Marvin Xavier Vea, 25 years old, is a civil engineering graduate from Ilocos Norte. Growing up in a family of farmers, Marvin witnessed firsthand the challenges and rewards of working in the field. Although he pursued a degree in civil engineering, his heart yearned for the fields and the satisfaction that comes from nurturing the soil and reaping its bountiful harvests.

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Vea Eco Farm focuses on growing naturally grown tilapia and hydroponically grown lettuce and herbs. (Vea Eco Farm)

With unwavering determination, Marvin set out to turn his dream into a reality. He envisioned a farm that would not only sustainably produce high-quality crops but also serve as a model for integrating engineering principles into farming practices. 

Thus, Vea Eco Farm was established, the name paying homage to his family name and their commitment to ecological practices. The goal was to create an agri-tourism site that demonstrated the integration of engineering principles into sustainable farming practices.

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Papayas are grown alongside the pond. (Vea Eco Farm)

Marvin’s upbringing in a family of farmers laid the foundation for his agricultural pursuits. From a young age, he actively engaged in farming activities, assisting his parents and grandparents. This hands-on experience fueled his passion for farming, leading him to explore the field further during his college days through articles and videos.

Winning The Kabataan Agribiz Young Farmers Challenge

Marvin’s path took an unexpected turn when he came across the Kabataan Agribiz Young Farmers Challenge, an initiative by the Department of Agriculture that aimed to empower young individuals to venture into agriculture. Recognizing the opportunity as a stepping stone towards his farming aspirations, Marvin decided to participate in the challenge.

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Vea Eco Farm welcome guest who can pick and pay for produce from the farm. (Vea Eco Farm)

His passion for agriculture and his eagerness to contribute to the industry caught the attention of the judges. Marvin emerged as the pioneer awardee, receiving a grant that provided the much-needed startup capital for Vea Eco Farm.

Hydroponics: A modern farming approach

As an engineering graduate, Marvin expresses a desire to integrate engineering principles with agriculture. He has familiarized himself with hydroponics through video tutorials. Marvin’s dream revolves around establishing a hydroponics farm, primarily due to its space efficiency and the ability to achieve faster harvests compared to traditional farming methods.

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Marvin Xavier Vea, owner of Vea Eco Farm, holding lettuce grown in hydroponics. (Vea Eco Farm)

“Hydroponics is an advanced agricultural practice that has already gained popularity in other countries, including the Philippines where many are venturing into it,” he said. “Lettuce has become a trending crop because of the rising popularity of samgyupsal.”

Marvin sought guidance from knowledgeable mentors in hydroponics, who recommended that he begin with the Kratky method due to his beginner level. However, Marvin decided to take a risk and opted for the more advanced Nutrient Film Technique (NFT). Fortunately, his decision paid off as he achieved success with the NFT method.

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Vegetables are bagged in paper to protect them from insects. (Vea Eco Farm)

Kratky hydroponics is a passive system where plants are grown in a stationary container filled with nutrient solution, allowing the roots to absorb the nutrients as they grow. The water level remains constant, and there is no need for pumps or electricity. NFT is an active system where a thin film of nutrient solution flows continuously over the roots, providing a constant supply of nutrients. It utilizes a sloping channel or gutter where plants are placed, and the nutrient solution is pumped to one end and then allowed to flow back to a reservoir. NFT requires a pump and a continuous flow of water, creating a more dynamic environment for plant growth.

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Lettuce chips (Vea Eco Farm)

Marvin’s hydroponics farm is presently providing supplies to restaurants in Ilocos Norte, catering to their preference for hydroponically grown lettuce. “Our lettuce stands out because we provide it live and fresh, eliminating the need for refrigeration. Many customers visit our farm to enjoy the unique experience of picking and paying for their own lettuce,” he said.

Naturally-grown Tilapia

He also raises naturally grown tilapia. Marvin constructed his pond manually by manually digging using shovels, aiming to minimize operational costs on the farm. To achieve this, Marvin conducted research and attended training sessions.

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Harvested tilapia from the farm. (Vea Eco Farm)

“Through this, I discovered various free or inexpensive materials that can be used as feed for the tilapias,” Marvin said.  “We primarily feed them with azolla and kangkong, supplemented with rice bran. Additionally, we enrich our fishpond with natural fertilizer derived from vermicompost.”

Marvin’s decision to choose this fish was based on the suitability of their earthen pond for tilapia cultivation. Unlike hito (catfish), tilapias are less likely to escape during rainy periods, when the pond might overflow. Typically, it takes 4-6 months before the tilapia can be harvested. Unfortunately, due to the El Niño phenomenon, there is  depletion of water in Marvin’s ponds. But he isn’t the only one affected; the phenomenon has resulted in a current lack of tilapia available nationwide.

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Gourmet tilapia (Vea Eco Farm)

Weather and crop failures

One of the primary challenges Marvin’s hydroponics farm faces is crop failures caused by extreme weather conditions. In the case of lettuce, excessive rainfall during the rainy season leads to insufficient sunlight, resulting in rotting. On the other hand, when temperatures become extremely warm, the lettuce tends to become bitter. Recently, the farm has been encountering continuous high heat index, which significantly affects their vegetables. This is particularly problematic as Marvin’s farm does not use pesticides. Additionally, the increased heat has led to a significant number of deaths among the tilapia population.

Value-added products

The farm faced a typhoon last year, resulting in flooding and damage to their greenhouse. Consequently, the lettuce intended for harvest became infested with insects, rendering it unsuitable for the market. Marvin decided to distribute the affected lettuce as donations, but a significant surplus remained.

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Pakbet crackers (Vea Eco Farm)

“This prompted us to explore the creation of lettuce chips as a solution. Alongside the lettuce chips, we also developed crackers using pakbet vegetables, which are a trademark of the Ilokanos,” Marvin said. “Additionally, we have introduced value-added items such as tilapia sardines, expanding our product range with imagination and creativity.”

Recognition and support

Initially, Marvin faced difficulties in finding suitable markets to sell their products. However, with the assistance of the local and provincial government, as well as participation in the KADIWA program, they were able to locate establishments to supply their goods. The KADIWA program, organized by the Department of Agriculture, provided Marvin with opportunities to sell their products. The retail prices at KADIWA markets are more affordable compared to other markets. One significant milestone for Marvin’s farm is the recognition and support they have received from the government. The government is actively assisting them by providing necessary resources and support for the farm.

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Pakbet crackers (Vea Eco Farm)

Inspiring the youth

Marvin holds the position of President in the 4H Club in Ilocos Norte, an organization that comprises out-of-school youth who are passionate about farming. As the president, Marvin has been successful in influencing numerous young individuals to participate in agriculture. To further encourage youth engagement, the farm provides free apprenticeships for on-the-job training (OJT). Currently, the farm has welcomed a significant number of students from institutions such as Mariano Marcos State University, Ilocos Sur Community College, and Solsona National High School, who are undergoing training and gaining practical experience at the farm.

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Caged chicks hatched in the farm. (Vea Eco Farm)

According to Marvin, there is a prevailing assumption, particularly among the youth, that being a farmer offers no promising future and lacks profitability. However, “I firmly believe that agriculture holds tremendous income potential,” he said.

To those considering venturing into agriculture, “You may encounter discouragement from others who advise you to pursue different paths, but it’s crucial to believe in yourself,” Marvin said. “With determination, passion, patience, and perseverance, you can overcome obstacles and achieve your dreams.” 

Photo courtesy of Vea Eco Farm

Read more about farming and gardening at agriculture.com.ph

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