The love that keeps on bearing fruit

By Ira Sheena H. Magayanes
PIO, DAR Camarines Sur II

There is an old saying that goes, “If the land is nurtured with love, then every tree and fruit and plant and flower that springs forth from it shall fully thrive.”

Mario Batan David and Geanita Lovete Fabillar were childhood friends, having been born and raised in the same small agricultural village of Belen, Calabanga in Camarines Sur. Both of their parents were tenants of wealthy hacienderos. As children, they were used to the day-to-day activities of the farm. Weeding and watering plants were their idea of child’s play. Growing up, they became accustomed to the techniques of planting and sowing. Both possessed the so-called green thumb and both had a passion for farming. These traits bound them together which led them to tie the knot at the young age of 24.

Hand in hand, they got their bolos and rake and cultivated the 2.5-hectare farmland given to Mario by his parents. Mario and Geanita introduced ampalaya, eggplant, tomatoes, and sili to the farm, breaking the traditional method of limiting the crops to rice, cassava, and coconuts. The couple lived a simple yet satisfying life and with the addition of their four children, they were happy. Mario, however, was not content. He dreamt of a more comfortable life for his family.

He took up an Associate degree in Marine Engineering in college and graduated from the same in 1983. In 1989, Mario set out on his first overseas trip and sailed off to see the world for 20 years. Mario never forgot his love for agriculture. He would introduce something new to his farm --- another kind of crop, a different vegetable, a unique fruit, or another flowering plant --- every time he would come home from his seaman work.

Geanita on the other hand supported his passion and effectively managed the farm while he was away. The couple breathed life and showered love to the farm and in return, it flourished. Regular customers began patronizing their ampalaya, eggplants, tomatoes, and sili taking 11 kilos per harvest time. This economic progress brought joy to both Mario and Geanita, but was soon replaced by grief when Geanita was diagnosed with diabetes in 2011.

This, then, was the turning point in Mario’s life. This circumstance forced him to abandon his sailor’s fantasy, to hurriedly go back home to Belen to take care of his sick wife. Unlike other balikbayans though, he did not waste time or money in merrymaking. The moment he set foot in his farm, he busied himself with agricultural research and training where he learned the benefits of organic farming. Knowing that it would improve Geanita’s condition, Mario began to shift to the same by applying the knowledge he gained in the day-to-day operations of his farm. Geanita also helped him whenever she can; igniting the hope he has for the land. Soon, they were producing squash, stringed beans, cabbages and lettuce aside from their usual harvest. As their farm grew, Mario and Geanita also felt the need of engaging into networking and marketing.

In 2016, Mario learned of an agrarian reform beneficiary organization (ARBO) operating in Bonot-Sta. Rosa, the Belen-Bonot-Manguiring Village-Level Production Association (BBMVLPA), which was into organic farming. Being an agrarian reform beneficiary himself, he became a member of the organization and was one of the chosen farmers to participate in the Integrated Farming Bio-Systems (IFBS) facilitated by the Pilipinas Shell Foundation under the Partnership against Hunger and Poverty (PaHP) program of the Department of Agrarian Reform – Camarines Sur II (DAR-Camarines Sur II). PaHP is a joint undertaking of three government agencies, namely: the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the Department of Agriculture (DA), and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) which aims to address critical concerns in hunger mitigation, food security, and poverty reduction by tapping the ARBOs’ organic produce as a regular food supply for DSWD Day Care Centers.

Through the IFBS, Mario revisited and modified his farm layout. He likewise started making organic concoctions as a substitute to chemical fertilizers. He also invested in vermicomposting, dragon fruit, swine, and chicken raising. He even learned to formulate his own organic feeds for his swine. Much to Geanita’s surprise, they were already delivering 5 kilos of lettuce to a restaurant in Naga City every other day and had regular customers for their “pakbet” vegetables and vermi-cast. His farm became well known for its dragon fruit.

Their farm enterprise took off as Geanita regained her strength and vigor. Together, they made the farm more appealing to visitors. They decorated the farm with flowering plants. They built a little hut to accommodate and entertain guests. They exerted all efforts to produce a bountiful harvest in order to provide for their children. Unknowingly to them, the various medications taken by Geanita before had already affected her kidneys which resulted in her untimely death in the latter part of July 2018.

Depressed and heartbroken by his wife’s death, people thought Mario’s world would fall apart. But, the morning after the funeral, Mario woke up early and with his bolo and rake, began to cultivate the land again, just like the way he and Geanita did the very first time they settled there as husband and wife. When asked why, Mario said, “Padangat mi po ni agom an dagang ini. Grabe pong tiyaga saka pagsakit mi para mapagayon ini. Magiging mas makulog po gayud sakuya kun mawawara an dagang ini kaiba kan pagkawara niya. (My wife and I loved this land. We worked very hard to make this land productive. I believe it would be more painful for me to bear if this land dies with her.)”

At present, Mario is still producing dragon fruit and varied vegetables which he delivers to retailers at the marketplace. He has likewise executed a contract with the owners of a popular liniment to transform a piece of his land as a plantation for the product’s main ingredient. His produce is also among those consolidated for delivery to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) where organic vegetables are among the main course for their daily meals.

Moreover, Mario is also determined to realize Geanita’s dream of converting the farm into an agri-tourism site. All his efforts now are directed toward this end and Mario persevered to develop the land until the unfortunate event in December 2019 when Typhoon Tisoy struck the Bicol Region and massively destroyed most of the farmlands. The tragedy left Mario and his children with nothing but a ruined garden and a lonely home. With their main source of livelihood in shambles, people would have expected him to surrender, close down his farm, forget his dream, and once again, sail away to distant shores. But, Geanita’s memory clung to him.

Mario also has high hopes for their children. He could not have been any prouder of them. The eldest, Cristopher followed in Mario’s footsteps and became a seaman. The second child, Marlon, earned his college degree but decided to stay in Belen and help Mario in the farm. Cristy graduated from college and is now working at a famous fast-food chain in Manila. The youngest, Jene, is in Grade 12 and dreams of finishing her studies to help augment the family’s income.

At the time of his interview, Mario was in ragged clothes soiled with dirt, his hands muddy and a bolo hung from his side. When asked why he pursues his work in the farm when most of his children are already professionals, he looked at his grandchild who is only an infant and said, “Kaipuhan kong ipadagos an napunan mi nang mag-agom ta ini gabos para man lang sa mga aki mi pati sa mga maku-apo. Kung mayo na ako, marumduman man lamang ninda kami --- mga magurang na nag-sakripisyo asin nagpadangat sainda --- pag naheheling ninda an kaguyanan kan uma. (I need to pursue this dream that my wife and I had for our children and our children’s children. I want them to remember us --- the parents who loved them dearly and who sacrificed greatly for them --- every time they see the beauty of the farm.)