When Snow White was presented with a perfect, shiny, red apple, she should have been wary—some apples in real life are quite literally poisonous. The Environmental Working Group included the fruit in its “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables found to have the highest pesticide residue. With the world’s population rapidly increasing, food suppliers are doing everything to keep up with demand, which sometimes means resorting to unsafe practices to ensure a good harvest.
How do you make sure you’re getting something that’s fresh? Fortunately, there are still those who adhere to traditional farming methods in the Philippines, ensuring that you have safe, all-natural produce options.
Meet the Ivatans
The Ivatan people are native to Batanes, the northernmost province of the Philippines. Their way of life is adapted to the unique conditions of the islands. Batanes, lying in the typhoon belt, is exposed to the fury of many typhoons that pass through the Philippines, and the Ivatans have had to build sturdy stone houses to protect them from the winds and torrential rains that batter the islands. The Ivatans also adhere to agricultural practices that can withstand, and even make the most of, the often unforgiving elements.
Their Traditional Farming Methods
Strong winds and rains can ravage the land and instantly destroy the year’s harvest, so the Ivatans have adopted some farming practices to manage their risks. Some of them are:
Crop rotation. There are approximately 5,500 hectares worth of land, which means farmers have plenty of room for crop rotation. This practice has been employed by agricultural communities all over the world for thousands of years and involves growing different types of produce on the same land during different seasons.
The benefits of this traditional farming method include:
- pest control (changing up the sequence of crops planted disrupts the life cycle of insects and weeds)
- preservation of soil quality (different crops need different nutrients, thus lessening wear and tear on the soil)
- prevention of soil erosion (alternating between crops with long roots and shallow roots lessens stress on the soil and minimizes surface run-off)
- minimal (if any) use of fertilizer (because soil quality is preserved)
- prevention of water pollution (no fertilizers and pesticides means water run-off is not contaminated)
Fallowing. Each farmer has about 300 to 700 sqm. of land divided into three to five parcels, strategically located on different sides of the mountain. Only one to two parcels of land are planted on every season. The rest are used for fallowing, which means the land is plowed and tilled but left unseeded (giving it time to rest and restore nutrients), or for grazing cattle. This system enables the maintenance of soil health.
Water harvesting. Lying in the typhoon belt, Batanes experiences light to heavy rainfall. The Ivatans make the most of this by having rain collectors instead of constructing expensive irrigation systems. Spring water and deep wells are their other sources of water.
Delineation of areas. The characteristic stone houses of the Ivatans are separated from farming areas, effectively preventing the unintended contamination of crops from household chemicals. The Ivatans also avoid going from one parcel of land to another to prevent the transfer of insects and pathogens to neighboring areas.
Planting of typhoon-resistant crops. Because typhoons can ruin any good harvest above ground, the Ivatans focus on planting root crops such as sweet potato, garlic, shallots, and onions.
What does this all mean? Since pest control is done naturally and soil is kept healthy, there is little or no need for pesticides and fertilizers. The Ivatans thus produce some of the most natural crops around. By purchasing the Ivatans’ crops, you are assured of fresh produce. And just as important, you help protect the environment by supporting their traditional farming methods, support sustainable practices that respect the land, and help preserve a part of our local culture and this adaptable and resilient people’s traditional knowledge.
Where to Buy Fresh Produce?
You don’t have to book a ticket to Batanes just to get your hands on the Ivatans’ produce. The Ivatan farmers have partnered with Healthy Options, so you can conveniently purchase their sweet potatoes, native garlic, red shallots, white shallots, onions, mungbeans, and lesser yam (tugui). These products are available at selected Healthy Options branches.