By BENJAMIN SARONDO
After quitting his job as hotel steward on a cruise ship in 2016, Rouen Dolot, 31, from Barangay Cantariwis, Tolosa, Leyte, pursued his passion for farming. Dolot is also known as The Backyard Farmer. He started his vegetable farm on borrowed land from the brother of a family friend where he plants eggplants, sweet peppers, bitter gourds, Japanese cucumbers, and many more.
“I am lucky that the land owner let me use it for free. But in return, I share whatever harvest I have from my farm,” Dolot said. The land is approximately 1,000 square meters. “I am lucky that this land is just a walk away from our residence.”
Currently, he is an employee of their Municipal Agriculture Office. He shared that they have a rooftop garden in their local government unit office where he also grows different types of vegetables in pots. It was the initiative of their department to use a small portion of the rooftop as a space for a demonstration garden for those who wanted to learn the basics of container gardening.
From avid reader to farmer
Despite coming from a different field, Dolot became motivated to pursue farming because of Agriculture Magazine. His idol, former editor-in-chief Zac Sarian, said that “you don’t have to have a degree in agriculture to succeed in farming,” which inspired him to venture into farming. He added that most of the approaches he applies to his farm are based on what he reads on the Agriculture website and magazine.
One particular story that inspired him to also venture into agriculture, Dolot shared, is about a young farmer in Ilocos Norte who built his dream farm. “I was really inspired by the story and dedication of Marvin Xavier Vea, who, at his young age, was able to build and manage his own integrated farm,” Dolot said.
“I share the same dream with him, and I’m really hoping to establish my own integrated farm soon.”
In addition, to be knowledgeable and skilled in the field of agriculture, he attended training at the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for his National Certificate II in Organic Agriculture Production program. Also, he attended the General Vegetable Production – Crop Advisor Trainer Certification Program of East-West Seed Knowledge and Wageningen University online.
Introduction to agriculture
At first, Dolot ventured into “Babuyang Walang Amoy” (Piggery with No Smell) and raised a couple of fatteners and sows. But this business did not succeed. “I wasn’t able to sustain it because of limited financial resources.”
During the time that he was raising pigs, on the side, he plants assorted fruit trees and various high value crops in his small backyard.
“The purpose of my vegetable production is to provide safe and healthy fruits and vegetables for my family,” Dolot said. “My mother encouraged me to create a Facebook page to document my gardening experiences.”
Being proud of his harvest, Dolot posts his vegetables and fruits online, and he said that his online friends became interested and inquired on how to purchase his products. He said that his Facebook page became the channel through which his customers placed orders.
“It was my turning point to expand my vegetable farm. So I decided to look for an available area for my farm expansion to meet the demands of my interested clients.” And luckily, he found a lot where he could use it for free.
Dolot also admitted that when he was starting his vegetable farm, he had limited financial resources. “I cannot afford to hire a farmworker to help; that is why I do most of the tasks alone on my vegetable farm.”
He added that most of the farmers in their area are focused on rice production, which is why starting a vegetable business is easier to market because of the low competition in their market. “I meet most of my customers through my Facebook page.”
Since he is only marketing his products online, sometimes he finds it hard to find customers to meet his supply. “The major challenge when marketing the product is the unavailability of a market or a person who will buy my products in bulk or in large quantities.”
But he found a friend who has a stall in the wet market. “He is willing to buy the products that I have, such as eggplants, sweet peppers, Japanese cucumbers, and many more.”
Another problem he encounters is the unpredictability of weather conditions. When a typhoon strikes his farm, Dolot says that it is a challenge he always faces. He mentioned that there was a time when his fruitful ampalaya trellis fell down due to strong winds and rains. “We live in Eastern Visayas, which is frequently hit by typhoons,” he stated.
Before going to their office during the weekdays, Dolot ensures that he visits his vegetable farm to monitor his plants and check for irrigation. He also does this after office hours.
He added that he cannot commit full time to his garden farm since he needs to report to work in their municipality. That is why pest prevalence also occurs, which requires him to monitor the plants in his garden on a daily basis. “My mother helps me with watering and monitoring the plants if I cannot do it during the weekdays,” Dolot stated.
During the weekends, he focuses on his tasks on his vegetable farm. “The first thing that I do is fertilize my crops through the drenching method.” It is the process of applying water soluble fertilizers or other inputs into the soil, which are typically up-taken by all parts of the plants.
“I usually dissolve 1 sardine can or 155 grams of complete fertilizer into a bucket of water and apply it to the base of the plant. I drench on a weekly basis to support the nutrients needed by the crops.”
Dolot also uses both conventional and natural practices on his vegetable farm. Conventional practices refer to the use of synthetic or chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other inputs to maximize the yield of a particular crop. Natural practices include the use of biodegradable farm waste and other inputs for crop production.
“I usually combine the use of both conventional and natural practices in my garden. For example, during land preparation, I usually apply decomposed chicken manure to my plants before installing plastic mulch that will serve as a weed barrier and maintain soil moisture,” Dolot said.
He also said that he practices staggering planting and crop rotations. Staggered planting refers to growing the same vegetable but planting the seeds on different dates throughout the season to enjoy a longer period of fresh vegetables. “I usually apply this to most of my plants. For example, when my cucumbers start to bear flowers, I sow new seeds to be able to maintain a year-round supply of cucumbers.”
Crop rotation is the practice of growing a series of different types of crops on the same plot of land to improve nutrients and organic matter in the soil, increase yields, and disrupt the lifecycle of crop pests. “I usually do this to my plots,” Dolot stated.
“Plot A is being planted with cucumbers, and after the production cycle of cucumbers, I will plant a different type of crop like string beans. String beans, being a leguminous crop, improve soil fertility through the symbiotic association of rhizobia microorganisms in the roots, which fix atmospheric nitrogen and make it available to the plant. After the production cycle of string beans, I will plant a different type of crop, like eggplants, that will make use of the fertile soil.”
“One of the best feelings that I love most about farming is the satisfaction I get from harvesting the crops that I grow, knowing that I produce my own fruits and vegetables safely for our family,” Dolot said.
“No matter how hard or whatever challenges I meet growing the crops, I always keep going because it is my passion and I love what I do.”
Photos by Rouen Dolot
Credit belongs to : www.mb.com.ph