Kids with a unique dream – to become farmers

From left to right, Fregie Espejon, Justine Convicto and Nico Nogalo, three children whose shared ambition is to become professional farmers, show their garden at Magsaysay Elementary School in General Luna, Siargao Island. MindaNews photo taken 16 June 2020 by ROEL N. CATOTO

GENERAL LUNA, Siargao Island (MindaNews / 26 June) – Most children dream about becoming professionals like doctors and lawyers. In this town facing the western side of the Pacific, many others see themselves as professional surfers or seafarers.

But not these three children from Sitio Dao, Barangay Magsaysay in this surfing capital – Nico Nogalo, 8, Justine Convicto, 16, and Fregie Espejon, 10. Asked what their dreams are, they all shared the same ambition – to become farmers.

Nico said all their parents are farmers, too. “Pareha kami (We’re the same).”

For now, they are tending to various vegetables at the garden beside their school and serve as volunteers for a communal farming organization in the barangay.

“Nico plants vegetables at home, and when harvest comes, he sells it in the neighborhood. That’s how he earns his own money,” said Meriam Jabines, head teacher of Magsaysay Elementary School.

Jabines heads the local communal garden organization which is among the 30 community farm organizations of Hardin Ng Pagbabago, a community-driven initiative.

She said she felt glad that the small garden at the school tended by mostly female members of the Parents-Teachers Association made a bumper harvest.

Big opportunities

Justine and Fregie both want to become professional farmers, too, as they see big opportunities in the future.

“Everyone left farming here, and no one produces food locally anymore, so it will be good for us,” they said in the vernacular.

“Some of our friends want to go abroad or work in the resorts and restaurants,” the duo said shyly, adding that they want to produce food locally to sustain themselves.

“And when a disaster like this pandemic comes, we can help produce food for the hungry people,” they added.

The town was an agricultural area back in the early 2000’s. Most people relied on coconut and marine products, but it was surpassed by tourism as its main economic driver as it drew thousands of tourists from around the world, according to the late mayor Jaime P. Rusillon.

The tourism boom drove locals to become tricycle and motorcycle drivers, boat operators, resort workers, surfing instructors, bar and construction workers, and other multipliers from the lucrative industry, leaving the farm lands on the island idle for a long period of time.

Capt. Wise Panuelos, police chief of General Luna, was surprised to hear the children’s dreams and aspirations.

“That’s what I want, future farmers,” Panuelos, who spearheads the Hardin Ng Pagbabago, a community-driven initiative to promote peace and sustainability through organic farming, said.

He said the rapid development had increased Siargao’s dependence on agricultural supplies coming from the mainland and neighboring provinces to as high as 97 percent, according to research studies.

Prices of basic spices alone are significantly higher in the island.

At the town’s public market ginger stands at P250 per kilo, onion bulbs at P150 per kilo and garlic at P180 per kilo. All these basic spices are not from the island.

Panuelos said children like Nico, Justine and Fregie could be the key to bringing down the prices of farm produce for the locals.

Meanwhile, the farm organization in Magsaysay has expanded its site after a generous landowner offered his land for the community endeavor.

Barangay chair Alex Gemparo he has mobilized the residents to work in the new farm site as he is excited about this development.

For their part, the residents became enthusiastic after witnessing the bumper harvest at the small garden in the school.

On June 16, farm workers and barangay officials attended a capacity-building workshop at the school together with the Siargao Environmental Awareness Movement and Hardin Ng Pagbabago to strengthen the local farm organization.

As for the three children, news of the new farm site in the village made them leap with joy and excitement that the coming days will bring them “green gold”. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)