Caring for creation goes both ways: Resting and Belenea’s lockdown story

Resting and Belenea live with their daughter in the rural Philippines and live closely with the land. Over lockdown, they found that as they cared for creation, creation cared for them. This is their lockdown story, complete with ginger, taro, pigs and goats:

Like much of the world, the lives of Resting and Belenea Farumyan were affected by the sudden lockdown due to the pandemic in March 2020. 

Resting Farumyan is Tawbuid, which is one of the six Mangyan tribes , and originally from a village in Oriental Mindoro. His wife Belenea is from another Mangyan tribe and together, they have a seven-year old daughter who goes by the nickname, Liway. 

The Farumyan family, like many other indigenous people in Mindoro, live very closely with the land. For the generations of Mangyan who have lived on this island, these families have gathered deep knowledge of not only the expansive mountainous landscape, but also the intricate details of the soil beneath their feet and the life that grows in it.

The Famruyan family

Caring for the land
Along with the other Mangyan Christian teachers at the Mangyan Agricultural School and the Mangyan Bible School, Resting and Belenea raise animals and plant an assortment of vegetables and fruits to help supplement their income. As a graduate of the agricultural school, Resting puts his skills into practice each day.

For the past three years, the Farumyan family have been the primary caretakers of a four-hectare piece of sloping land known as the pastuhan. The pastuhan – “pasture” in English – is nestled beside a village above the foothills of the towering peak of Mt. Halcon. Surrounding the pastuhan is a natural forest, which is intentionally left untouched, to allow the plants and trees to flourish wherever they grow. 

The pastuhan serves two main purposes. First, the land provides space for the teachers to plant and earn from the sale of what they cultivate there. The extra income allows them to buy a few extra “luxuries” since their monthly allowances barely cover their costs. Second, the land is also a demonstration farm to teach students from both schools about sustainable organic agriculture.

The school term had been scheduled to finish on April 1st. But instead of returning to their respective villages around the island after classes ended, the students discovered that a full-lockdown began in the Philippines on March 15, 2020. Consequently, sixty students and teachers from different Mangyan tribes found themselves stationary and in one another’s company for an additional unknown amount of time.

The lockdown meant that the Mangyan would not be able to replenish their rice supply from the city. Even though they also grow rice on the school’s rice land, their harvest would be insufficient. In addition, it takes about three months before newly planted rice can be harvested.  So how did they sustain themselves during the lockdown?

Seizing the opportunity
During those early weeks of the lockdown, the Bible students – who help to maintain the rice land as part of their training on biblical stewardship – approached the teachers of the agricultural school, asking them to host a hands-on workshop to teach sloping agricultural land technology. The students seized the opportunity to learn new skills and spend time caring better for the land around them.

After the workshop, Resting and other teachers brought the students to the pastuhan to practice what they had learned. Ginger was one of the crops they selected to plant. It is not only an excellent immune-system-boosting root crop, but it is also easy to grow and readily sold upon harvest. 

Students learned about the different kinds of ginger grown in the country and how to properly plant the root in the pastuhan’s rich, red soil. Ginger root usually takes between ten to twelve months before it can be harvested. Older “mother” knobs are replanted, while the newer, smaller roots are sold in the market.

Resting harvesting the ginger crop
Close up of the ginger root

Although ginger was the primary lockdown crop used for teaching, the teachers themselves also cultivated other crops during that time. In addition to raising native pigs and goats, they have also planted several other crops.
One of the crops that the Farumyan family have subsisted on include root crops like taro. Taro, or gabi in Tagalog, is a hearty plant in which both its roots and leaves can be consumed. In spite of the fact that gabi has been a good source of nutrition for them, the teachers admit that they have exhausted all the different ways to cook it and are quite tired of its starchy flavor. Thankfully, ginger has helped to spice up their dishes!

The ginger required ten long months before Resting and Belenea were finally able to harvest the crop that was planted with the help of the students at the start of lockdown. Since the beginning of 2021, they have harvested twice, producing around 250kg of ginger. Ginger currently sells for about fifty pesos per kilo. The truth is that caring for the land is hard work. Although the financial return is minimal, they are grateful that the extra they earn from selling these organic roots still helps to boost their monthly allowance.

Knowing the place
Resting and Belenea are experienced agriculturalists with intimate knowledge about life on the land. Even their daughter shares this connectedness with the earth. Liway not only helps her parents raise the pigs and plant gabi, but also shares a keen understanding of the whole pastuhan ecosystem. 

Life with the land is not only about caring for it, but appreciating how the rest of creation also cares for people. The Farumyan family’s home is situated in the middle of the pastuhan. Right outside their home, they have beautified the area with colorful arrangements of potted flowers and a landscaped garden. It is as an example of how, in  helping the rest of creation to flourish, they too are nourished mind, body and soul.

Just as the pastuhan evokes imagery of the Shepherd and his sheep in John 10, the Farumyan family is called to faithful stewardship of the land as they pay close attention to the voice of the Shepherd who beckons them to him. As a shepherd cares for his sheep, so their heavenly Father cares for the Farumyan family. It is out of this good relationship, and the work of Christ who redeems all of creation, that this family will continue to witness the beautiful reciprocation of their care for the land and its care for them.

Jasmine Kwong
Creation Care Advocate, OMF Philippines

Jasmine is a creation care advocate. With a background in conservation biology and community development, she often explores the intersections between humanity and the natural world. Her biggest inspiration is the Creator of the universe who is teaching her to cultivate a sense of awe and wonder through his creation.

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