Bogs Castro from Zamboanga del Sur in the Philippines

Meet Bogs Castro from Zamboanga del Sur in the Philippines 

“I’m an organic farmer and a music and arts advocate whose passion is to cultivate peace and help communities wherever I go. I found the inspiration to grow my own food when I met my mentor Mrs Girlyn Pacalioga. She’s one of the most renowned organic practitioners and rice breeders in the Zamboanga Peninsula, Philippines. I was doing culture preservation advocacies in their region last February 2018 when I was given an opportunity to do farm immersion at Umaleng Farm. This was supposed to be my last assignment before heading back to the field as a peace builder and psychosocial care provider for this NGO in Mindanao that I was working with during that time. It was in Umaleng that I got introduced to organic farming and permaculture. I fell in love with the practice almost immediately.

Now I cultivate greens because it is the most sustainable thing to do, among other reasons. There’s so much wisdom in becoming a farmer. It teaches you to be patient and grounded. It gives you the power to control what goes in your body to provide not only nourishment but healing as well. This work that I’m doing has given me a new set of eyes – to realize that our bodies are sacred and in order for compassion to flow outward, it must flow inwards first. To love our body means to love our “kapwa". Kapwa in English means fellow human, but the definition should not just stop there. If I may quote Merlinda Bobis, “The trees are our kapwa. The rivers and the fishes are our kapwa." Nature is our kapwa, and by being conscious of what we consume, we become aware of what we give back to nature and what must be done to preserve it.

Our farm, Bukid ni Bogs, is located at the heart of Dumingag, Zamboanga del Sur in the Philippines. We are cultivating an area that is roughly 2 hectares, nestled between mountains and old trees in Sitio Dila. There are vegetables – from chilis, cucumbers, string beans, okra, eggplants, and leafy veggies – and fruit trees that supply us with mangoes, rambutan, jackfruit, lanzones and durian.

We are a diversified farm and everything is organically grown. We have patterned our farm design using permaculture as our backbone and guiding principle. This is to make sure that our farm is not only enhancing people’s lives with our organic produce, but the environment as well. Most farms in Dumingag cultivate organic rice but our main crop is Adlai, also called “Job’s Tears". It’s a staple crop in our region that we cultivate not just as a source of food, but as an ingredient in our organic soaps.

Right now the biggest challenge for us is the erratic climate that we are experiencing. Our farm is up in the mountains and our crops depend on rain and the natural spring for water. The weather in our region has been unusually warmer these past couple of years, and some of our crops including adlai, have a hard time coping to these changes in our environment. Although illegal logging, mining and “kaingin" or slash and burn agriculture is prohibited in our town, it is not the same in other regions. Lately our rivers are slowly drying up and we see more rocks and boulders than fishes in our river systems. This depletion and destruction of our natural resources affects us all. It is not enough that there’s a handful of organic practitioners like us fighting to rehabilitate the environment in our region. Everyone in the whole peninsula must get involved.

It may sound like a huge undertaking, but these challenges have rewarded us with opportunities to create dialogues with students and fellow farmers. A call to action was needed and our farm, with the help from the LGU of Dumingag, answered to that call. We are blessed to have a local government in Dumingag that is genuinely interested in the needs of its people. Leaders who listen and provide organic and regenerative solutions to our problems. This inspires us to do better and formulate creative and resourceful ways to tackle the issues that are affecting our community.

One such solution that we came up with is making organic soaps. There are plenty of organic bath bars in the market, but what makes our soaps stand out is that they are made with love by farmer’s hands. There are no harmful chemicals and animal products used in them, and the ingredients are ethically sourced to promote our fellow earth healers. To promote a zero-waste lifestyle, even the packaging for our soap is organic as well – using dried banana leaves to wrap the soap, abaka string handwoven by our local weavers to tie the packaging, and our tags are made from recycled paper with spinach seeds in them so you can grow edible greens in the comfort of your own home. Nothing is wasted. Apart from being an all natural and cruelty-free soap, our bath bars are multipurpose. Every bar of soap functions as a shampoo, facial and body wash, even as dishwashing and laundry soap all in one. And these are the most affordable organic soaps in the market to date, with price ranging from P5 – P80 per bar.

We conduct seminars and workshops about permaculture and soap making to the people of Dumingag with the help and resources from the local government. Other neighboring towns and regions have already started to collaborate with us to support our advocacy of empowering women and underserved communities all over Mindanao and across the country. We are driving this organic revolution to cultivate awareness about the plight of our farmers and the environment and affect positive change around us, one organic soap at a time.

This endeavor has taught me one valuable lesson, and that is to do everything with love. If you wish to start an advocacy, a movement, or any type of business, build it around compassion. Create something that would enhance the quality of your life, the communities around you, and contribute to the rehabilitation of our environment. Many people see organic farming as just an idea or a dream. For us it’s not just a way to do farming. Organic is a way of thinking. Organic is a way of life and this is how we believe we can move forward towards a more sustainable and regenerative future.

If you can’t grow your own food or lack the space to do so, be in the business of helping and giving back to the people who do. We need to support and breed more earth healers and food growers. Teach your children to respect their bodies and the environment. All around the world there are amazing movements fighting for nature. Join them. Every action towards saving our planet, regardless of how small or big, counts.”