What are you willing to do for your dream? For Albay-born Emilio “Emil” Climaco, the path to operating his own farm was a circuitous route, one involving years of hard work, sleepless nights, and setting aside personal goals for the sake of others.
Diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis in his fifth year as an agricultural engineering student at the University of the Philippines (UP) Los Baños, Emil spent two months in the hospital before flying to Singapore to tutor the children of a Korean friend. (Read: How This Woman Copes With Her Lung Disease, One Grateful Day at a Time) Upon his return to the Philippines, the fifth of nine brothers and sisters resumed his studies and opened a small laundry business to support himself and the schooling of two younger siblings.
Modest earnings from the business forced him to stop schooling again and enter the call center industry. Two other younger siblings needed the funds for their education, so Emil took them on as well. When the two older siblings graduated, it was his turn to go back to school, though he continued to work full-time. (Read: From BPO Agent to Chef: How This Man Successfully Changed Careers)
Busy and exhausted as he was, the working student actually found the time and energy to sell ensaymada and buko pie in the company bazaar. He also tutored Korean and Filipino kids. “Some officemates joked that with the way I worked, it was like I had a family of my own with 10 children,” he told My Pope Philippines in an email interview.
Ultimately, his hard work paid off. Now farmer-entrepreneur of his CHEFerd’s Farm, he’s also presently taking his Master in Environment and Resource Management at the UP Open University.
Please tell us about CHEFerd’s Farm.
CHEFerd’s Farm was established in January 2017. It’s located in Bgy. Maulawin, Pagsanjan, Laguna, and it’s about 4,000 square meters. I run it with three workers. (Read: Amid Issues on Rice Trade, How Do We Support Filipino Farmers?)
We plant lettuce, crops for our teas (blue butterfly pea flower, lemongrass, malunggay, camote tops, amaranth, turmeric, insulin plant). We also raise native stingless bees, and do composting. We sell different kinds of teas, lettuce, honey, our handmade honey soap, virgin coconut oil, and other food products.
What makes CHEFerd’s Farm different from others?
Ours is a story of struggle at the beginning and I myself experienced the hard labor of establishing this farm. It was just out of grit, courage, persistence, and passion when I started. Some farm owners just manage their farms and hire workers without knowledge of the operations and without really understanding the hardships of being a farmer. (Read: 5 Suppliers Who Source Fruits and Vegetables From Local Farmers)
Additionally, our farm focuses on care for the environment. We manage our waste in a manner that will help our planet and we process them into a usable material that becomes the source of nutrient for our crops— compost. The bees that we keep also help our surroundings by pollinating crops, ensuring the continuity of food production.
Have you always been into nature?
I’ve always been into nature and farming. I grew up in the province of Albay, where my siblings and I used to do almost all palay farm operations, from planting to harvesting. We were trained to do hard, manual labor. We also live near the sea. So all these childhood experiences may have been the subconscious contributing factors of my current endeavors.
It took years of sacrifice and multiple detours to reach your dream. What kept you going?
I could have just stayed in a call center and that would have been absolutely okay. I learned a lot and had a great time in my work as a call center agent. (Read: Big Life Decisions? Chef Baba Benedicto Has This Advice For You!)
But I knew in my heart that I wanted to do something other than that. I want to fulfill my passion for the environment. I want to learn further in relation to my long-term goal. If, in the future, I would need money to help me meet my goals, I don’t see any problem going back to the call center industry. As long as what I do will help me achieve my end goal, I have no qualms with that.
What do you make of all these plantitos and plantitas?
I gave my thoughts about plants being all the rage in one of my Facebook videos at CHEFerd’s Farm. There is nothing wrong with it. My only concern is that some people go to undisturbed places to poach rare plants that aren’t supposed to thrive in the lowlands. (Read: 5 Plants You Should Never Buy From Stores)
The advice I gave in my video was to leave rare plants in the mountains and make them thrive in their natural habitat. And also, if these plantitos and plantitas are able to buy expensive ornamentals, maybe they could also support local farmers by buying their produce at a reasonable price.
What would you tell someone who wants to get into farming?
First off, make sure that you do this out of your passion and not just for money. Money is important in any endeavor, but if it’s your primary motivation, you might easily give up when things get rough and seem to be against you. You need to have passion to keep you fueled and fired up. Also, remember that farming is not a sprint but a marathon. Be prepared to fail, to lose, and to cry.