Container gardening used to be a mere hobby for this pretty and spirited young lady of Bacon District in Sorsogon City. But her hobby blossomed into a profitable and sustainable enterprise, as along the way she was able to found a group with whom she shared the same vision.

Nea D. Corral used to be employed in a food chain and later on in a driving academy but when her father was diagnosed with colon cancer, she resigned from her work and took care of her father. Little did she know that the course of her life would have a 360-degree turn.

It all started when Nea, in her free time, tried her green thumb in planting green leafy vegetables in their backyard. She started with 10 vegetable seeds given by the Department of Agriculture RFO 5. The urban agriculture program of Sorsogon City LGU also inspired her further to try vegetable growing in plastic containers and other waste materials such as used car tires and softdrink bottles.

“Masaya pala magtanim. Habang tumatagal at nakikita ko na namumunga na ang mga tanim ko, mas lalo akong nag-eenjoy. At ang gaganda nila, sing ganda ko!,” she said in jest.

Nea is now a certified farmer, agri-preneur and vlogger with 10,000 followers.

“That time, year 2021, nabuo namin ng mga friends ko at kasama sa church ang Bacon Agriculture Association (BASS),” she added. Nea was elected as President of the association with 28 members coming from barangays San Jose and San Roque both in Bacon District. Their association was registered with the Department of Labor and Employment in January, 2021. The group started planting pinakbet vegetables in their 400 sq. meter communal garden.

“Nang naging association kami, lumawak yung natataniman namin, hindi na lang yun mga backyard namin. Nakakuha kami ng 3-hectares communal area na rented namin hanggang ngayon at P15,000 per year,” she quipped. Bilang aktibong asosasyon, dumami ang activities namin. Sabay sabay na kaming nagtatanim, nagbobonding at kumikita pa kami,” she quipped. During the pandemic in the middle of 2021, the concept of a “community pantry” was introduced when a small cart containing groceries was placed in Maginhawa Street in Quezon City, with a placard saying “magbigay ng ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan.” From then on more food banks have been set up where people came together to help their kababayans who lost their jobs and do not have food in their tables.

In that same time in 2021 in Sorsogon, Nea’s group also put up a community pantry where their surplus vegetables, and even the fresh harvests, were given for free instead of selling them. As more people lined up for the free vegetables they offered in the community pantry, they became more inspired to plant more and thus looked for more idle lands to plant more short gestating crops.

Luckily, another group, the Bacon Believers Agriculture Coop where Nea is a Board of Director was impressed with their efforts and decided to join their group. The Bacon Believers Agri Coop has 6,000 square meters communal vegetable garden also planted with different kinds of lowland vegetables such as eggplant, string beans, pechay and cucumber. One of the prime movers of the coop is Pastor Eduardo Doloso. Pastor Ed got his inspiration from his father whose lifelong profession was farming. He envisioned their coop to be a sustainable one. “Sabi ng father ko, huwag mong gayahin ang ibang kooperatiba na sa umpisa lang magaling subalit hindi nagtatagal,” he recalled.

According to Pastor Ed, a portion of the harvested vegetables were divided among the members who helped in maintaining the plots, while the sales or the income from the Sunday Market went to the coop funds.

In April 2023, the management of SM Sorsogon collaborated with the Sorsogon Dairy Production and Technology Center headed by its Superintendent, Pedro Oliver, to put up a Sunday Market in a bid to help farmers market their products and bring local produce to the mall.

Oliver immediately invited the Bacon Agriculture Association and Bacon Believers Agri Coop, together with some organized groups of farmer beneficiaries of the Special Area for Agricultural Development (SAAD) to bring their harvest to the mall for the Sunday Market. The groups started selling from 7:00 AM until 3:00 PM every Sunday. With the group’s hardwork and strategy, they were able to sustain the volume needed on the weekly market day. Every market day, they were able to earn from P3,500 up to P5,000 sales. The Sunday Market has been a blessing to them as they had a regular place to sell their produce. The total sales of all the associations and SAAD beneficiaries every Sunday ranged from P25,000 to P50,000.

As of this writing, the two associations are still maintaining their stalls at the entrance of SM Sorsogon every Sunday Market.

The two associations also participated in the launching of the Kadiwa ng Pangulo at the Sorsogon Sports Complex in Balogo, Sorsogon City on July 17, 2023. There were 56 exhibitors from different government agencies that sold a variety of farm products including handicrafts and souvenir items that garnered over P300,000 sales.

Nea wished to continue their Kadiwa ng Pangulo if given the chance. “Kailangan namin sa ngayon ay Kadiwa truck na pwede naming magamit sa pagdadala ng aming mga produkto sa mga market areas. Maaari din kaming mag Kadiwa on Wheels, kung mabibigyan kami ng kahit maliit na truck. Kase po P500.00 ang bayad namin sa tricycle sa paghakot ng aming produkto mula sa farm patungo sa market,” she confessed.

One of the vegetable plantations of the Bacon Agriculture Association was the three-hectare area at the foot of Mt. Pulog. Although the farm can be seen from the national road, the only way to the farm is along a very narrow irrigation canal which is very slippery during rainy days, and walking along narrow dikes is not easy when carrying loads of vegetables.

In this recent cropping season, the two associations were recipients of various interventions from High Value Crops Development Program and the National Urban and Peri Urban Agriculture (NUPAP).

Nea’s groups are not spared from the numerous problems that affect the Bicolano farmers like the El Nino phenomenon that has changed the schedule of irrigation in their area, and the scorching heat of the sun that forced them to use plastic mulching. Thanks to the HVCDP for the 10 rolls of plastic mulch they used to cover the newly planted tomato, eggplant, cabbage, and other vegetables. But this spirited lady will not let any challenge stop their momentum. She and her members know that they are just starting and that the best is yet to come. (Lovella P. Guarin – RAFIS 5)