Life In The FastLane
I was living life in the fast lane, working hard and playing harder.
I tried a series of jobs. I was a hot shot. In between jobs, I became a beach bum.
We were in deep water; gunmetal blue. Huge, rolling ocean swells pushed us farther from shore. April Amihan winds whipped whitecaps all around us. The wind was coming from shore. We were beginner windsurfers, left alone by tired or distracted instructors. We had been trying from morning to raise our sails; unsuccessfully.
The wet and the cold were taking their toll; we could not even close our hands. Our arms, legs and backs ached. Our knees shook.
I turned to Eddie Boy Ochangco, who was falling all over the water with me, "what can we do to increase our stamina?" He said, "Next time, we take honey. I know someone who cultures bees."
This led to Ian Aranza, who it turned out, lived about 2 kilometres from me in Mandaluyong. He was a long lost godson of my father. His mother was the high school classmate and dancing partner of my father.
Serendipity, I learned, is one of God's ways of speaking to us. He led, I followed. I have been following Him ever since that April day in Anilao in the late 1970s.
I quickly started to learn to keep bees, devouring all available written materials. My search for everything about bees took me to the University of the Philppines at Los Baños. I acquired copies of all their bee books. An expert apiarist from Cornell University, who attempted, during the course of about two years, to keep bees here said, "Commercial beekeeping is impossible in the Philippines."
He came from a place of frigid winters. We live in perpetual summertime here. Something did not fit. I felt that there was some kind of a future for beekeeping here.
Ian and I put up a wood shop. We built our own table saw. We bought surplus ammunition crates from Clark Air Base; pulled all the nails and staples out; joined planks with glue, making all our bee equipment. We did this for a very long time. We scrounged around junkyards for the rest of our needs. St. Joseph and St. John were my inspirations; carpenter and beekeeper.
I was stung. I was infected with bee fever; incurable.
I started experimenting in Mandaluyong.
I knew that eventually all the vegetation would be gone together with the fresh air. Events led me to Tagaytay.
Beekeeping in Tagaytay with Ian
It was a nameless stream, tucked away amidst dense vegetation, far from any houses or roads amidst the pineapple, papaya and coffee plantations of Silang. My mom and I chanced upon it, after years of searching, in the dying days of the dictator. As I touched the cool water, I said, "dito na."
At last, we had found a refuge in case chaos would ensue after his death.
Marian & Ilog Maria
I built a small 10 x 10 foot hut with materials donated from the old house of my Tita Glo and started to plant vegetables and fruit trees; the essentials. Then came black pepper, coffee, bananas, papayas, root crops, peanuts, mahogany, narra, bamboo and gmelina.
We had only a horse trail then, so we had to carry everything more than 700 meters in.
As my plants grew, I felt a deep sense of security; of being connected to the land…and the stream. I had found my spot, a place I would grow old in.
After some years of living off the land, I met Violaine. She was building a large fishpond in Quezon. She loved living in the countryside. She was a beekeeper too. We were inseparable
We went to her fishpond in Calauag, Quezon. Then we stopped by our farm in Silang, Cavite. We helped each other with farm chores. During a visit to our farm in Silang, she told me, "dito ako tatanda (I will grow old here)." She was not even my girlfriend then.
It was February 1987, it had not rained for 5 months, it was called El Niño. I called my mother long distance telling her the situation. All the black pepper, coffee and other crops that I had planted, were dying.
She said, "sunduin mo ako, aakyat ako dyan sa farm, magdadasal ako, uulan." (Fetch me, I will go up to the farm, I will pray, it will rain). My mother is a woman of few words and very strong faith.
She started praying the Holy Rosary at about 9:30 am. The three of us did not have lunch. I was with my girlfriend, Violaine.
At about 3 pm, it became very dark. Then we heard a clattering. Ice was falling as big as marbles on our tin roof and the ground. Then came the thunderstorm with the downpour - a deluge. It lasted for about 30 to 45 minutes.
We heard my mother crying above it all. She had asked for, and was granted, a miracle.
At about 4:30 pm she said, "iuwi mo na ako, sasabihin ko sa Papa mo." (bring me home, I'll tell your Papa").
We had to engage the four wheel drive of my old Land Cruiser as we left. The muddy ground was very slippery. When we reached the highway, 700 meters away, it was dry. It was dry up to Manila.
Violaine and I had gotten married the month after that miraculous downpour.
Fast forward to 1994. I had gone to town to the local office of the Department of Trade and Industry. We were applying for a trade name for our little livelihood.
They asked me what name to give. I said I would ask my wife.
We agreed that it was to be "Ilog Maria Honeybee Farm" in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary with whom my mother, Lilia, had prayed for rain.
It was to be an auspicious name for us.
It was to be the start of our journey to the Lord. A journey marked with many signs as wondrous as this first one. A continuing journey….
But I am getting ahead of my story, Violaine and I married the next month.
Ian Aranza, my beekeeping mentor who was migrating to the USA, gave us all his bees as our wedding present. We put them on our old homemade bee trailer. We had a real honeymoon.
Joel & Violaine with Bee Trailer
Violaine & Joel amidst newly planted coffee trees
We welcomed Jonathan about a year and a half afterwards.
With Jonathan and newly planted blackpepper
Family in Coffee Bloom
We started with what we had.
Starting Our Bee Yard
We lived the farming lifestyle with gusto. We relished in harvesting our own food and eating everything fresh. The kids had each other and a whole big farm to play in. We were happy.
But we hardly had any cash to speak of. Violaine could only buy laundry soap and a few items to flavour our vegetable dishes.
Zac Sarian gave us our first break, he held his Agrikapihan 6am to 10am Saturdays. Violaine and the kids would sell our meagre harvests as I gave a talk on honeybees.
Jonathan and Violaine at Agrikapihan
Zac then wrote about us in his Agritalk column in the Manila Bulletin.
Bazaars And Fairs
We joined bazaars and fairs.
It was always a big effort. We would harvest from our bees. Then we would go to San Juan to buy bottles; Caloocan to buy caps; Claro M. Recto Avenue to buy test tubes and little glass containers. We would pack our meagre harvests in them at home and run back to Manila, all this with our growing family inside our battered old Land Cruiser.
Our Old Land Cruiser
With each additional child, it became increasingly difficult to do this. When it rained outside, it rained inside. The air conditioning worked, but hot air from outside and the engine made it useless. By our fourth child, Violaine would sit on the floor in the back with the baby I her lap. We could barely fit into our jeep.
We barely had anything. But, we were happy and undaunted by our circumstances. We believed that nothing was impossible. Even without electricity for 20 years, we were able to function. Here you can see Jonathan riding my old bicycle. I converted it to power our honey extractor by removing the rear tire and attaching a rope, which, in turn, was attached to the centrifugal honey extractor.
When I decided to become a farmer, my grandmother said, "You will be poor." I said, "I will be happy." My good fortune was that someone loved me enough to marry me; for who I was; for the life I chose; for my dreams. We were always short of cash. But to this day, I have never heard any complaint, not even a whimper. Violaine had to make most everything we needed for our home from scratch. She used simple household items, kitchen utensils and kitchen supplies to produce items that we needed at home. Whatever little savings we had, we spent on books. We learned to make soap, shampoo, mosquito repellent, ointment, lip balm, throat spray and many more items for our own use. We found the original recipes and formulations for many household items, some over two hundred years old. We found modern replacements for ancient ingredients; all natural. We slowly produced most of the items we used at home in our kitchen, with kitchen materials and utensils.
We found modern replacements for ancient ingredients; all natural. We slowly produced most of the items we used at home in our kitchen, with kitchen materials and utensils.
As our household items improved, we would give little gifts of soap and other handmade goodies for special occasions, birthdays, for Christmas.This was the pre-cell phone, pre-internet and pre-blog age, but word got around. A trickle of visitors came looking for our household items.We intensified and increased our studies. We were our first guinea pigs. We cleaned up our only spare room, painted it and Violaine put whatever extra items we had in it.
Spare room............................................................became our first lab
We discovered the many nutritive and healing qualities of honey, pollen, beeswax, propolis and royal jelly. We put a lot of our harvests from our beehives into these items. The bee stuff turned our "products" from good to fantastic. We could not afford to buy commercial production equipment. Commercial production equipment also is not suited to handmade, specially formulated products. So, we invented and fabricated our own. Even our production equipment was home made, hand made.
We needed to inform our visitors. We produced well researched reading materials, based on personal experience. Most information was also from experiences related by a growing number of very satisfied visitors.
We built a website so people who had come here could enjoy our products without leaving home. We now ship 5 days a week to all points in the Philippines.
The increasingly techie Filipina has found out that using new technology is easy, cheap and fun. Our more mature, technically challenged visitors found that the best way to shop in our website is if they asked their daughter, niece or best friend to help them.
The need for other outlets, aside from our farm store, has been slowly vanishing.
We have decreased our wants to the level of our needs. We are content.
We still have some dreams, dreams for the future; for our children.
But, we have learned not to plan.
We do our homework and work very hard from sunrise to sunset. We just live day by day, doing the best we can with each moment.
We pray and work.
Our Lord takes care of the rest.
Who's Afraid of Honeybees?