- Former seminarian-turned-farmer who started the farm now works to rebuild the damaged homes of the farmers
- He estimates the damage to the farm’s crops and structures at P25 million
- The integrated farm promotes biodiversity
- It has seven restaurants that offer organic vegetables and livestock and sell food at affordable prices
The devastation that Typhoon Odette left along its path as it made landfall nine times before it finally exited the Philippine area of responsibility is far from over. Many stories of how properties, agricultural produce, infrastructure, houses, other structures, and loved ones still keep pouring out as electricity, internet access, and mobility again have started to connect more typhoon victims to the rest of the country.
In social media, we read and saw the disheartening stories from a variety of people, among them farmers who lost loved ones, livelihood, and crops to the wind, rain, and flood that came with Typhoon Odette.
George Maria, a former seminarian now a full-time farmer and co-owner of the Yamang Bukid Farm in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, was among those who shared his story.
In his social media post, the 26-year-old farmer said that over P25 million worth of agricultural structures, crops, and livestock were damaged in their farm due to Odette. And that estimate excludes the damaged houses of their farmers.
“After seeing [the typhoon’s] damage to our farm, the first step I did was to accept it and to focus on our recovery. Our farmers cried because their houses were gone. One of our farmers even lost his daughter who drowned in the river days after the typhoon left,” Maria shared in an online interview with Manila Bulletin.
The farm,purchased in 2017 and developed in 2018, is a “business with a heart,” he said.
Maria described Yamang Bukid as a social enterprise, where they have over 200 farmers who are paid more than the minimum wage, plus free meals and employment benefits.
Weeks after Odette, Maria is already working on ways to bring hope to the victims. One of his ongoing projects is to help the farmers rebuild their homes through donations from private individuals and nonprofit organizations like Gawad Kalinga.
“We do bayanihan to help rebuild the damaged homes. Some donations are also allocated for construction materials. We are also hoping to build new concrete houses for families in Bacungan through our partnership with Gawad Kalinga. More help is welcome,” Maria said.
“There is a saying that Palawan is [the] safest island in the country. That is why the people and even local government units (LGUs) here were not prepared for this kind of calamity. We were all surprised by the onslaught of Odette […] we were all unprepared,” Maria said.
The former seminarian narrated that he was busy checking their restaurants in Narra and Quezon when Odette made its landfall on the island around 3 p.m. on Dec. 17.
The farm has seven restaurants located in Puerto Princesa City, Bacungan, Narra, and Quezon which offer a variety of seafood and cooked meals at an affordable price.
Maria was on his way back to Puerto Princesa on the same day when he got stranded near the Ihawig Bridge due to high waters from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. the next day.
On his drive back to the city, Maria said he saw how the typhoon had left areas of fallen trees, damaged structures, and vehicles. He noted that internet and mobile phone signals were down with electricity out due to many wires that had been cut and poles that were felled by the strong winds. Since the town had no means to communicate, help from the government and private sector came much later.
“For several days, Palawan had no electricity, water, and internet or mobile signal. That is why we are not part of the news, and help took longer to arrive. Now, water and electricity ay unti-unti ng naibalik sa mga barangays within the city. But many barangays ay wala pang tubig at kuryente including northern municipalities (Now, water and electricity services are slowly returning to some barangays within the city.),” he said.
“The concept of our farm is integrated farming, and one of our goals is to enhance biodiversity. We taught the farmers to plant more trees to avoid landslides […] We opened restaurants in the city offering organic vegetables and livestock. And thanks to the support of the locals, our Balay Bukid Restau became a blockbuster even during this pandemic. We also opened other restaurants in other municipalities of Palawan,” he said.
The leader of this organization was not always a farmer. He started farming after he took a short leave from the seminary and went to Palawan in 2018.
After Odette, Maria has been involved in seeking assistance from partner government agencies to start the farm’s recovery, and go back to promoting their farm products.
“Buying our products will help us bounce back and sustain our mission. We still have many staff members in Bohol, Cebu, and Negros who were affected by the typhoon,” he said. Among its products are the Turmeric 10-in-1 and Yamang Bukid Insulin Tea.
As of Jan 4., the Department of Agriculture had reported that damages caused by Typhoon Odette have already reached P10.8 billion, with 356,486 farmers and fishermen and their families severely affected by the typhoon.