34-year-old farmer is believed to be an island’s only ampalaya farmer – Manila Bulletin

Fernando Cacho Ramirez, 34, has been growing fruit and vegetables for ten years, but only recently started growing ampalaya.

He worked early in his farming career as a farmhand on a friend’s farm. Today, he oversees their family’s agricultural holdings on Santiago Island, an island still separate from the capital, Bolinao.

Fernando Ramirez, 34, is the only ampalaya grower on the island of Santiago so far.

When it comes to the accessibility of produce on the island, Ramirez says, “There are supermarkets here, but limited to canned and dry goods. There are only a few vendors of fruit and vegetables, [most of whom sell their own products]. The main livelihood here is fishing. There are very few farmers, while [other islanders] work in Metro Manila and some are OFWs.”

To get to and from the mainland, the locals usually spend a minimum of P200 for the tricycle and boat fare. “Usually, islanders go there to buy other necessities, especially on Tuesdays and Saturdays, our market days,” he added.

The island’s only ampalaya farmer

Ramirez claims to be the only ampalaya grower on the island of Santiago to date. He started planting ampalaya in April 2022. So far he has been harvesting two to three times a week, with a minimum of 50 kilos per harvest.

The Ramirez family consumes agricultural produce, but Fernando sells some of it and offers discounts to retailers and sellers. Some are traded for fish from his fishing friends.

“I am the only ampalaya grower on the island because farmers here mainly grow cassava, onions, sitaw and aubergines.” On the mainland, however, there are other ampalaya farmers who supply bitter melon to markets in Bolinao. For this reason, Ramirez sells his ampalaya products exclusively on the island of Santiago.

Ramirez was also told by his retailers and vendors, who are fish and vegetable sellers there, that they have not encountered any other ampalaya producers on the island besides him.

Although he is a new ampalaya farmer, Ramirez’s 10-year farming experience has equipped him to grow the vegetable successfully.

The first thing he did was apply goat manure a month before planting to fertilize and nourish the soil. Then, a week before sowing his ampalaya seeds, he placed a trellis around the grow room to protect the plant.

“As the crops grew, I used a small amount of complete fertilizer (three times 16), applied directly by spreading it near the plant.”

Ramirez has placed sticky insect traps all over the farm to keep fruit flies away from plants. He also uses pesticides and insecticides, but when he does, he washes them away for three days before harvesting crops.

He also inspects the plants daily. He immediately removes the fruits or plants and discards them if there are signs of insect bites or damage.

Summer is the challenging part for him. Since the deep well with a water pump is 50 meters away from the farm, he uses a long garden hose to fill water drums and then manually sprays each crop.

A family that burps burps everywhere they go

He farms on more or less two acres of land that he and his siblings inherited from their late father. It is home to a variety of crops, including cassava, jackfruit, mango, and banana. This inherited land was divided among Ramirez’s siblings, but since most of them don’t stay there, Fernando controls the land for the most part.

There he raises goats and raises chickens for cockfighting.

Before building an ampalaya farm, in his previous work he only grew sitaw, aubergines, onions, cassava and sweet potato.

The ampalaya farm is 50 meters away from the mainland. It is a separate land owned by his brother, who is a soldier and has an agricultural background.

“My brother offered me to use his extra land of about 1,700 square meters, and he also helped me [with] buy seeds and build the farm trellis.”

Apart from ampalaya, other crops he grows are banana, calamansi, cucumber and string beans.

In more than two months of harvesting ampalaya, he already earned a net income of P35,000.

Farm harvest time keeps the whole family busy.

He is blessed with siblings who share the same passion for farming, even though they no longer live under the same roof. He is the brother of Cristina Ramirez Padua, an urban gardener who grows lettuce in the city and was previously featured on Agriculture Online.

Read Cristina’s story here: Caloocan entrepreneur grows lettuce in the city

His upbringing in an agricultural family gave him the heart of a farmer. Through this position, he quietly hopes that the authorities will notice this and provide assistance to all the small farmers on the island like him.

Photos courtesy of Fernando Ramirez

Read more about farming and gardening at farming.com.ph

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