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Unplanned but welcome respite

On a regular week, I usually spend my Wednesday either running errands or pampering myself like getting a facial. But not yesterday. 

Instead, I headed to the Agribusiness Demo Farm of the University of St. La Salle in Barangay Granada. The visit was totally unplanned but something that was a welcome break from the daily hybrid classes in the universities where I teach. Thanks to USLS Agribusiness Department Chair Bea Emma Bachinela who invited me to join her that day.

The Green Ranchers (sophomore and junior Agribiz students) were already busy pasteurizing carabao’s milk and learning how to make kesong puti and cream cheese using milk from the demo farm’s water buffalo.

Students preparing the soil for planting of Red Papaya*
Ken Cariño being assisted by USLS Agribiz students while pasteurizing carabao’s milk during the cheese making session in the demo farm.*

Local entrepreneur John Kenneth Cariño eagerly educated the students on the advantages of carabao’s milk from cow’s milk like it is best for making ice cream because it provides a creamier mouthfeel to the ice cream. In between pasteurizing the milk in a cauldron over medium fire, Cariño emphasized that it is said to be higher in protein, calcium but low in cholesterol compared to cow’s milk.

“I also make sugar-free milk chocolate bars. It is made of 50% locally-grown cacao and I use carabao’s milk. People are used to consuming cow’s milk. I thought, why not educate the community about carabao’s milk. Through test marketing, I discovered that it has a lot of potential. It has more nutrients and healthy fats than cow’s milk. It has a creamy texture,” said Cariño.

It was fun learning while watching the students enjoy learning the process through hands-on training in an environment that is green and disconnected from the virtual world.  There is very poor to zero internet connectivity in the area so the students get to have genuine human internet connectivity and face-to-face conversations while doing their academic responsibilities at the farm.

The cream cheese in olive oil was a hit among Agribiz students who tasted it for the first time.

“I really encourage the young to be involved in the initiative to create an impact first investing environment instead of an “income first” mindset. The Agri sector actually is actually the most crucial yet the most sustainable sector in the society,” added Cariño.

Meanwhile, Agribiz Department Chair Bea Emma Bachinela happily shared that the population of Agribusiness Management students in the university is growing. Bachinela said the cheese making and butter making activities are part of the Master Class and Mentoring Sessions are part of the major subjects like Animal Science, Product Development, Farming Systems, Crop Protection and Crop Sciences in order to empower students as well as the faculty because industry experts help in educating them by providing relevant knowledge, skills and technology.

Lunch was grilled native pork, steamed sweet potatoes and fresh buko juice with Agribiz students, Department Chair Bea Emma Bachinela, Lecturer Ken Cariño and Professor Gabriel Jaime Ciron.*
The Green Ranchers with Agribiz Department Chair Bea Emma Bachinela and their professors Gabriel Jaime CironII, Ma. Kristina Alpon and Dianne Debbie Salud.*
Milk chocolate made of cacao and carabao’s milk; right, carabao’s milk cream cheese in olive oil.*

An exhibit in the university features products of the students from the demo farm and some products of entrepreneurial students who make sampaguita-scented perfume, handicrafts and food, among others.

“We acknowledge the essence of our local farmers, local producers, as well as the value of the carabao, being our national animal. We really give priority to our farmers and entrepreneurs because this program is really anchored in re-awakening the youth in the farming business. Our focus is not just on farming but really on getting them into entrepreneurship,” explained Bachinela.

Professor Gabriel Jaime Ciron II sees hope for the Agriculture sector whenever he sees his students happily studying and working in the farm. He said there is a sort of revival of the interest of the youth in agriculture which is not only a trend in the province but also in other parts of the world.

“Making agriculture appealing to students is really a challenge especially in this age of the Internet and digital technology. But teaching these young students farming, poultry production and animal science and seeing their passion motivates us educators to continue our advocacy. Seeing young people join us now, this boosts our confidence and is an affirmation of our efforts and interests in agriculture. Of course, this is sort of a fruit of the efforts that we have been exerting over the years in fulfilling our mission,” said Ciron.

GRC President Danielle Diocson, who has an organic vegetable garden in her home, said she started her project during the Enhanced Community Quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The junior student said that was the time when her family became very conscious about the food they consume, the reason why they decided to organically grow vegetables in their backyard. While she loved taking care of animals, she never had full knowledge of agribusiness management

“I never knew before that someone who is into agriculture can also be entrepreneurial until I learned about Agribusiness Management. Food security is very important. That is why we should value agriculture. If we support this sector, we won’t be having problems when it comes to having food on our tables especially in times of a pandemic when we have very limited movement and a lot of people are financially challenged,” shared Diocson.

The sprawling nine-hectare property devoted to crops and vegetables also has a poultry area, piggery, vermiculture, banana and sugarcane plantation. Fowl such as turkeys, free-range chicken and ducks freely roam. Students also do research work in the demo farm, finding ways on how to improve productivity and yield. I was brought to an area in the farm where one student is currently conducting an experiment on fowls being fed with cassava waste pellets as an alternative to commercial feeds. There is another ongoing study there that explores the possibility of recycling cut human hair and turning it into fertilizer for plants.

My farm visit was capped by a sumptuous lunch in the “payag” or nipa hut where we feasted on steamed camote or sweet potatoes, grilled native pork, cream cheese made of carabao’s milk and fresh buko juice – all products of the students in the farm! Old school human communication sans the gadgets was such a big plus to my unexpected but much-needed respite.

That trip to the farm did not only bring back memories of my childhood in the rice paddies and vegetable garden of my late Dad who was both a veterinarian and a farmer. Our home was surrounded by different animals and vegetables grew everywhere in our backyard. We were financially challenged but having food on the table was never a problem since food grew abundantly in every nook and cranny of that small parcel of land where our humble home stood. Indeed, agriculture is a community and a country’s strength and must be supported and sustained to make it even stronger. As the Green Ranchers put it, may everyone unite to make #AgriStronger.*

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