Tomy Garma is presently enjoying a life which he, initially, thought would only exist in his dreams. He wasn’t able to obtain a college degree, and never enrolled in any agriculture-related course, but he fulfilled his dream of becoming a successful farmer through hard work, continuous learning, and open mindedness. He is a living proof that hope can make wonders and that seizing a better life is possible. And so, Mr. Garma, now, dedicates himself in sharing his blessings so that others may succeed, too.
“Sa tingin ng iba, ang mga biyayang natanggap at natatanggap ko ay dala ng swerte, pero naniniwala akong nangyari ang lahat ng ito dahil sa pagsisikap kong umasenso,” he quipped.
Life before farming
Mr. Tomy Garma was raised by a rice farming family and grew up in the remote barangay of Gossood in the municipality of Mayantoc, Tarlac. As a young boy, he has to endure a long walk each day on unpaved roads, under the scorching heat, just to get to school because like everybody else, he had been taught ever since that it is only through education that he and his family could have a better life.
“Bata pa lang ako, napamulat na sa akin ang hirap ng pagsasaka. Gumigising ako ng alas-singko araw-araw para tumulong sa bukid,” Mr. Garma recalled.
He is known in his community as Kagawad Tomy as he was a former barangay and municipal councilor. Not interested in pursuing his parents’ love for farming, Kagawad Tomy, took up Civil Engineering in 1978 at the St. Louis University (SLU) in Baguio City. For him, taking up a non-agriculture related course would free him from the impoverished barangay where he grew up. But Kagawad Tomy is not destined to be an engineer as he quitted college during his graduating year in 1984.
“Napasama tayo sa fraternity eh. Nabarkada kaya nasira ang pag-aaral,” he admitted.
While many youth of his age would sink themselves into despair when they drop out of school, especially if there’s only just a year left to hurdle, this seemingly grim fate marked the beginning of a successful farming career for Kagawad Tomy. In 1988, he married Gina Bueno, also from a farming family in Gossood. From the PhP 40,000 “topak” (love gift) they earned, they acquired a parcel of land to be cultivated, adding up to the one hectare farm which Kagawad Tomy inherited from his parents. During that year until the early beginnings of 2000, they were harvesting an average of 80 cavans per hectare; their meager income from it is just enough for them to eat three meals a day and send their six children to school.
To supplement his farming income, Kagawad Tomy entered the world of politics as a barangay treasurer in 1989. In 2002, he was elected as barangay chairman and later on, in 2012, as municipal councilor of Mayantoc. The pleasure of his involvement in politics, he admitted, is that he was given the opportunity to meet different people from the higher echelon of the society – people who would later contribute a lot to his present status.
Receptive and open-minded
Over the years, farming has become Kagawad Tomy’s full-time job. He finally decided to love the craft and devoted himself to it as his source of living. But just like other farmers, Kagawad Tomy was plagued with the high production expenses.
The high cost of farm inputs and labor has challenged Kagawad Tomy to be innovative in managing his farm. A progressive farmer that he is, Kagawad Tomy has to start right and learn more to become successful in his chosen career path. He believes that farming is not just tilling the land. There are more informative practices to learn and a lot more technologies to apply.
“Hindi tayo dapat makuntento sa pagsasaka lang dahil lumalaki ang gastos. Kailangan ng dagdag na pagkakakitaan,” he said.
Meeting the Agricultural Technologist assigned in his barangay paved the way for Kagawad Tomy to take advantage of the numerous agricultural trainings and seminars which, later on, made him a versatile farmer. One such training is the farmer-led extension (FLE) training provided by the Agricultural Training Institute-Regional Training Center III (ATI-RTC III) in 2007 and the training on integrated farming system organized by the Tarlac College of Agriculture (now Tarlac Agricultural University) later that year.
Soon enough, Kagawad Tomy had developed good agricultural practices from the informative lectures, seminars and trainings he attended on integrated farming system, pest management, and organic farming. He had likewise developed contacts with some personnel from various government agencies, from the provincial up to the national level, through the seminars and trainings he has been attending.
In a Farmer Field School (FFS) on Organic Farming he once attended at TCA, in partnership with the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Local Government Unit of Mayantoc, Kagawad Tomy learned about the new agricultural techniques that would help him increase his crop yields. He was surprised to learn that the chemical fertilizers and pesticides that most of the farmers in his barangay were using could damage the farm land, making it more difficult to produce healthy crops. Kagawad Tomy also learned about environmental-friendly agriculture practices, such as composting and the use of organic pesticides. By using organic fertilizers instead of chemical fertilizers, he learned that he could help increase the fertility of the soil. Realizing the difference it could make for his family if he could grow his own nutritious fruits and vegetables that they could incorporate into their diet. Aside from cultivating rice, he became very interested in integrated farming system.
As the years went on, Kagawad Tomy became so engrossed in learning much more productive and sustainable agricultural practices as he never let go of any chance in attending seminars until such time that he was already able to formulate his own biological microorganism (BM) fertilizers and pesticides such as fermented plant juices (FPJ), fermented fruit juices (FFJ) and fish amino acid (FAA).
An innovative and progressive farmer
His innovativeness and scientific attitude had indeed contributed to an increased production and income. As such, Kagawad Tomy was appointed as the Magsasaka Siyentista for the Mayantoc Farmers Information and Technology Services (FITS) Center in 2009, a distinction given by DA-ATI as part of the Techno Gabay Program implementation.
Part of his being an MS is to adopt and employ a package of science and technology interventions which was introduced by faculty experts from TCA. One such technology is the use of hybrid rice seeds as substitutes to his accustomed inbred seeds.
“Mahirap noong una kasi kapansin-pansin na mas mababa yung ani. Gusto ko na ngang itigil noon, pero sabi ko, nandiyan na rin lang, eh di ituloy na,” he admitted.
It took him almost four years to realize that his risk-taking action in venturing into organic farming using hybrid seeds slowly paid off as his yield became higher compared to others.
“After ng mga 10 croppings siguro, doon ko na napansin yung kaibahan,” Kagawad Tomy revealed.
In disclosing his success for an increased farm yield, he identified his outstanding farm practices and technologies that contributed to an improved farm output.
In terms of fertilizer management, he basally applies organic fertilizer five to seven days before panicle initiation through broadcasting. In the past, he used split application of inorganic fertilizer (basal application of 14-14-14 and 16-20-0 and topdressing of ammonium sulfate and muriate of potash). Gradually, he eradicated the practice of using artificial fertilizers until such time that he has finally found the best measures to make his farm practices totally organic.
He maintains an Integrated Pest Management to drive away insect pests, diseases, rodents and kuhol.
To increase his farm productivity, he practices diversification of farm resources and income resources through planting different crops in his farm, with harvesting period ranging from short, medium and long term. With his diversified projects, he came to realize that even a small area can give off quite good income.
He also learned to convert waste into income through compact farming; using cement sacks as plant bins to grow cash crops like tomato, eggplant, okra, turmeric ginger and pole sitaw.
“Dati, hindi namin pinapansin ang mga sako ng semento; nandiyan lang sila pakalat-kalat. Pero mula noong natuto ako ng integrated farming system at compact farming, ultimo yung mga yun ay tinatamnan ko na,” Kagawad Tomy revealed.
In Kagawad Tomy’s farm, there is no burning of farm residues and organic matter as he also practices composting for organic fertilizers. Since his farm activities involve all-natural materials and practices, there is less dependency on the use of synthetic or chemical fertilizer and toxic pesticides.
For soil and water conservation, he cultivates additional plants in the landscapes and develops improvised water impounding area.
By consistently showcasing his organic farm practices, Kagawad Tomy has perfected his ways and made him excel in his chosen venture.
Willing to share experiences/technologies learned
Kagawad Tommy vows not to keep his productive ventures alone. He believes that success is sweetest when it is shared. That is why he incessantly promotes organic farming to his fellow farmers as he believes that this system is natural and environment friendly.
“Hinihikayat ko nga yung mga kasamahan kong magsasaka na pasukin na rin ang organic farming at baka sakaling tumaas din ang kita nila gaya ko,” he quipped.
He refutes the hearsay that organic farming is less productive. In fact, he is very firm in claiming that this practice leads to a long-term benefit. He claimed to have sold four cavans of organic pigmented rice for PhP 5,000.00 just recently when the cost of palay is going down the drain.
Since Kagawad Tomy now enjoys the fruits of his efforts and persistence, he has also started to reach out to other farmers who have yet to understand the benefits that can be derived from organic farming. As an FLE and pioneer member of the Association of Tarlac Organic Producers (ATOP), he has been assisting other farmer-leaders through teaching and sharing them his experiences and farming practices, using his own farm as learning site for all of his innovations. He strongly advocates organic agriculture through promoting organic fertilizer, using natural farming inputs, integrated pest management as well as zero waste management. He is also advancing farm safety and environment protection initiatives.
And to cater a wider range of individuals whom he can assist in any way possible, Kagawad Tomy applied his farm to become an accredited Learning Site by the DA-ATI-RTC III. True enough, in 2014, his Integrated Diversified Farm was certified as a Learning Site in Agriculture through the efforts and assistance of the then ATI-RTC III Center Director Virginiano Garo.
As a Learning Site owner, Kagawad Tomy was provided with almost PhP 320,000.00 cash by ATI-RTC III which he used in further improving his farm. It now houses three villas, two lecture/training halls, and several demonstration sites of organically-grown flora and fauna such as native pigs, red tilapia, various vegetables and medicinal herbal plants. Farm visitors can also enjoy hook-line fishing of tilapias from its well-stocked fishponds and have them cooked with a savor of freshly picked vegetables. Garma Farm has served, and is continuously serving, as venue to several trainings sponsored by various government and non-government agencies, and is currently applied for a certification to be an accredited training center for agriculture by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
True to his commitment to share his blessings, it has become an obligation for Kagawad Tomy to distribute some of the fruits of his harvest among his less fortunate neighbors. Also, he makes sure that people around his farms become his workers on-call whenever farm labor is needed which by so doing, he is providing employment to his community.
Through Kagawad Tomy, farmers in Mayantoc and nearby places were motivated to come out of their shells, hope for the better days, take some risks and be prepared for any challenges. They have also become aware of the various agricultural initiatives and aids given by different government and non-government agencies.
Fruits of success
Kagawad Tomy’s income from his diversified farm is now more than enough to sustain their family needs, acquire several properties, and give their children a good education. His eldest, Chrissie, is now a licensed teacher, while Geneva, the second, is a registered nurse. Mark Vincent now works as an architect, while Tomy Jr. is an Agricultural Engineering student at TAU. His two youngest daughters, Mina and Fatima, are also persistent in their studies – taking up pharmacy at SLU and a Grade 11 student at TAU, respectively.
It has been an uphill struggle for Kagawad Tomy to reach this pinnacle of success but all his efforts did not remain unnoticed. In 2011, he was conferred by the DA-Regional Field Office 3 with the Gawad Saka Award for being the Outstanding Rice Farmer of that year. Kagawad Tomy was likewise named as Outstanding Farmer by TCA in 2014. In addition, the Garmas were chosen as regional winners in 2015 and 2017 for the National Organic Achievers Award, Farming Family Category. It is not because of these awards that Kagawad Tomy continues to do good things, but he admits that to be recognized for his achievements gives him a morale booster to accomplish more.
“Sa totoo lang, parang mas mahirap ang kalagayan ko ngayon. Kung dati, wala akong iniisip, sa ngayon, ang dami-dami. Ang daming gustong gawin, ang daming plano, ang daming gustong matulungan,” he said.
Through all his success and achievements, Kagawad Tomy looks back with gratitude to all the individuals and institutions that helped him become what he is today.
“Kung ano at nasaan ako ngayon, utang ko sa lahat ng mga tumulong sa akin. Wala ako rito kung wala sila,” Kagawad Tomy declared.
Despite of the many things he had accomplished so far, Kagawad Tomy seems to never get tired of attaining more. Aside from endorsing his farm to be a TESDA-accredited training center, he also hopes to organize a local chapter of organic farmers’ association among his townmates.
“Gusto kong bumuo ng ATOP-Mayantoc Chapter para mas lalo sanang mai-promote itong nagawa ko kaugnay ng organic farming,” he said.
Undeniably, Kagawad Tomy Garma has come a long way - from his uncertain beginning as a college dropout who ventured into farming to a very successful agri-preneur. And he continues to exude inspiration, hope and prospects for other people through his own experiences of shunning away from gloomy beginning and starting anew. Taking on the ‘riceponsibility’ to prove that there is indeed a great opportunity in farming. Kagawad Tomy should be considered as a ‘hero’ in his own field – a field that he lovingly tilled, both literally and figuratively. (Joji Cabatic)