ILOILO CITY – Four years ago, registered nurse Ronnie Picardal decided to go home to his family in Iloilo City for good after several years of working in Saudi Arabia.
Armed with his passion for gardening, he decided to plant grapes.
“Past time ko lang habang nagbabantay ng bata,” he said in an interview with ABS-CBN News.
Planting grapes is not something new to Picardal, a native of La Union, a place known for its vineyards.
But this passion took a backseat when he decided to work abroad.
“Pahirapan ang paghahanap ng trabaho dito. At the same time, yung sahod medyo mababa. Napilitan pong lumabas,” he said.
It was in 2013 when he decided to return home and take care of his son. His wife, however, continued working in Saudi Arabia as a medical technician.
When he arrived home, he found out that the grapes he instructed his son’s babysitter to plant had started growing and needed tending.
“Dedication dito kasi ang ubas maselan. Kailangan tutok na tutok sa pag-alaga. Hindi kagaya ng ibang tanim…ang ubas marami siyang dapat asikasuhin,” he said.
What started out as a backyard hobby then turned into something big.
“Depende sa lawak ng tatamnan. Bibili ka ng cuttings para itanim, mahal kasi yun. Tapos yung mga gagamitin na alambre, poste, tapos po yung manpower kailangan din bayaran yun,” he said.
He is the only one in his area with a vineyard, and finds it amusing that many people, including his neighbors, doubt that grapes can grow in the Philippines.
“Maraming di nakakaalam sa anong itsura ng ubas, at di makapaniwala na tutubo ang ubas,” he said. So, he invites his neighbors over to his house to personally see it for themselves.
Tending a vineyard is also a gamble, he said, since there is no assurance it will be a success.
“[Noong] Una, pang personal consumption lang namin,” he said.
“Tapos dream ko talaga na kapag magkaroon na ng bahay, palilibutan ko ng ubas at pagkukuhanan ng makakain at para shade na din.”
When harvest time came, they got more than what they needed. So, he sold the grapes in what he calls the “pick and pay” rule.
Here, his clients get the satisfaction of picking the grapes, and taking free unlimited selfies.
“Bigay ko dito noong nakaraan, P300 pick and pay. Ikikilo natin yun at unlimited picture taking, walang entrance fee,” he said.
He said his harvest sometimes yields over 50 kilos of grapes.
“Kalaban dito ulan. Kung maulan, hindi makapag plant ng mabuti. Once na nakapagbunga ka na sa first pruning, three times a year (ang harvest),” he said, but explained that there is no guarantee that once you’re done with pruning it will immediately bear fruit.
Aside from the fruits, Picardal said he also derives income from the ready-to-plant cuttings or the branches, which he sells for P300.
“Yung na harvests, sobra sobra for our consumption. So far, may pumapasok na income. More on sa cuttings kami kasi maraming gustong magtanim din,” he said.
Now, Picardal has branched out of his backyard farm by acquiring lots within their barangay to turn into vineyards.
Picardal is open to helping fellow OFWs start their own vineyard as a way to give back the blessings he and his family receive from God.
Does he still plan to join his wife abroad? He said there were opportunities, but right now, he is content to stay behind, take care of their child and tend to his vineyard.
“Di pa kayang i-finance pangangailangan namin kasi nag umpisa pa lang,” he admitted.
He said he now hopes that his grapes will find its way in the local market in the future.