Veni, vidi, vermi (I came, I saw, I went to business with vermi)

“It doesn’t need big capital, it is easy to set up, easy to maintain, no high-tech gadgets or equipment involved, raw materials abound and are indigenous, can be put up in small areas of land, and it is not that laborious. So why not try it?”

It is these musings and prospect that drew Marianito “Nito” Castelo of Bani, Pangasinan to venture into this erstwhile unfamiliar territory. Armed with an initial knowledge and understanding from the LGU and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)-sponsored vermicomposting training sometime 2008 and with the starter kit that participants each received in the form of three kilos of African Night Crawlers (ANCs), spade, fork, drum and sacks, he set up a backyard vermicomposting pit in his farm.

More importantly, maybe, is that it is a 2-in-1 business with that potential for a high profit yield. That, in essence, is the nature of vermiculture, that very basic feature of organic farming that all this while often overlooked and which according to him, we should take notice of as brimming with (livelihood) potential.

Castelo is a former three-term barangay chairman of Poblacion, Bani (1998-2007) and is a two-term councilor in the Sangguniang Bayan where he handled the committee on agriculture chairmanship (2007-2013). The now 57-year old practitioner of organic agriculture holds a degree in BS Zoology at UP-Diliman and is married to the former Carmencita “Dulce” Rodriguez, a BS Marine Science grad also of UP-Diliman. They have a daughter Patricia, a 21 year old BS Psychology graduate also at UP-Diliman and a 25 year old son Joshua, a Physical Therapist out of the University of the East.

All is not bed of roses for him at the start, though. Typhoon Emong in 2009 tested the resolve of Castelo, as the howler leveled his structures in his vermicomposting facility, destroyed the beds and had to start again from scratch. He had since recovered, by 2012 he realized he can have a steady income from it, and from thence is now on to a thriving, flourishing business.

Today he harvests up to 15 tons of vermicast a month during the peak season of May up to July, and if one considers the volume of orders for this period---vermicast and vermiworms-, indeed he has sizeable revenue considering that the price of his vermicast is P350 per bag of 50 kilo castings (i.e. 1 ton = 1,000 kilos) and sells ANCs P400 to his townmates and up to P800 to outsiders. This output comes from the four main vermibeds (or vermi sheds) of five meters by ten meters each, and other smaller beds outside his main composting facility.

His innovations in vermiculture technology that he now uses were borne out of his observations and experiences through these years. “Tuturuan ka rin ng mga bulate kung anong gagawin ,” he enthuses in the Pangasinan dialect, saying one should be observant and be adaptive to the needs of vermin. Really, if one is to consider prevalent technology his is off-the-kilter.

Where the common practice recommends 80-20 or 75-25 or 70-30 ratio of carbon-to-nitrogen substrate as feedstock for the vermiworms, he discarded that formulation and went to feed his worms with cow/carabao dung as sole substrate, sprayed with Microbase, an indigenous microorganism (IMO) formulated by his contact and family friend Alex Amor from Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental. This unusual approach to vermicomposting, according to him, produced bigger and healthier African night crawlers and a better vermicast product in as far as NPK content is concerned. He claims that the secret to his vermicomposting success could be that Microbase product, which he imports all the way from Dumaguete through Amor. (Castelo never fails to remind the fact that given the right condition and food, the vermiworms could double their population in a month’s time and therefore could multiply easily and exponentially.)

For vermibeds, he doesn’t even use concrete beds, as he just put his substrates in the bare soil and sheltered by the shed with roofing made of cogon and bamboo, indigenous materials abundant in the area.

For his feedstock, he has thus established buying points in some areas in his native Bani, buying dried cow or carabao dung (this gave young boys in the area extra income as he would spend as much as P100,000 per year on this alone) especially before the onset of the rainy season. He doesn’t use dayami (hay) as he now considers it as just added unnecessary production cost.

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Although not anymore a town councilor, his advocacy in helping his farmer-constituents continue, in any which way he can. For farmers in his vicinity and to his townmates he keeps on giving free seminars and short term training courses on various farm technologies, but especially so in vermiculture technology, he gives discounts to his vermicast, he even provides free one kilo of vermin to those interested and out to try vermiculture, and now that he is one of the core organic agriculture practitioners in the province, he unselfishly shares, too, organic agriculture technologies (from the numerous trainings he attended at the Agricultural Training Institute, he adds promptly!). He said he want that his farm enterprise be a show window for livelihood opportunity.

Previously Castelo and his wife Dulce have an agricultural supply business, but since he learnt of organic agriculture technologies and made aware that he is somehow an instrument in the further degradation of the environment he closed the shop and they ventured into full organic practice.

On the lighter side he find humor on his endeavor as he relates an anecdote. In her class one time, her daughter Patricia was asked by her teacher the line of work or business of her parents, and not knowing what it really is, she earnestly inquired on her father. Castelo, sharp and witty that he is and finding amusement in the situation, told her daughter “to go and tell your teacher that we make money out of s—t.” Much to the befuddlement perhaps of her mentor.

Dung heap it is maybe, still the fact that two UP-bred, rational husband-and-wife tandem would seriously consider making a business out of this--- as Castelo puts it- “most basic but is one pillar feature in going organic (agriculture).” And that is altogether no laughing matter.

Ok then, so why not (we) try it?