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From Dresden to Marinduque: learning to see through the eyes of a farmer

Written by Josephine Schmeisser 

I am a twenty-year-old German girl from Dresden and I have been a volunteer at AGREA for five months now (since February 2017). I am based in Marinduque where most of my time is spent at the AGREA Model Farm. There, I have been helping out the farmers and growing my own crops. 

After I graduated from high school in Germany, I decided to take a gap year for voluntary work with the organization AFS, which assigned me to AGREA. 

Although farming was not new to me, because the curriculum of my school includes a farming internship in grade nine and also provides gardening lessons, I still experienced a lot of new things. 

READ: AGREA is now a Certified Organic Agriculture Learning Site

One of my first tasks was to make my own organic fertilizer. I was already familiar with the principles of organic farming, it was quite amazing to witness the actual procedure. 

It is so great how only the local materials are used and how simple organic farming can be.

For example, fermented plant juice, which is a natural growth enhancer and serves as food for microorganisms, only contains locally growing plant parts and molasses.

Besides this, one of my bigger tasks was to grow three different crops on my own. First of all, I needed to prepare the soil, because most of the ordinary soil is not yet suitable for crops to grow. Therefore, I mixed it with organic materials, such as carbonized rice hull. The second step was, sowing the seeds in a seedling tray. Once they had developed seedlings, I transferred them to the actual plot. It was an amazing feeling to see my little plants grow and develop. Over a number of weeks, I had to do general care and maintenance tasks, like watering, weeding, pest control and pruning. The last step would have been the harvest, unfortunately, almost all my crops fetched some diseases and did not develop proper fruits. 

READ: AGREA: First TESDA-accredited Farm School in Marinduque

Initially I was really sad that my crops did not grow properly, however, in retrospect I think I was lucky. The reason why I think so is that I believe, if my crops would have turned out well, I would have only understood half of the challenges farmers have to cope with. This “failure” was actually the much better experience, because it changed my perspective on some things.

HANDS ON. Aside from planting in the farm, Josephine also helped in making carbonized rice hull, an effective farm input used as carbon source and shelter for microorganisms. 

On one hand, I realized how unpredictable farming can be and how flexible farmers need to be in order to cope with situations like mine. If I had been a real farmer, living from the crops sold, the diseases could have ruined me. This experience really increased my respect for farmers.

On the other hand, I knew of course that all our food is produced by farmers and fisher folks. However, it was a rather abstract vision. Somehow, I knew it but never thought of it when I bought food.

Now, that I have experienced the work, I’ve been thinking about it more. I’ve started thinking about the crazy big offer of produce we have in our supermarkets and all the food that is thrown away, which made me value it much more.

In conclusion, I think this was a very precious experience for me and I believe, if more people would get the same chance, they would understand the value of our food and the work of our farmers much better and would also understand that organic farming is a realizable alternative.

READ: Empowering farmers through Values Formation and Financial Literacy

Josephine Schmeisser is an AFS participant from Germany assigned to AGREA as a volunteer. AFS is an inclusive community of global citizens: students, families, and volunteers determined to build bridges between cultures. To learn more about AFS, go to their website

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