It was an ordinary day for Jonnie. The gleaming glow of the sun infused his sun-kissed skin as he gets ready for battle – harvest time.

Jonnie Guyo, president, smiles as he prepares himself to harvest bountiful bell peppers.

It was not always a smooth-sailing ride for the members of the Pinagalaan Vegetable Growers Association (PINAVEGRA). Cultivating a 1.5-hectare privately-owned land, situated in Barangay Pinagalaan, was a challenging duty for them.

Withered past

Established four years ago (2014), the association started with 30 committed members aiming to become one of the vegetable producers in the “cut-flower capital of the Agusan del Sur” – Bayugan City. But the odds were not in their favor for they failed in their previous parcel, which discouraged other members.

Sukad ato, nawad-an og gana ang uban miyembro. Gikan sa 30, nahimo nalang mi og pito. Grabe to nga pagsulay (Since then, other members lost their interest. From 30, we decreased to seven. It was a great trial),” Jonnie Guyo, PINAVEGRA president, got slightly emotional as he reminisced their withered past.

New niche to nourish

The hardworking faces of the partner-beneficiaries shine as the sun gleamed.

Though it seem too hard to recover from their failure, the seven members remained steadfast. Their perseverance paid off with a new beginning – a new niche to nourish.

Joahna Legada, the association’s secretary, agreed that after every rain, there is always a rainbow. “Bisan ug napakyas mi, wala nawala ang among paglaum para sa grupo. Sa among pagpaningkamot, nahatagan kami ug ganti (Despite our failure, our hopes still remained for our group. Because of our hard work, we were given a reward,” she proudly shared.

Compassionate linkages

 Their dedication opened doors of opportunities on skills development. When a non-government organization known as Winrock International launched the Philippine Cold Chain (PCC) Project, they were invited to learn about organic farming, with all expenses paid. Through the East-West Seed corporation, they underwent field schooling once a week for six months. Their knowledge on farming escalated – performing various demonstrations, improving quality yields, and managing finances.

DSWD staff visit the PINAVEGRA communal garden situated in P-1, Brgy. Pinagalaan, Bayugan City.

Compassionate government agencies also provided vast avenues for the association. “Mapasalamaton mi sa mga ahensya sa gobyerno nga naghatag namo og oportunidad. Usa na ang Department of Agriculture nga gipaadto mi sa Bukidnon ug Iligan aron makakat-on sa saktong pamaagi sa pagpananum (We are grateful to the government agencies for the opportunities. The Department of Agriculture sent us to Bukidnon and Iligan for us to learn the right way of cultivating),” Jonnie smiled with a grateful heart.

Aside from technical trainings and seminars, they were also educated on bio-intensive gardening through the Family Development Session (FDS) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, as the association is composed of partner-beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program.

Bountiful future

Through the initiative of the Program, they (partner-beneficiaries) created a “Gulayan sa Barangay” or communal garden to promote nutrient sufficiency, food security/stability, and a sense of community.

Scallions (onion specie), known to carry anti-oxidants and dietary fibers, grow vastly in the communal garden.

Their communal garden now yields bountiful harvest with various organic vegetables on sight – bell peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, scallions, and lettuces. They are now considered as one of the vegetable producers in Bayugan City with production market in the neighboring towns or cities such as Butuan and Surigao. On their first cropping, their income amounted to Php38,000 which made them more fervent to perform their duties as vegetable growers. This served as a venue that encouraged an additional 10 members in their association

PINAVEGRA members line up as they showcased healthy lettuces ready for gathering.

It was a real tough but rewarding four years for the PINAVEGRA partner-beneficiaries. They were splashed with huge waves of disappointments and hit rock-bottom, but they stood still and set high hopes for their association.

As Jonnie looks back while watching the twilight fill the sky and their baskets full, he is now ready to lead his team and face whatever battle the odds may give, as he awaits for the bountiful future.

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