A farm called freedom


Farming is not a get rich quick scheme

I’ve always maintained that farming is the Filipino dream, and that growing your own food is a path to freedom. Malaya Farms is proof of this.

Malaya Farms is a permaculture farm in Calauan, Laguna. It was founded by Rishi Mandhyan, a tech worker currently based in the US. “This has been something that I’ve been dreaming about since I was a kid,” he said, citing the book Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of Little House on the Prairie, as an inspiration.

There was also a summer when he was six or seven, where they moved to a house in Parañaque with an empty lot beside it. “I started planting stuff. It started with stealing popcorn from the kitchen and planting it, then it went into stealing potatoes, cutting it into pieces then planting it… and I would get so much joy. At the end of the summer, me and my brother would harvest some of it… I didn’t know anything back then but I was just proud that I was able to do something. That’s… where it started.”

Moving out of the country intensified his desire to run a farm. “I started to see how agriculture is being done in different countries that I lived in and I kept thinking that if I get the opportunity, I want to bring this back. I want to challenge the norms.”

That opportunity presented itself in 2019, when he started Malaya Farms on a 2,500 sqm and 6,500 sqm lot, just under a hectare, the typical farm area for a smallholder farmer. “This doesn’t seem like a lot of land for people who are trying to get into agriculture but I wanted to prove that even in small shareholder space.”

Mandhyan didn’t have a background in organic agriculture, but he didn’t let that stop him. The Chef’s Table episode on Chef Dan Barber’s farm-to-table restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns introduced him to the concept of permaculture. “The only input we generally bring in is our first set of seeds, and from that we try to collect as much as possible.”

He joined several Facebook groups, where he met practitioners who guided him on what to do. He also read books and watched videos. There was a lot of trial and error. Things started to turn around when they began working with Dream Agritech, a farming consultancy run by ex-researchers from UP Los Baños. “I’ve learned from failure that I had to go reach out,” Mandhyan said. 

“We’re at the point now where we have logged enough learning over the last three years we’re able to run operations on our own.” 

The farm grows a variety of produce, from salad vegetables like four to five varieties of lettuce, kale, and arugula to everyday fruits and vegetables like saba, cassava, blue ternate, pechay, and eggplant. “My whole goal is everything that you’d ever need in your household… I want to be able to supply that.” 

They’ve also planted citrus and neem trees, which will take some time before the first harvest. “...we’re about to start bringing in animals, things like chickens and goats, that way it’s a full loop,” Mandhyan shared. “For the customers who have started [ordering] on a weekly basis, what we’re hoping… is every now and then, you’ll be finding… eggs in your bag because that’s what we were able to pick up on the farm.”

The farm has yet to acquire its organic certification, though it does follow natural farming practices as prescribed by their consultants. 

On-site operations are run by Mandhyan’s youngest sister Karishma and their sister-in-law Ana. The farm currently offers weekly vegetable subscriptions on their Instagram page, their main base of operations until they launch their website. Customers receive the produce on the same day it’s harvested. “[We] start harvesting at 3 a.m., wash the produce by 3:30, dry it, and pack it by four to take it to your household by seven or eight.” 

Mandhyan has a lot of plans for Malaya Farms. “We’re on the lookout for partnerships with restaurants, schools, and food producers.”

They’re also venturing into value-added products to enhance the flavor profile and extend the shelf life of their harvest, as well as offer livelihood opportunities to the women in their community. There are also plans to open up the farm for educational tours and farm stays. 

Being stationed far did not stop Mandhyan from focusing on food security and building his version of the Filipino dream. “My big mission here has always been to change how we think about agriculture in the Philippines today,” he said. “My hope is it gets to a place where it becomes an education site and if that’s something I can pass on to people around me, it’s great.”