Extending Learning and Kindness: Learning Site Cooperators Offer Assistance in the Time of COVID-19

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Binahon Agroforestry Farm offers vegetable packages and implements door-to-door delivery of farm products in nearby areas and cities in Lantapan, Bukidnon during the Enhanced Community Quarantine. (photo by Binahon Agroforestry Farm)

Cooperators of Learning Sites for Agriculture (LSAs) and Extension Service Providers (ESPs) of the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) are cultivating seeds of compassion as they help their communities in their own ways during the global pandemic.

Since the alarming spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the country, the whole of Luzon, including the entire Metro Manila, and some parts of Visayas and Mindanao have been placed in an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).

While the Department of Agriculture has already imposed protocols in terms of continuous movement of agricultural products, closure of several borders in cities and provinces, and the strict quarantine measures have still disrupted the operations of smallholder farms. People’s access to affordable and nutritious food sources has become a challenge in some communities.

During these challenging times, some ATI LSA and ESP cooperators in different parts of the country heed the call for help in coping with the ECQ period. Some of them have helped fellow farmers in selling their farm products online, while the others have been providing easy access to food among households. Many of them have also found innovative ways to continue providing knowledge on agriculture and fisheries.

Alternative Ways of Farm Product Marketing

Emma Tolentino, owner of Eco Natural Integrated Farm in Victoria, Tarlac, has turned to social media to sell some of her farm products as the ECQ restricted movements of people in the province. She maximizes the use of social networking sites to connect with buyers and schedule pickup of the products in her farm.

As a trainer and consultant in organic farming for several years and with her active participation in various agricultural activities in the region, Tolentino has gained vast network on social media. She also makes use of this platform to help her fellow farmers market their products online.

“I have seen how farmers are having difficulties in selling their products since the start of the quarantine and most of them do not know online marketing,” she said in an interview.

Tolentino stated that she has also been coordinating strongly with key agencies and offices in the province, as well as potential buyers, to help smallholder farmers earn even during the ECQ. Apart from these, she is also teaching mushroom production and processing to some industry growers through group chats. She noted, “I also teach them how to make natural antibiotic immunity booster for humans and animals.”

By calling attention to the predicament of farmers severely affected in these times, Tolentino hopes that she can help in the little ways she can. “That’s my contribution,” she added.

In Lantapan, Bukidnon, Henry Binahon, owner of Binahon Agroforestry Farm (BAFF), has been implementing door-to-door delivery of farm products in nearby areas and cities. He coordinated with concerned local government units to offer this service in areas of Poblacion and along the highways of Lantapan, Malaybalay, and Valencia.

“This is to make food available in homes as COVID preventive measures are in place, and to cope in terms of the survival needs of our farm workers and operations,” he said.

BAFF offers two sets of packages, particularly the veggie basket and veggie basket plus, which also contains poultry products and some healthy refreshments. Orders are taken online and the door-to-door delivery began last March 21.

Last March 23, BAFF also distributed some bottles of healthy fruit refreshments to frontliners of Bethel Baptist Hospital, Inc. in Malaybalay.

Teaching From Home

In CALABARZON, ATI-assisted learning sites are promoting agricultural learning from home. In this time of quarantine, they have been bringing knowledge at people’s fingertips.

Gigi Morris, of MoCa Family Farm RLearning Center in Padre Garcia, Batangas, has stepped up her game in providing agricultural learning venues for farmers and agri enthusiasts through audio-visual online classrooms. A series of learning videos has been uploaded in the farm’s Facebook page covering topics on the basics of plant growth, plant management, methods of applying fertilizers, and the science behind irrigation.

Morris began this initiative last March 31. She said that they have fast-tracked some agri modules “so new and beginning family farmers can access more agri information from home.”

Similarly, Brian Belen of Ato Belen’s Farm, located in San Pablo, Laguna, partnered with the ATI Regional Training Center in CALABARZON for the first roll-out of Agricultural Technologies thru Internet at Home (ATI@Home). This undertaking aims to continue the provision of knowledge in agriculture and fisheries in the region through online free seminars. The first live seminar on container gardening was conducted last April 8.

Free Training After Quarantine

Lourdes Biscocho, of Biscocho Integrated Organic Farm in San Rafael, Bulacan, has set aside teaching organic farming in the meantime and started looking for possible measures that will help farmers recover from the effects of the ECQ. She explained her plans on conducting free training programs after the quarantine. Biscocho is looking at providing farmers an avenue to learn about organic farming and container gardening after the health crisis. Food, accommodation, and shuttle service during the training will also be provided for the farmers for free.

Biscocho expressed, “This is to encourage more people to plant and further promote the importance of growing their own food especially when health crisis arises. I am still thinking of ways on how to make it (free training) happen.”

Supporting Frontliners

Josephine Costales, of Costales Nature Farms in Majayjay, Laguna, pursued another mission as a backliner in the time of the pandemic. Since March 22, the farm owner spends her time preparing meals and providing healthy refreshments for the healthcare workers of Majayjay and the military personnel manning the checkpoints in the said province.

"Backliners will continuously support our frontliners," she affirmed.

In these challenging times, these farm owners have gone beyond their normal ways in serving their communities. Now more than ever, they have nurtured seeds of kindness and compassion that will, ultimately, go a long way even after the pandemic ends.

ATI Today

Extension services continue to evolve. With the challenges that extension workers and farmers face, the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) continues to explore various strategies to improve its efforts as the extension and training arm of the Department of Agriculture. In over 30 years, the ATI has celebrated various successes and learned from the lessons during hard times. Nonetheless, we are proud to be standing the test of time through the support of our partners and the clientele themselves. This is the ATI Today, more committed to bring you extension services beyond boundaries.