Different people have different reasons for going into farming. Some engage in the practice because they’re fond of growing plants, while others invest in it as a source of income. But for Denison and Jean Tan, a couple from Calaca, Batangas, their reason for venturing into farming is related to their health.
Six years ago, Denison’s father suffered a major heart attack that was almost fatal. The incident prompted the couple to take their health and wellness more seriously.
“We aren’t unwell per se, but we would just like to be healthier and avoid future health problems. Along this journey, we realized that going plant-based diet is critical. We went on a plant-heavy diet for four years,” Tan said.
As the couple delved deeper into their mindful journey, they later discovered that plants aren’t grown equally since some are grown using commercial inputs, chemical farming, industrial and trade practices, and farm automation. The couple believes that these do not equate to health and nourishment, both for their bodies and the environment.
They realized that edible plants are only nourishing if they’re intended to be so. They soon understood that growing food is the best way to achieve holistic wellness. Last year, the pandemic urged them further to look for farmland to meet their lifestyle goals.
Inspired by different natural farming practices
Den & Jean’s Natural Farm measures less than a hectare and has a good elevation for growing midland vegetables like cabbages and lettuces. The area is also not too dry to grow lowland crops like kangkong or pechay. Tan said that the farm is accessible yet secluded.
“It is a bit hidden, so we are well somewhat protected from volcano ashes, sulfur emissions, or strong typhoons. We found the property last September 2020, and we started operations on October 1, 2020,” he said.
The couple’s farm is inspired by different people and farming principles that they aspire to follow. They learned most of these by tuning into YouTube, Netflix, and podcasts. They also implement some of the practices that they learn from local farmers.
“We don’t follow just one principle, but we continuously adapt and change. Because nature and organism biodiversity is so vast and incomprehensible, that our entire life is all about learning and striving to be better than yesterday,” Tan said.
Permaculture is the most prevalent farming principle that the Tans follow. They use this and other approaches to grow leafy greens, root crops, herbs, and legumes. They also grow specialty crops like fennel, micro cucumbers, butternut squash, broccoli, and cauliflower.
“The reason why we grow so much is for biodiversity. It means our farm can withstand weather problems or pests problems. This is in contrast to mono-cropping or growing just one or two types of vegetables which are very popular among organic farms. Monocropping will rob the land of certain nutrients and will invite an unimaginable volume of pests, which then will make a chemical intervention or heavy organic pesticide a must,” Tan said.
He added that they also have specific measures in caring for their crops. This includes watering lightly everyday and relying instead on heavy natural mulching to keep the soil moist while conserving water. The couple also does everything manually because this means that their farmers can give the plants more attention.
Den & Jean’s Natural Farm also ferments organic matter to boost soil nutrients. They also practice composting and vermicast. They apply all of these to plants in different stages of their growth.
“But the most important input we use is love and intention. It may be a very vague and non-scientific farming principle, but these values keep us pushing to do better and to look for new ways to improve our farming techniques,” Tan said.
Sharing their food with the community
According to Tan, they grow most of their crops equally in volume and attention. The couple doesn’t sell their produce, instead, they employ a community-supported agriculture program.
“Our small farm supports around 38 families. These families subscribe to us on a quarterly or annual basis and each one of them gets a basket every week. All of our products are split almost equally among these families. We are very proud of this model because, in the past 13 months of our operations, we have had zero wastage or surplus. If ever we do, it’s just a couple of baskets that go straight to our happy and fat chickens,” he said.
Another way that they avoid food wastage is by growing their crops in proportion to how they should eat them. Their farm produces 15 percent salad greens, 30 percent gourds, 30 percent root crops, and the rest for fruits, legumes, and more.
Through farming, the couple enjoys sharing their crops and teaching others about their experiences. This connection with those around them is also part of their mission of achieving holistic wellness.
Authenticity is key
Farming continues to surge in popularity as more people are recognizing the importance of food security. This is evident in the rising number of farmers in both the city and province. But even though anyone can tap into the internet to learn about farming and begin their journey, the Tans believe that they should be authentic and start a farm with full intention and integrity.
“Farming is not just about growing beautiful and nourishing plants. It is more than just helping sequester carbon. It is not just about health and wellness. It is not just about equality and dignity. It is more than just sustainability and food security. It is all of the above,” Tan said.
He added that if farming is done authentically, one can find peace and wisdom because the process of growing food can help farmers connect with themselves and the people around them.
The Tans have come a long way to fulfill their dream of living a life of holistic wellness. Farming became the stepping stone that allowed them to eat healthily, connect with nature and their community, and even develop important values which helped them grow as individuals.
For more information, visit Den & Jean’s Natural Farm on Facebook.
Photos courtesy of Denison Tan.