First FSA Guaranteed Loan in Guam Finances Medicinal Plant Farm

Bernice Nelson became the first recipient of an FSA guaranteed loan in Guam.

By Doreen Rivera, Guam FSA Office

Guam has seen a decline over the years in its traditional healing arts, but one local woman has taken it upon herself to bring it back while making history at the Guam Farm Service Agency.

Bernice Nelson, owner of Amot Taotao Tano Farm, ventures into the jungles of Guam to find and propagate medicinal plants on her farm, which she has turned it into a small but growing value-added agricultural enterprise.

“Growing up, I’ve always had a curiosity for our traditional heritage with the uses of these medicinal plants,” said Nelson. The fun part was actually going through the jungle with my grandaunts and uncles. I’ve been inspired [by my family], who taught me how to make these medicines.”

Amot Taotao Tano Farm in Chamorro means “Medicine of the People’s Land.” One of the traditional Chamorro practices is the use of medicinal plants, or as the locals say, “Amot.” The healer is called a “suruhanu” or “suruhana,” depending on whether the person is male or female. The medicinal plants and herbs are used to cure a wide variety of ailments and diseases.

Nelson’s passion started with a handful of worms that became the foundation of her compost business.  Ultimately, she wanted to produce top soil for a medicinal garden. The income she received from her compost farm over the past four years allowed her to achieve her goal; however, she still needed a small kitchen to prepare and package her products. So she went to area banks to get funded.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have my husband help me out financially in the beginning because other financial institutes turned me down because of my limited income source,” said Nelson. “It was frustrating and stressful because nobody would really give me a chance.”

She finally went to Guam’s Community First Federal Credit Union for help. They contacted the Farm Service Agency about a small guaranteed operating loan.

Nelson grows medicinal plants and hopes to teach her community how to use them to heal various illnesses.

“We are excited because we have been pushing value-added enterprises all over Hawaii and the western and southern pacific islands,” said Miki Miyasato, farm loan program manager. Miyasato said Nelson’s farm is important because fresh market produce alone can create oversupply problems in small, isolated markets like Guam.

It was also important because Nelson’s farm became the first guaranteed loan issued by the Guam Farm Service Agency.

“I was a little surprised when the credit union contacted me,” said Steve Bazzell, chief of the FSA Farm Loan Programs.  “Bigger lenders can’t make a profit on the small commercial agriculture loans and the bigger loans are financially risky.  It made perfect sense that a credit union might be a better match for our program, and with our marketing efforts we were able to assist Mrs. Nelson.”

Although she didn’t receive the exact amount she asked for, Nelson said the loan helped her obtain the building structure she needed.

“The experience I had with FSA was helpful. They really went out for us,” said Nelson. “I’m glad I was given a chance at this loan because my vision for Amot Taotao Tano is to maintain this medicinal farm for future generations. I will not make the medicine, but I will teach others how to identify the plant and make the medicine so that they can pass it on to their children. It’s my way of giving back to the community.”

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