Like the trees that grow mightily inside this 366-hectare land, Virginia Centeno Guevara, 82, saw the passing of time with a confidence rooted in the soil. We found her gardening in the late afternoon, clad in a faded red duster with white polka dots and white rose patterns, her fingers caked with soil around the nails. The plastic bag of a urinary catheter hung casually by her side, its long tube disappearing in the folds of her loose dress.
“I inherited this farm from my father-in-law. He had three sons, all, now dead,” she said as she peered closely at our faces, her small, bright eyes shielded from the glare of the afternoon sun by the monochromatic light grey and dark grey, cloth hat she wore.
Mrs. Guevara bore 11 children, two of whom died. She speaks proudly of her second child Edgar, who pioneered in developing the land and converting it to what is now known as Geo Farm.
“I love Geo Farm. Dito ngayon sa buong Pilipinas, ang hinahanap ng kabataan ay yung kalikasan, yung natural. Kaya ako, yang mga tuyong dahon na yan ang fertilizer ko sa halaman. Puro gulay namin ang kinakain ko, kaya ako malakas [Today, all over the Philippines, the youth seek nature, what is natural. So, I use dried leaves as fertilizer for my plants. My diet is mostly vegetables from the farm, that is why I am strong],” she said.
Mrs. Guevara said she leads a simple life, burdened only by incontinence. “I wake up at five or six in the morning. I start my day walking. I have difficulty urinating, hence my having a catheter. But I sleep soundly. At six, I watch ‘Wowowee’ (early evening variety-game show).”
HARMONY WITH NATURE
Situated in Barangay Mangayao in Bayambang, Pangasinan—almost three hours away from Manila—Geo Farm boasts of being a farm land that follows the “eco-village concept and design.”
“The eco-village is a model not many are familiar with. It is about self-sufficiency, where we are not dependent on industrial food that use too much electricity,” Edgar ‘Ed’ Guevara explained.
He added that Geo Farm lives in harmony with nature, raising farm animals that consume food that’s free of antibiotics, growth hormones, drugs, chemicals, and pesticides.
“We grow organic food, raise organic pigs, chickens, and goats. We are self-sufficient,” Guevara said.
This once Geneva, Switzerland-based banker who traded his white-collar job in one of the oldest and richest cities of Europe to be a farmer in the Philippines, describes himself in his Facebook account as a “climate change eco-solutions specialist and disaster resilient eco-village, sustainable development consultant.”
Stocky of build, with skin the color of mahogany, and sporting a pirate-style, printed, blue bandana over his shoulder-length locks, Guevara’s Malayan face commands attention as he engages in animated, non-stop, informative lectures disguised as conversation.
“I once lived near Geneva lake. The first time I was there I saw many swans and about 15 kinds of ducks. I said to myself, ‘Switzerland is a fine place to live. Daming ducks, daming pulutan [Many ducks, many appetizers]. I planned to catch some the next day since nobody owned them. But to my surprise, I saw children feeding them in the park. The ducks were so tame, they approached people without fear. My heart melted. It was the first time I saw birds unafraid of humans. I did the same, placed bread on the window ledge of my fifth floor apartment. I became friends with some 37 seagulls and swallows. Come winter, I saw some seemingly dead swallows on the pavement. I picked them up, took them home and warmed them. The heat revived the birds and the next day, they flew out the window. My girl friend and her uncle were so happy. ‘Edgar, you saved those birds,’ her uncle said. That event changed my view of wildlife. I became an environmentalist,” Guevara narrated.
Coming back to the Philippines in the 80s, he briefly took a job as dive master and later, returned to the land his family owned in Pangasinan. “I wanted to create my own paradise kasi gusto ko lahat ng prutas, lahat ng gulay, lahat ng punongkahoy [I wanted all the fruits, all the vegetables, all the trees] to grow in our farm. I created a world where there was no reason to be hungry.”
He marked the years collecting all kinds of seeds, even types of grass. There is acacia, kamagong, jack fruit, avocado, santol, mabolo, tiyesa, fire tree, aratiles, nym tree, mango, papaya, fortune plant, and all varieties of banana. “I collected for biodiversity, so that I’d have a seed bank, just in case.”
Guevara does not relish the thought of eating food from genetically modified plants. “The only fruit I do not have is the durian because it does not grow in lowland,” he said.
Guevara has a keen eye for healing plants and included in his growing collection the likes of chichirica (periwinkle), touted to be a cure for leukemia; pansit-pansitan (Peperomia pellucida), a shallow-rooted herb with heart shaped leaves, approved by the Department of Health for being a cure for rheumatism; buhok ng mais (corn silk), reported to be a cure for diabetes; lemon grass, a natural insect repellant that is said to cure all kinds of ailments—from acne, athlete’s foot, colitis, fevers, muscular pain, headaches, and indigestion; and bangka-bangkaan (known commonly as Moses-in-the-cradle, oyster plant, and boat lilly) that is said to cure whooping cough and asthma.
Today, Geo Farm is a thriving enterprise that, in the words of Guevara, functions as an “eco-youth camp and training center that offers holistic healing modules, waste recycling, renewable energy installation (biogas, solar, and wind), including climate change solutions.”
Approached from a long and narrow gravel path lined with young fire trees and thick millionaire vines, the two-story main house of Geo Farm is Guevara’s abode, where guests and visitors are received.
Pitched on the outside lawn fronting the house is a large, white para-tent that is half the size of an average basketball court.
Guevara said it only takes 30 minutes to set up the tent, which can accommodate 30 to 35 people. “Together with sleeping bags, dayami mats, or banig, the tent can serve as an additional room for visitors,” he said.
Geo Farm is not open to the public. It accepts visitors by reservation (www.genesispalawan.com). “You have to reserve in advance,” Guevara said, adding, “the minimum number for a reservation is between 25 to 30 people.”
The farm has dormitory rooms that can accommodate 60 to 70 people. But for visitors that number 150 above, Guevara resorts to tents and houses them camp-style.
He added that Geo Farm prefers group visits because the preparation effort is the same for individual and groups. “We involve our community residents in the preparations. We serve organic food which is very different from canned food since it entails a longer preparation time.”
The week of our visit, Guevara said he was expecting a group of 25 people from the Philippine Normal school. “Our student rate is P2,500 per person, while it is P3,500 for non-students. We practice socialized pricing and subsidize, from time-to-time, out-of-school youths,” he said.
The number of Geo Farm staff varies, depending on the number of visitors, with 4-5 staff during the low season and as much as 25 staff during the peak season. Sourced from the nearby communities, the staff are trained to handle visitors and to give massages.
Staff members likewise provide full-body spa treatments at P3,500 and P200 per hour for a Shiatsu back massage.
SPIRULINA, LEMON GRASS
One of the unique offerings of Geo Farm is spirulina, a blue-green micro algae popular worldwide for its therapeutic properties. It is packaged as a food supplement (spirulina caviar), beauty cream (spirulina face pack), and as a nutrient (spirulina capsules).
Girlie, 37, a neighbor who works at the Guevara farm, has been harvesting spirulina in man-made ponds everyday for the past 10 years. “I harvest once a day, every 6 a.m.”
Located at the back of the main house, the ponds containing spirulina are exposed to sunlight and combined with sea water sourced from Bolinao, Pangasinan or volcanic water from Mount Balungao, also in Pangasinan.
Guevara said he got his Ecuador-sourced spirulina in Switzerland. “Pinuslit ko lang sa bulsa ko at pinadami ko. Iyong isang bote, naging isang litro, tapos naging galon. Iyong isang galon, naging aquarium [I swiped it and placed the spirulina in my pocket. From a bottle-full, it grew to a liter, then a galon, until it became and aquarium].”
Guevara swears that spirulina cures diabetes. “In a matter of weeks, you will see the results. Spirulina removes the acidity in your body which causes diabetes. It treats the liver and removes impurities in your body. You will have renewed energy. In weeks, you will see your blood sugar dropping.”
Geo Farm also offers lemon grass which fetches P350 for every big bottle.
A return to nature and to what is natural is the working philosophy of Geo Farm, according to Guevara.
Room accommodations are best described as rustic—standard wooden bed or double-decker, no fans, and at times, with non-functioning door locks.
Guevara revealed that the spartan treatment did not bring discomfort to visiting students and guests. “Even those from rich families enjoyed sleeping with other kids in one room, talking until the wee hours of the morning.”
There is an “eat-all-you-can” buffet that serves mainly vegetables. “Those who want meat can go catch a chicken and cook the fowl. Sometimes, we’d tell them to catch a piglet and they would spend the entire day running.”
Every year, Guevara said, Geo Farm plays host to students from the International School in Makati. “It has been going on for 15 years now. They number 30 to 32 students per batch and stay in Geo Farm for five days. They harvest corn and mangoes or go carabao riding. They also play basketball with the locals. Some students cry when it is time to leave. ‘You’re food is so good,’ is their most often remark.”
All in all, he said, the exposure creates a “lifestyle change.”
Guevara further said: “People come here. They keep coming in busloads. If they want change, you start within. Since Geo Farm opened in 1995, we have had almost half a million visitors. We average P100,000 to P150,000 a month.”
Guevara said Geo Farm has a solution-based philosophy to climate change. “We need to find a direct impact solution to climate change or else good night everybody.”
And like his unorthodox farm, Guevara offers bold, never-before-tried solutions to climate change that the average mind might easily dismiss as out of this world.
For one, he has his “New Earth Sea Project,” a daring plan to flood the earth’s deserts with sea water.
“Sea level rise will happen anyway, whether we like it or not, but with anticipation, timing, unity, and global cooperation, we could divert the rising sea into low-lying desert areas, creating a desert drainage to reduce the impact of coastal flooding in major cities of the world,” Guevara explained.
He stressed that his New Earth Sea Project will have an immediate impact on cooling the deserts, which he calls as the earth’s “heat radiators.”
Deserts like the Sahara could be turned into an inland sea or desalinated to become freshwater reservoirs.
Another of Guevara’s seemingly impossible conceptualized undertaking is Project Genesis Palawan, a plan to save the Pacific Ocean from the Fukushima radiation by protecting inland seas.
Under the plan, the Malampaya Sound in Palawan will be physically enclosed to protect marine life inside the Sound. Spirulina and other collected marine life will be added to the enclosed area to propagate them and to boost food reserves.
Marine Eco-experts are envisioned to team up and train the locals of Malampaya Sound to build together the ‘Seed of Life,’ a model sustainable village to withstand global disaster—designed to kick start a new beginning, Guevara said.
“Malampaya Sound, 34 kilometers long and seven kilometers wide, has a gate. Tuluran Island in the middle has a mouth of 500 meters. We can close that. The gate will only be one kilometer. Once closed, it will become a humungous aquarium where radiation cannot penetrate. It will be locked by a gate bridge,” he further explained.
For his fantastic plan, Guevara won in the “100 Projects for the Climate,” launched by the French Ministry of the Environment in 2016, with the goal of identifying and supporting 100 of the most innovative citizen-led solutions to combat global warming from around the world. The chair of the event was Madame Ségolène Royal, who also chaired COP21 or the Conference of the Parties (COP) that signed the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
A total of 591 local projects were submitted by participants from 83 countries, contributing local working solutions aimed at addressing the climatic challenge.
Guevara’s Project Genesis Palawan was ranked no. 72. He added, however, that the “100 Projects for Climate” had a sour ending, being unable to support and give promotion to the winners.
He added, however, that his hopes remain high. “Ang pag-asa ko si [My hope lies with] Leonardo Di Caprio. He’s desperately looking for a solution. If I am able to talk to him, I know, he will believe me. He has the money and the connection.”
Guevarra is a patient and persistent advocate of saving the earth. In years past, he set up organic restaurants and helped establish a women and ecology wellness farm with Sister Mary John Mananzan in Mendez, Cavite.
He has likewise put up his “Seven Healing Gardens” in Tagaytay and Baguio. Each of the seven-layer, circular garden includes an herb garden, bahay kubo (vegetable) garden, fruit garden, salad garden, flower garden, and cactus garden, with a spirulina fountain right at the center.
These days, Guevara busies himself with his latest undertaking: building an eco-village in Kinatarcan Island, Cebu—a project of former Environment Secretary Gina Lopez. (Photos by Ferdinand G. Mendoza)G