Survival farm: Couple engages in soil-less farming for sustainable food and income amid the pandemic 

Published March 2, 2021, 10:00 AM

by Vina Medenilla

Many Filipino households have been severely affected by the effects of the COVID-19 health crisis. The Pagkaliwagan family from Lucena City, Quezon Province is familiar with this situation. When the pandemic started affecting their livelihood, Jaquilyn Pagkaliwagan, 33, a former OFW in Taiwan, and her husband Ronniel Pagkaliwagan, 32, who works as technical support personnel in a factory, had to find an alternative source of income to make ends meet.

Seeing the opportunities and potential market for vegetables, the couple decided to venture into hydroponics farming last March 2020. 

Nawawalang Bukid practices Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), one of the hydroponic systems that use PVC pipes, which helps provide the flowing supply of water and nutrients to plants.

Growing their own food 

It has been a dream for Jaquilyn and Ronniel to build a greenhouse in their backyard for food production, but it was only recently that they have finally turned that vision into reality. Their greenhouse measures 60 ft in length, 21 ft in width, and nine ft in height. They called their farm Nawawalang Bukid (lost farm) because aside from being distant from the town’s center, many of their customers often get lost when visiting the greenhouse.

A photo of Ronniel Pagkaliwagan with their two children in the greenhouse.

Nawawalang Bukid’s main crop is lettuce. The lettuce varieties that the farm produces include lollo bionda (green) and lollo rosa (red leaf), Red Rapid, frillice (a variety mixed of the iceberg and curly endive lettuce), batavia or summer crisp, and romaine varieties like Tyrol romaine. Jaquilyn said that customers mostly avail of the lollo bionda variety for its crunchy texture.

Jaquilyn Pagkaliwagan, 33, is a former OFW in Taiwan who is now a full-time farmer.

Aside from lettuce, they grow sweet basil, pechay, and strawberry using hydroponics as well. While they also grow sitaw, okra, eggplant, saluyot, squash, patola, upo, kamote, chili pepper, and cucumber in a separate vegetable patch in their front yard. When tending to this 500 sqm vegetable garden, Jaquilyn gets help from her father-in-law Ronilo since her husband has returned to his work in Laguna and only goes home twice a month. 

A 500sqm vegetable patch in the Pagkaliwagans’ front yard.

When asked why they grow these crops, Jaquilyn said that these are the food that they eat and the crops that they can sell given their high market demand. The family consumes the produce, but most of the harvests are for sale. They gather about 1200 heads of lettuce twice a month. Each lettuce head is P15 while value-added products like veggie fruit salad and crab rolls cost P130 per tub. They acquire a monthly income of P28,000 from selling these products. The Pagkaliwagans also save P10,000 in monthly food expenses since they grow their own veggies.

So far, the only challenge they encountered in cultivating lettuce has been the uneven growth and discoloration of leaves. To fix this, they upgraded their potting medium to a mix of vermicast, rice hull, and cocopeat. In hopes of maintaining a growing space that’s free from insecticides, they do not apply any harmful chemicals to their crops. Instead, they manually remove pests, should they see any. 

In growing lettuce, choosing the right location is crucial since lettuce needs six hours of sunlight per day. Because of this, they also use grow lights to prevent the lettuce from getting leggy due to lack of sun exposure. Based on their experience, using grow lights helps in the growth of their leafy veggies. Keeping the veggies in the right conditions and planting medium contributes a lot to the success of lettuce production. Use a hydroponic solution that’s cost-effective and easy to use, Jaquilyn added.

The couple plan to add more greenhouses for strawberries and blueberries. Opening a samgyupsal restaurant on-site while serving their fresh leafy vegetables to customers is what the couple envisions for the near future.

Photos from Jaquilyn Pagkaliwagan.

For more information, visit Nawawalang Bukid.

Read more about farming and gardening at agriculture.com.ph.

 
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