PERMACULTURE IS A PHILOSOPHY OF WORKING WITH RATHER THAN AGAINST NATURE.
In June 2011 Tao broke ground on the Organic Farm Project in order to research ways in which islanders could sustainably produce our own food. The Farm is now part of the Tao Kalahi Foundation, using local traditional knowledge combined with new research and techniques, we are experimenting and exploring ways in which we can produce our own food, reducing the reliance on the catch from the sea.
Palawan has a rich history of fishing. Its abundant waters provided for generations of island locals as well as nomadic and migrant fishermen from Visayan provinces.
Rice + fish = a typical island meal
The rise in population in the archipelago coupled with the advent of illegal and harmful fishing methods brought the golden years of Palawan fishing to a quick decline. The use of sodium and dynamite killed fishes and destroyed their habitats. Fish populations dwindled and moved to farther and deeper waters, making it difficult for fishermen to make a catch and earn a living.
When typhoon Haiyan struck in 2013, local farms were devastated. Palawan was almost completely cut-off from food supplies. The produce that finally came in from Manila were in cargo for days and were stale when they arrived.
The decline of the fishing industry and destruction of local farms prompted us to get serious about building not just food security but food abundance in the islands.
The Tao Farm, El Nido Palawan
The Tao Farm is our experiment ground and life source. Here we learn how to grow on Palawan soil, what our cooks can use, what we like to eat. Our work here is the foundation of building resilient and self-reliant communities.
The Tao Farm started as a permaculture project, but we found that foreign methods were no fit for local land and we had to mix in some local knowledge to make it work. It took time, learning curves, and community-driven efforts in reforesting, finding natural water sources, and experimenting with farming methods to grow the Farm to what it is today—a new source of food security and abundance in the islands.
It is the success of this project that allowed us to create our own kind of slow food farm-to-table and sea-to-seat cuisine. We serve a lot of vegetables and fruits raised in our garden or by nearby families, fish caught by local fishermen, and meats raised by our partner villages.
Success for the Farm doesn’t only happen on the Farm itself. It happens when we take what we learn off-site, teach villages our methods, and buy the produce they grow themselves.
We have 5 farmers, livestock breeders, and forest rangers on the Farm. 17 local farmers supply the Farm and our boats.
Forest – While it’s now called the Tao Farm, a far greater portion of the land is dedicated not to vegetables and fruit trees but to forest trees. Only the bottom of the land is dedicated to actual farming—but it did not always have fertile soil. The soil degraded as the forests fell to kaingin (illegal slash-and-burn farming). Streams dried up, plants wilted, and nothing grew. Forests play a vital role in ecosystems and soil health. Leaves fall with rain and make the soil healthy. Water is absorbed by trees so there are no landslides. Presence of lots of trees invites birds and other animals, whose poo serves to fertilize the soil. To start the farm, we had to start a forest.
Spring – A sign that says “Ang tubig ay buhay” (water is life) hangs above a river that runs through the Farm. The main reason we set up our main camp on this land is that it has a natural fresh water source.
Well – A water diviner came to the land to help us locate the best spots to dig wells. Water diviners hold sticks in their hands and walk around waiting for the sticks to cross, which they say happens when they’re above underground water. We didn’t believe it at first either.
Garden – The garden grows fresh greens that don’t travel well on board and travelers can’t get back home—tallinum or Philippine Rocket, papaya that we harvest green and cook like a vegetable, and different parts and varieties of bananas.
Piggery – We started raising pigs so we would not have to rely so heavily on the dwindling fish supply. We raised our first pigs in the Farm until there were so many that they off-set the balance of the environment. This was our cue to distribute piglets and sows to local families for them to raise and breed themselves. The pigs are treated and fed well and allowed to roam around the family yards. Doing this allowed us to have a constant supply of pork while engaging more villages in our operations. The Kantina uses pork in traditional Filipino dishes such as lechon and adobo.
Duck House – We raise ducks for meat and eggs instead of chickens because they’re more resilient. Ducks don’t need a tonne of antibiotics and don’t get sick in the monsoon season like chickens do. In the rainy season the duck population in the Farm goes up to as much as 200. We reduce the population in the dry season, when water is scarce.