I once joked with my boss at a fairly well known management consulting firm that I would call it quits, retire early and hie off to a coconut plantation in the middle of nowhere. I was speaking figuratively, or so I thought. Karma has a way of getting back at you when you least expect it. My two-day trip to Bicol was to return to my grandfatherâ€™s neighborhood of 80 years ago. He grew up there and as he got more successful as a lawyer, he purchased more and more farmland in the neighborhood where he grew up, a town just 20-25 minutes out of Legazpi, though he never intended to move back there. Much of that land was eventually given up to several phases of land reform programs (generally huge failures, I might add) by several different administrations, but a tiny portion of the land remained in the family.
So off to the farm I went. The regional top product, copra or coconut meats for turning into coconut oil, was also the top product on the farm. With about 100 coconut trees per hectare, these babies churn out 15-20 coconuts every 40-50 days or roughly 100-120 coconuts per tree per year, weather permitting. At PHP2.50 per nut, a coconut tree yields just PHP250-300 per year in revenueâ€¦ or at least thatâ€™s what I was figuring as I walked through the coconut groves. I once read an article where the author used as his hypothesis the fact that all of these Philippine coconut plantations (which were essentially encouraged during the American times to feed the insatiable demand for coconut oil in the U.S. at that time) are a major reason why Filipinos are so laid back (read: lazy) and our land so relatively unproductive in terms of agricultural output. He suggested that because one didnâ€™t have to do much to maintain coconut groves (no fertilizer, watering, pruning, etc.), farmers got used to just waiting around shooting the breeze (or is it lambanog) until it was harvest time. This is a super summary and simplification of his argument but it did stick in my mindâ€¦ You could almost carry the argument through to todayâ€™s OFW situation where nearly half of the population in the archipelago is perhaps somewhat dependent on the estimated 8 million plus Filipinos who earn their incomes abroad and send much of it home to support their extended familiesâ€¦hmm, but thatâ€™s strayingâ€¦
At any rate, there were coconuts up the wazoo. They even had someone climb up a tree and get us a couple of perfectly drinkable nuts and we had them just minutes after they were cut off the treeâ€¦they were incredibly sweet and refreshing. We also had ripe saba bananas (picked from the tree ripe, talk about fresh!) that were fried up with a bit of batter and served with sugar, superb! But besides the coconuts and bananas, I got glimpses of several avocado trees heavily laden with fruit that was just a few days from ripening. There were also randomly planted pomelo trees (from seeds thrown haphazardly perhaps) that had been planted perhaps 15-20 years ago, wild pili trees, atis, papayas, etc. Being right up close to the fruit just before it was ready for harvest was an incredible experience, something you should do at least once if you are currently acquiring most of your food from an airconditioned groceryâ€¦ There is just something fascinating, wholesome and satisfying about being that close to the source of all this great stuff that we like to eat. Up next, more detailed posts on pili nuts, ripe pili, cacao, igot and sulay bagyo and massive pigs, all from the family farmâ€¦