The Aloha Natural Farm is located in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, Philippines on 2.8 hectares (7 acres, 17 rai). A century ago this land was tropical rainforest. Farming began ten years ago on denatured, demineralized soil infested with cogon grass, Imperata cylindrical. The soil was mapped by the JCIA and Dept of Agriculture as an oxisol ustox, also known as a highly weathered, low organic matter, low C.E.C., brownish red clay soil. Soil tests show that base saturation is high in magnesium and in need of plant available calcium.
Aloha House is a non-stock, non-profit, NGO (Non-Government Organization) and charitable mission serving the community of Palawan and the nation of the Philippines. Aloha House is duly licensed and accredited by the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) as a Child Caring, Child Placing and Community Serving Agency. The agency is proactive in supplying the staff and children in their care with chemical free nutrient dense food. A large surplus of fruits and vegetables are made available through various marketing practices discussed below.
The climate in Palawan is variable, ranging from 35ºC (95Fº) in June to August, to a cool night time temperature of 25ºC (77Fº). Wintertime holds a pronounced dry season of 4-6 months starting in November or December. Rainfall is over 1,000 mm per year. Permaculture techniques of water harvesting and proper perennial selection is practiced, including S.A.L.T. (Sloping Agricultural Land Technology) species with perennial legumes, vetiver etc. The farm offers regular training opportunities as well as internships. Marketing of produce is done through word of mouth, the C.S.A. (Community Supported Agriculture), grocery store sales, restaurant sales and roadside signage.
Aloha House started as a ministry base for Keith Mikkelson in July of 1998. He moved to the Philippines to help the children of Palawan rise above the tough living environment in this last frontier of the Philippines. He believes the Bible is the only true guide in helping man out of his predicament and uses biblical principles that are contextualized for the Filipino setting. He has made trips to the Philippines in 1995, 1996 and 1997 previous to his move to Palawan. His wife, Narcy, along with his son, Archie, help in various aspects of farm work, marketing, management and product development.
The Aloha Farm consists of 1.3 hectares (3.3 acres, 8 rai) of vegetables and herbs and 1.5 hectares (3.7 acres, 9 rai) of pasture, fish ponds, water catchment and orchard. The only land owned by the NGO is a 2,800 sq meter (0.7 acres, 1.8 rai) property consisting of the orphanage, various livestock housing, aquaponic center, creamery and cheese cave, as well as dorms and a training room for students. The majority of the farm is on land through agreements with 3 neighbors. Eight farmers have the privilege of managing the soil and microbial health of the fertility system while maintaining productivity without the use of any chemical inputs. The farm manager is also the main instructor for community trainings. An office staff from the institution spends about 50% of her day in farm related duties. The nursery for plants is run by two ladies, while the livestock and fieldwork, including composting and vermiculture, is accomplished with five farm technicians. Harvesting is a shared responsibility between all the farm workers as well as the cooks at the orphanage. One to two sows are maintained for hog production and fattening, while 3 cows are bred for milk. Currently 3 calves are nursing. A herd of over 20 milking does are maintained, with kidding season in conjunction with rainy season. A sustainable apiary consists of native bee species, trigona sp., the “stingless bee”.
The unique thing about the farm is it’s incredible biodiversity on such a small area. Pest and weed management are seen as part of the fertility management. Crop residue and weeds are utilized for compost as well as pest control. Aloha farm created soil fertility through resource recovery. The waste stream has been diverted from the land fill to compost livestock feed and grey water treatment for irrigation of fruit trees. Fish are raised in a closed loop circulating system where no polluted water is released to the environment. The fish feed is generated within the farm by utilizing culled fish from grading of fingerlings, duck weed and azzolla production, algae and daphnia culture.
Crops grown at Aloha Farm include 55 vegetables, 33 herbs and diverse fruits. Intensive raised bed vegetable production is a mixture of annual and perennial plants. Many herbs are also perennial as well as most fruits that are grown on the farm. Lettuce is a top seller along with rochete and Asian greens like mizuna and batchoy. Perennial herbs such as garlic chives, Indian coriander, and Thai basil are fast selling. Passion fruit, dragon fruit and kefir lime are some of the fruits cultured there. A closed loop mushroom production program with an on farm culture laboratory is another example of their sustainable agriculture philosophy. Livestock includes pastured poultry eggs and meat, natural pork, cow and goat milk, tilapia and earthworm sales.
Value added products and farm tours are also important parts of the profitability of the farm. The Aloha Kitchen is a specialty foods production unit on the farm. Aloha Kitchen makes all natural products for stores and direct sell to farm tour participants. Products include salsa, jams, pesto, cheese, yogurt, goats milk soap, lip balm and toothpaste.
The farm philosophy consists of a natural farming approach where the farmer/scientist learns from nature. In addition, those who have experience in working with nature, instead of against it, are sought out as valuable resources. For example rain forests never get “sick”. They have reached a climax vegetative state that keeps them stable permanently. If we don’t kill all the grazers, prairies can function indefinitely also. That’s why indigenous North Americans used natural grass fires to keep the land productive. A localized forest fire can create better forest as it burns off undergrowth and releases certain nutrients locked up in the cellulose. However, even humus and peat can burn if one is not careful. Natural farming is a bit of an oxymoron because tilling soil by the hectare isn’t natural. Once you plow or rearrange the soil, it is unnatural, but we can copy the systems that help our plants grow. We can simulate the forest floor effect by using the ten fundamentals.
Permaculture design elements are included like edge effect, creating biodiversity and catching & storing energy. Farm generated fertility is of great importance. Feeding the soil will feed the plant through microbial activity. The input-substitution-mentality must be avoided. Soil testing for base saturation and trace elements are part of the soil balancing plan. Instead of seeing the insect as an evil encroacher meant to be eliminated without contemplation, the astute observer of nature determines why the insect is a problem. While building soil health and microbial balance, plants will be naturally insect resistant (proof) to the point of not needing any “help” in fending off pests and disease. Though this ideal is not obtained consistently on every square centimeter, the overall condition of the soil should be more than just disease suppressing; it will produce healthy plants free from pest and disease as the norm. Gardeners, farmers and food growers are always looking for new technology, but a large body of information is already available to us. When I scan resources from A to Z, I find many interesting titles that are widely published and now available from Amazon books, Acres USA, ATTRA and various world wide web internet sites. A consensus is forming. The material promotes certain ideas and concepts.
There appeared to be 8-12 main themes on soil management, natural fertility, cropping systems, etc. We adapted much of what we read in principle, adjusting for our particular tropical climate and clay soil structure. We quickly learned which local substitutions were appropriate. Ten fundamentals that bring success on the sustainable farm have been identified as tools to the natural farmer. Crop Rotation, Legume Usage, Companion Planting, Composting, Green Fertilizers, Mulching, Cover Cropping, Minimal Tillage, Insect Habitat, and Livestock Integration.
Once soil has been tested and a nutrient balance plan has begun, microbial enhancement needs to take place. There are basic ingredients in managing the farmscape. Humus is the rich, sticky, yet crumbly substance found in healthy soil that is the world’s greatest resource. It is a biological process to make humus and glomalin. It has to be properly managed, preserved and can be increased through microbial activity that converts organic matter from roots, compost, manure or crop residue mulched on the surface or plowed under as a green fertilizer.
Practices such as minimal tillage and inoculating with beneficial microorganisms quickly build up effective soil systems that have the structure, nutrients and microbial balance to produce food for generations to come. By adding organic matter in the soil and on the surface, the soil is fed. Actually, it is the microbes in the soil that consume the sugars, nitrogen, complex carbohydrates, fats, and all the other goodies that accumulate in topsoil. They excrete amino acids, root dividing hormones, anti-oxidants etc. This in turn is made bio-available to the roots in the rhizosphere (root zone) down in the soil. That’s why we say; “feed the soil, don’t just feed the plant.”
We have trained many farmers through our regular three day intensive training on sustainable agriculture. We also have various interns for four months from farms through the country and neighboring nations. Much interest is growing due the success of my book A Natural Farming System for Sustainable Agriculture in the Tropics. In our seminars we teach the fundamentals of Sustainable Agriculture. Some call it Organic Farming, some Nature Farming, others Natural Farming. There are subtleties that can make them a little different, but the commitment is to safe, quality food production without chemical inputs. If we feed the soil organic matter, then the microbes will feed the plant. Pest and disease management can be obtained naturally. Building up the soil and managing the organic matter as it is converted into humus is an age-old method. The real hands on school of success is to intern with a working farm. Then you can learn first hand from experience. You will appreciate the land, soil and even the process of efficient food production more. The special relationship we enter into with the land is called Land Husbandry. You’ve heard of animal husbandry, but land requires stewardship that is very unique compared to that required by your other possessions. We are married to the land in one sense. We are to take care of it for generations to come. We teach the stewardship that each person has during our internship program. They learn more than just technique; they get to see the big picture. We teach the stewardship that each person has during our internship program. They learn more than just technique; they get to see the big picture. Our interns can learn value in providing quality food in a sustainable operation.
Any farmer who wants to develop his techniques should try an internship. It is a time honored tradition in most trades and will be valuable experience. It’s training time you will not be able to carve out of your schedule once you have your own project. The methods and practices learned through repetition and day-to-day reality will decrease time wasted on your own farm. Your mistakes will not be as catastrophic in an established farm! When you start without this internship exposure, you will loose a lot of time and money learning the hard way. Why not learn from someone that made the mistakes for you? Learn what they went through and don’t repeat their mistakes; make new ones based on insights that will lower your risk. You’re sure to fumble in the beginning. We did. However, the lessons learned from previous projects allowed us to progress quickly. We hope our interns will progress quickly too!
Submitted by Keith Mikkelson
Puerto Princesa City