Farmers survive pandemic by planting berry runners
As economies crashed and many lost jobs due to the Covid-19 crisis, some residents in Baguio City turned to planting and urban gardening and made selling of plants and crops one of the newest careers that gave rise to plantitos and plantitas.
In Barangay Sto. Tomas Central, a family survived the prolonged lockdown and escaped unemployment by doing what they have been doing best even before the pandemic hit – planting strawberries, not only to sell its fruits but also to grow strawberry runners for which they developed a stable market over time.
While the pandemic initially affected their income, the family of Samy Lang-ay, 41, did not completely go under, like other crop farmers who suffered losses due to unsold produce.
When restrictions were eased, many residents from nearby barangays flocked to Lang-ay’s farms to buy strawberries because of its nutritional value and they wanted to eat healthy. A client at the Camp 7 satellite market also requested for a regular supply of strawberries.
But what he considers his saving grace and that of his family is the propagation of San Andreas variety of strawberry runners, called “saringit” or “daughter’s crown,” which diligently sprout by thousands and briskly bought in bulk by other strawberry farmers mostly from Kibungan, Benguet.
Lang-ay learned the techniques on runner production from his trainings he applied for in Japan, Hawaii, and Australia, which taught him good agricultural practices such as crop varieties, soil conditioning, and proper use and timing in application of fertilizers.
There, he came across the San Andreas variety, which suits Baguio’s climate, bigger in size, and a bit sour compared with other varieties but have steady buyers for various uses.
When his plan to attend training for the third time in 2016 was foiled by an international issue with the country that denied the issuance of visas for Filipinos, Lang-ay went bankrupt after incurring debts for his travel expenses that he was supposed to pay back after his training.
He took out the remaining strawberry plants he had and up and ran to his gardens to plant, in an attempt to stop harboring dark thoughts.
After four months, the 80 mother strawberries he planted produced 9,000 runners. One mother plant, Lang-ay explained, can sprout a maximum of 50 runners, but it dies after. He only lets it produce about 20 runners so it does not get exhausted, and it can be productive up to two years.
From his initial harvest, he sold 5,000 at P25 each. He planted the remaining 4,000 saringits in the other plots, which gave him 21,000 more saringits. In eight months, Lang-ay was able to pay all of his debts and felt capable of supporting his young family.
By the end of 2016, Lang-ay’s strawberry runner production boomed and from then he no longer entertained thoughts of running to leave his home and family to work elsewhere.
He and four of his 10 siblings who are also farmers living close to each other in Sto. Tomas Central worked together and shared the skills their parents taught them and those he learned from trainings abroad.
He also receives technical assistance from the High Value Crops Development Program of the Department of Agriculture-Cordillera, which updates him and visits his farms regularly for support.
Their feat caught the interest of some of their neighbors, to whom they also sold runners and shared some knowledge.
Lang-ay is currently the president of the Organization of San Andreas Strawberry Association in their barangay.
For Lang-ay, his wife Ana, and daughters 15-year old Frean May and 10-year old Hannah Mae, strawberries made possible their shot for a better life successful and it taught them not to run away when life gives them lemons or when in the face of misfortunes.
When the Covid-19 pandemic started in March, Lang-ay said the business was also affected, but not as bad as the others who suffered huge losses.
“I feel blessed we chose to grow strawberries. Aside from the fruit, I am thankful I learned how to efficiently grow runners because it helped us afloat despite the pandemic. With proper management and rearing – and prayers every morning for a fruitful day in the gardens – the return is substantial,” Lang-ay told the Courier, who added their parents may not have left them material inheritance, but they owe them a lot for teaching them the ways in the farms, to be industrious, patient, and persevering.
These traits and knowledge in turn are what Samy and Ana teach their children, who enjoy taking breaks from their module classes and prune strawberry plants to help the daughter’s crowns out.
They are, after all, farmers’ daughters. – Hanna C. Lacsamana