LT’s strawberry fields as a national treasure
When the Spaniards introduced several mid-latitudinal vegetables and plants (including strawberries) in La Trinidad at the fringes of the valley swamp in the 1800s, they perhaps had no inkling two things would eventually happen.* * * * * * * * * *
First, from the 1950s onwards, that swamp was systematically drained until it shaped up as a veritable farmland in the 1970s. Second, strawberry was to become an ideal crop up to this very day, and remains part of the reason why farming persists despite the intrusion of buildings, residences, and roads.
Factor in a compromised water source and the picture may not look rosy.
But strawberry farming is not going away. The area may have been whittled down to more 40 hectares (from a high of 80 hectares in 1980s) but it is still part of a robust industry and remains probably the only commodity from Benguet that is marketed both in its fresh form and as a processed product, thanks in the main to enterprising locals who stuck with it both in the bad and in the good times. They are the unsung heroes of both the municipality and the province but whose names do not ring a bell to those in charge of choosing outstanding citizens.
A succession of local administrations has recognized what visitors themselves see: irrigation water tainted with used oils and solid wastes (which also by themselves tell another story) emanating from establishments and residences upstream.
But sadly, the effort has not been matched by concrete and sustainable efforts on the ground (whether by executive fiat, legislation, or joint ventures) to protect and to enhance an agricultural rarity that thrives only in the valley.
The prevailing mindset seems to keel towards the putting up of structures without consideration of the added stress these bring about towards the environment and natural resources.
So while photo-ops may show a mouth-watering fruit, the untold story maybe the inability of local governance to fully appreciate strawberry farming not only as a tourism and business come-on but as a veritable national treasure that needed to be protected and to be preserved so that succeeding generations would look upon it in the flesh and not in their imaginations.
When PMA Sinaglahi valedictorian Arwi Chiday Martinez’ name was first announced, my attention was drawn to his family name. The Chidays are vintage Loakan and I knew they are relations to the Pingis and to Kathleen Okubo. I knew off hand he is a nephew of Jackson Chiday, the easygoing president of the Onjon ni Ivadoy.
Then my half-brother Elvis sent me a message to say the folks up there along the Mt. Trail were celebrating. Turned out the newly-minted 2nd Lt. Arwi was a nephew, the son of a cousin, Dancio, himself the son of an uncle, Pablo who was himself the son of Martinez Puddong of Barangay Amgaleyguey, Buguias. Thing was uncle Pablo and three of his siblings used their father’s name (instead of Puddong) as their family names although in the case of the PMA graduate, it was the correct one. My grandmother Sinaygan is sister to Puddong, Labinio, Calapen, Bang-ak, Bagolin, and to another brother whose name I have yet to recall. This brother married in Suyo, Ilocos Sur before WWII and was buried there. Bang-ak migrated to Cattubo, Atok and is fittingly recalled during clan reunions. Labinio is the grandfather of Fausto who is addressed as mayor in the municipality of Bakun.
That is not all. Martinez Puddong is married to Lecamay Saltin of the Ganasi-Ogamay clan where Laking (a spitting image of Lee Van Clef except that he wore g-strings) comes from. So you can say the young lieutenant is a nephew twice over.
From your uncles and aunties and relatives in Bakun and Buguias, congratulations indeed 2nd Lt. Arwi for topping your class. Matago-tago tako!