Her career aspiration was to finish school, take the accountancy board exam, hit abroad as an OFW, and support her parents financially. When things did not go as planned, she responded to a different calling, a calling closer to home.
A Love of Mountains and Horses
When Amor was 10 years old, she was awarded as Lady Rider of the Year in 2006 by the Philippine Horseman Federation in Cebu City. That same year, she was also adjudged as the Champion in the Obstacle Race (Ladies Division) during the Kabayo Festival, a National Horseshow and Competition organized by the LGU of Mandaue.
Amor’s interest in nature and animals were heightened at an early age. Most of her adventures in the farm were spent in helping out house chores and riding horses. Her interest in horse riding was instinctive, since father Benjohn was into it, both as a hobby and a professional horseman.
As the eldest child of Benjohn and Grace Mahistrado, Amor has witnessed firsthand the fun and function of a family farm through Alomah’s Place and Nature Farm in Dahilayan, Bukidnon.
Establishing Alomah’s Place and Nature Farm in 2015 was not a walk in the park. Benjohn and Grace had to work on odd jobs and get their hands busy on other opportunities to make ends meet. Amor had witnessed firsthand what her parents have gone through to make the farm what it is today.
With an initial farm area of two hectares in which is now called Area 1 back in 2015, it has presently expanded with Area 2, a one-hectare area, and Area 3, a three-hectare area in a matter of five years. Area 2 is the expansion of their lettuce and other high value crops, while Area 3 is dedicated to other crops such as abaca, taro, coffee, and livestock such as chicken, goats, cows and more thoroughbred horses.
With their flourishing family farm and bigger plans waiting to materialize, the Mahistrados envisioned to establish succession in the family, not just for productivity but for sustainability.
At the moment, Alomah’s Place and Nature Farm is one of the successful farms, in terms of productivity and agritourism in Northern Mindanao. The farm settled in the beautiful pineapple-abundant Municipality of Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon at Barangay Dahilayan. (for more of Alomah’s, read here: https://www.agriculture.com.ph/2019/02/14/alomahs-allure-shifting-passion-to-attraction/
“I have never envisioned myself as a fulltime farmer. My original plan was to be an accountant, and to work abroad. That is how I perceived success and that was my only way to help my family,” Amor said, her voice soft and steady against the cold Bukidnon breeze.
Amor earned her Bachelor of Science in Accountancy degree at the University of the Philippines-Iloilo in 2015. As earlier planned, she immediately had her review for the Certified Board Examination and took the exam that same year. Although she did not pass the examination, she never gave up. She tried for the second time, but failed again.
Rather than sulking over her failures, she tried chasing her dreams again. She worked at the Luxe Hotel in Cagayan de Oro City for six months as one of their accounting staffs. It was what she thought as the beginning of her journey towards her dream career. A dream she have, not just for herself, but for her love to her family and the goal of giving them a better life.
I thought at first that this is what I really wanted [job], but I never felt the satisfaction and fulfillment I thought I would have.” she added.
“I was tired and burnout from making plans that don’t work at all. “, Amor quipped with a wry smile.
Amor realized that after all the struggles, she was in dire need of rest. She stayed at their farm for a while, when one day, her mother asked her to attend a Mindanao-wide training on organic agriculture sponsored by the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI ) for 10 days in Mati, Davao Oriental.
“I was reluctant at first, because it was really out of my league. But I took the challenge, and to my surprise, I completed the course.” she added.
Amor proudly shared that she also passed the NC 2 Certification for Organic Agriculture. Most importantly, she met new friends and a community of COOs (Child of the Owners) from Northern Mindanao who motivated her. The motivation and knowledge gained also stirred in her a newfound love for farming.
Later she attended more trainings. She was trained in agro-entrepreneurship by TESDA, and ATI trained her on Training Management in Bulacan.
She immediately saw the potential of agro-entrepreneurship and agri-tourism. Something that their farm could capitalize given all the resources they have. She helped around in the farm by implementing all that she learned from her trainings.
“I was really grateful for all the opportunities ATI and other partners like TESDA, and the Local Government of Manolo Fortich have given me.” Amor declared.
A Change of Heart
Amor’s newfound passion made her life a quick 360 degrees turn around. This paved way to more life satisfying chances through her involvement in their farm. Amor did not waste time and applied what she learned from her first training.
“Why would I work for others, when my family needs me to work with them?” she said.
In 2017, she became as the official farm accountant. Aside from doing administrative and accounting work, she was involved in the training and extension work of their farm with ATI and TESDA-Region 10. It was also in the same year that Alomah was accredited as a TESDA Farm School.
“We started to work as a team. I would personally facilitate the trainings and sometimes act as a Resource Person too,” she proudly said.
Amor also shared about her experience with the students who had their immersion in their farm, and how fulfilling it was making others reach their full potential.
“The immersion conducted in our farm, was where I realized how fulfilling it was to help others,” she said further. “Somehow those students did not choose agriculture by accident. It was a passion deeply seeded somewhere in their hearts, and that seed needs to grow as their passion someday.
“It is my dream to help others through my own charity foundation. I think where I am now is the Lord’s answer,” she smiled. She said that she could clearly fulfill her dream of helping others and touching others’ lives through their farm.
Amor happily shared how she witnessed the lives and dreams she had changed for the better. It all started with a life’s twist which turned out to be a blessing.
Giving Farming a Try
Considered as a “window of opportunity”, Amor was encouraged by her parents to give farming a try.
The two years of farm engagement sustained her interest to engage in the day-to-day activities in their farm. Since attending various trainings outside the region, Amor’s farm involvement includes giving lectures and sharing farming technologies to others. It felt natural for her to re-echo and share what she have learned from the various trainings she have attended.
It was during this experience that Amor got inspired by the tales of empowered women (and men) after sharing her story.
“I started getting invitations to be a resource person since I shared my personal experience. It is inspiring to know that I am inspiring others because of my testimony of setbacks which I used as leverage to involve in farming.” Amor confessed.
She credited Semilya sa Kinabuhi, another Learning Site for Agricuture (LSA) partner of the ATI, for giving her the concept and idea of the farm-to-profit approach in farming.
“As to farm-to-profit, the approach prompts us to make use of the resources we have. It also gave me the realization that I don’t have to go abroad and work overseas to earn and make a living.” Amor added.
For a typical person, one's perception of farming only involves hard toil and laborious tilling of land. For Amor, it goes way beyond that.
Sharing her love for Farming
“I am training Diego to do the farm tour”, she said. Diego is Amor’s younger brother. Amor shared that all of them have been taking important farm work, from simple chores to personally dealing with walk-in visitors. Diego also works with other farm workers in some of the farm’s production area, especially on livestock.
Dave, the youngest sibling, is the farm’s in-house chef. He is the one in charge of preparing Alomah’s famous vinaigrette. He is also involve in the delivery of online orders of fresh lettuce, lettuce seedling and herbs to nearby areas which fetches 40 thousand pesos to 50 thousand pesos per delivery, on separate location points in Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan City. Dave is currently pursuing Agribusiness Management while Diego is planning to pursue a degree in Veterinary Medicine.
“Everyone in the family has a particular responsibility. My husband helps during the weekends too. We are really a team on this.” She added.
As the eldest, Amor never failed to be a good model to her siblings. The sacrifices of choosing her family over her then dream has translated across beautifully.
“I chose to prioritize my family over my plans, and that is how I found true fulfillment.” Amor proudly said.
Strong Family (Farm) Ties
“The pandemic season has been our greatest challenge,” Amor said. She said further that it has tested the resilience of the farm’s recouping mechanism of untimely adversities.
With the help of its next generation, the younger Mahistrados have intensified their farm’s social media presence. They are still preoccupied with online selling, and scheduled meet-up deliveries in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City. Amor emphasized that complementation among every member of the family is one of the secrets of their success.
More than surviving the pandemic together, their greatest aim is to survive a lifetime together, grow, sustain, and expand what their parents have started at Alomah’s.
“Agriculture is a diverse field, I believe that whatever your field or specialty is, you will always have something to contribute to the development of your farm.” Amor concluded. (by: Honeylou C. Bastasa and Vic Thor Palarca)