. They love a band called the String Cheese Incident (who are very good) and are from Colorado. We talk quietly until at 8pm then tire rapidly and head to our huts. I am careful to skirt the small flower beds and in the darkness follow the uneven wooden fences that Bob made, resembling clusters of pagan wizards staffs nailed together. I read a little and am lulled to sleep by the constant chorus of cicadas and the clicking of small lizards that perch on the giant ferns.

Olive and the family have been accepting WWOOFing volunteers and all-comers for over 10 years and judging by the guest book, many other people have been deeply touched by this little spot of natural tranquility. The volunteers have invested much time and far flung ideas into the farm and the years of care and attention show in the details and great success. Olive is a wealth of information and using many progressive techniques, micro-organism management and traditional know-how, she produce’s amazing crops. Olive should be a shining example for all local farmers to turn organic, but this requires years of dedication and real passion for preserving nature and its beauty. Prospering from its bounty. Most will instead opt for maximum yield and profits, pesticides and a short term view. Industrialised ways.  I have learnt much here and now have a distinct desire to start growing my own. Somewhere.

Full Moon over ENCA farm

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3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Sorayah (Yamyah) said,

    your blog has most interesting topics, thanks for sharing!

  2. 2

    leroywatson4 said,

    Reblogged this on the beach house kitchen and commented:

    A post all about WWOOFing (organic farming) in the Philippines, I spent some time their last year and recommend this little place to anyone.

  3. 3

    Dodhisattva said,

    What true abundance this experience was. Wonderfully written with so much animation and rich content. I too went thru the wwoof program and worked on an incredible 5 acre organic coffee farm about 11 years ago…totally eye opening living in a solar powered cabin making papaya pancakes in the early hours of the morn (from Papaya right off the tree of course) and then a full day of work on the farm. Nothing like a shower after a day out on the farm with all the mosquitoes and bugs;) Thanks for this inspiring post! Pockets full of sunshine to you all ways! Dodhi
    PS Civet Coffee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Dude…talk about the real deal and abundance;)


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