It was my first time to go to Sumilao, when the bus dropped me off in Kisolon. When I asked around for directions, I found out that from the juncture between the national road and the road going from the opposite direction from where I was dropped off, is where Sumilao is.
My introspection and concentration regarding what to do next was disrupted when suddenly, my phone rang. The voice came from a young man asking my whereabouts and if I am already in town. I told him I’m already in Barangay Kisolon. A minute later, a car screeched to a halt and came out a beaming and a bit hefty young guy in his twenties.
Upon meeting Yeltsin Kaiser Mercader for the first time, we clicked right away. His first name, which is obviously Russian is derived from a former Russian president, and not some Russian cuss word when one losses temper or about to run amok. There was something about his demeanor that gave me a hunch that my interview with him would be easy and interesting. When I sat down for a conversation with the cordial chap, I suffered a minor info overload from the farming experiences and tips he shared. I have to say that Yeltsin was among the interviewees which I had no difficulty striking a conversation with because from the get go, he shares a lot and talks a lot!
By the time when Yeltsin was still attending school, it seems that his future was already laid out and concrete plans ready to be executed. Yeltsin’s father who happens to be an Overseas Contract Worker (OCW) wanted him to be a nurse too just like him who works in the Middle East. Things took a sudden turn when Yeltsin realized that nursing is not for him and that he wants to abandon the medical dream to pursue another endeavor close to his heart and which ignites his passion---farming.
So he quit nursing and pursued farming, much to the dismay of his father. Although the backlash was harsh since it took years for the father and son to be reconciled, Yeltsin strengthened his resolve to make things work out with the path he had chosen for himself.
His early dabble into farming started from setting up a hobby of raising and breeding Koi fish in their backyard which later transitioned to plots of garden variety vegetables consisting of “bahay kubo” vegetables.
Not relying on luck or happenstance, he took off with a singular decision to push through and work for what he wanted.
With little knowledge in farming, to say that Yeltsin struggled from the start is an understatement. Yeltsin literally started from the ground up and gathered knowledge whenever he can with the help of research and asking around more experienced farmers. He harnessed the power of the internet and watched Do-it-Yourself (DIY) videos on YouTube. Also, he attends trainings mounted by ATI such as organic agriculture and urban gardening.
“Personally, I practice natural farming because we consume what we have here in the farm. People are assured that, when buying fruits and vegetables, they are eating safe farm produce since we also eat the farm goods we harvest” Yeltsin shared.
Later, an opportunity to work for and to be trained by Datu Makadingding of GreenMInds Incorporated presented with which he grabbed it with both hands and immersed himself with it. Yeltsin made sure that the time, insights and learning he gained would better him as a farming protégé.
“It never crossed my mind to go abroad to work and live there. I could have made that move since I have close relatives there, but other successful farmers made a fortune here, so why not me?”, Yeltsin said further.
Working with GreenMinds Incorporated
As he relentlessly pursued a “career” and livelihood in farming, Yeltsin became a contract grower of peanuts (first batch on organic peanut corridor) and corn for GreenMinds. He admitted at first that the standard set by GreenMinds Inc. was quite difficult to attain, but later got used to it after imbibing the habit of excellence in his farming endeavors. His efforts are always paying off since he is rewarded with handsome incentives for a job well done and for delivering quality products.
Aside from peanuts, he grows other cash crop commodities like banana, squash, string beans, eggplants, and other high value crops. He was also able to plant and harvest rice but only considered as for family consumption.
His practice of "off-grid farming", basically means that his farm is now sustainable in terms of resources and energy source. Judging from the farm set-up, I noticed the ubiquitous solar panel with which generates energy to supply electricity and light his farm house. He told me later that he is about to buy a bigger panel so that more energy can power the farm including water distribution.
Another practice which he adheres to and believes in is that whenever he cuts down one tree in his farm to use it as furniture or for other purposes, he plants five more as replacement.
As we continued our conversation, Yeltsin showed gratitude about all the learnings and travels he had with GreenMInds. His tutelage under Datu Makadingding, as per his personal testament, makes him an instrument and contributory to his farming success. He shared without hesitation that he earns a hefty amount of P30,000 per harvest of his peanuts as well as P80,000 per harvest for corn.
Striking on his own
As a farming protégé for five years, Yeltsin is now happy with his life and his way of living. By turns thought provoking and sometimes funny, my takeaway from my candid interview with Yeltsin gleams a golden truth: That determination coupled with resilience can make dreams happen and that one’s success can be achieved by working hard. His farming dedication made him almost win a Gawad Saka Award.
“Without being cliché, I want to make food available to everyone and make it affordable so that no one will be left out hungry and nothing to eat”, Yeltsin confessed.
His hectare-yielding eggplants, for example, was sold at a farm gate price that Yeltsin does not have to worry marketing since his buyer is the one frequenting and harvesting his vegetables. Indeed, Yeltsin’s pick-and-pay scheme makes his farm produce affordable for everyone.
“There were times that I feel like giving up because the things I encounter are beyond my control like bad weather or not having adequate water resources. The lack of water supply here in my farm is an issue that I need to resolve forthwith”, he stressed.
Another struggle which he pointed out, was the lack of understanding or basic knowledge of the market with which young farmer like him is unaccustomed to. He wishes to engage the youth in farming by finding the market first, so that selling their farm produce would not be a problem.
As a self-taught young farmer, Yeltsin was able to buy farming implements such as mower, grass cutter and a tiller-cultivator. He was also able to put up more amenities such as accommodation area, comfort rooms, and bodega in his farm necessary for his day to day operation with the help of his two farm workers.
When time and schedule allows, he also serves as resource person when invited to discuss topics on peanut and vegetable production.
Datu Makadingding even brings colleagues from Tearfund to witness firsthand the development of Yeltsin’s farm, as well as observe proper farming techniques. Tearfund is a New Zealand-based aid and development organization serving communities across Africa, Asia and South America. Tearfund was a sponsor of the organic peanut corridor initiated by GreenMinds.
The success and farming story of Yeltsin may be far from over but it surely looks bright and promising with the 29 year old proud farmer from Sumilao. Aside from being preoccupied in his seven hectare Ilaya Farm which was established in 2016, he tandems with his sister by supplying the freshest farm produce and ingredients needed for Test Kitchenette. Test Kitchenette is a family-owned food joint business which caters, serve meals and snack items like burgers, chilidogs, fries, cheesy fries, loaded fries, chicken neck, and nachos.
Things are looking up for Yeltsin, and most of all, he is now in very good terms with his father as he saw that Yeltsin is happy with his farming endeavors and made a living out of it.