Bernardo M. Villegas
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Agriculturally Awesome

          “Agriculturally Awesome” is the moniker given to a very creative campaign to promote agritourism of two regional offices of Region IVA, otherwise known as CALABARZON, which stands for the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon.  On one hand, there is the Agricultural Training Institute of Region IVA of the Department of Agriculture whose vision is “leadership and excellence in agricultural and fishery technology and knowledge management for a more proactive and responsive extension services” and whose mission is “to ensure delivery of quality extension services in agriculture and fisheries.”  On the other, there is the Region IVA office of the Department of Tourism whose mission is “to encourage, promote, and develop tourism as a major socio-economic activity to generate foreign currency and employment and to spread the benefits of tourism to both the private and public sectors.”

         I find farm-tourism or agritourism especially appropriate in the CALABARZON area not only because of its proximity to the National Capital Region with its population of more than 10 million highly urbanized inhabitants but also because Region IVA itself is rapidly urbanizing and is being inhabited with “city slickers” who are increasingly out of touch with the realities of farm life. For the whole country, there is already a market of domestic travelers estimated by the Department of Tourism to be at 65 million as of 2016.  Many of these domestic tourists know very little about farm and rural living.

    I cannot forget one of my first encounters years ago with the amusing ignorance of a Manila-based graduate of one of our exclusive schools during a farm visit that the then Center for Research and Communication (CRC) organized for its masteral students in industrial economics.  When we reached the farm, the young gentleman innocently asked to be shown the tree on which peanuts grew.  I don’t think he was an isolated case.  There are so many of us who live closeted lives in the asphalt or concrete jungle and have never seen fruit orchards, vegetable gardens, livestock  and fisheries farms. It would be desirable for schools, parishes, and organizations of parents to organize agribusiness tours not only to educate ourselves and the youth about life in the farms but also to get the urbanites to experience the relaxing and rejuvenating atmosphere of rural life.  As the brochure entitled “Agriculturally Awesome” advertises: …”there are rural areas where you can feel the cool breeze, hear the chirping of the birds, smell the fresh grasses, taste healthy foods, captivate your imagination and witness biodiversity of living things.”  An important by-product of these tours could be the decision of some city dwellers to get involved in urban gardening, i.e. the growing of high-value crops in small plots of land in urbanized areas, using the advanced technologies of enterprises like East West Seed, a European multinational, or Harbest, a joint venture between a Taiwanese seed company and a Philippine agricultural extension enterprise that is very much involved in the GoNegosyo program of Joey Concepcion and the Department of Trade and Industry.

         Let me present a sampling of these farms within the CALABARZON that are very accessible to people in the National Capital Region and surrounding provinces.  In Barangay Castillo, Padre Garcia, Batangas, there is the MoCa Family Farm.  Started in 2012 by Mr. and Mrs. Bob Morris, MoCa Family Farm was meant to improve and strengthen the connection between the culinary community and the local farms where ingredients are grown. As Mrs. Gigi Morris explained, they tried to do something more creative and new, something different.  They decided to host the first Kuneho (Rabbit) Festival as a pilot project.  Currently, the farm conducts training and skills development in areas related to farm tourism, community supported agriculture (CSA) marketing, food processing (atsara and artisan vinegar making), bread and pastry production, food and beverage services, etc.   MoCa Family Farm is also a TESDA-accredited institution offering national competency certifications in agriculture-related courses.  The farm is a very active member of several community networks including the Rare Fruit Society of the Philippines, American Rabbit Breeders Association of the Philippines and Family Farm Network of the Philippines, and Slow Food.

         Then there is the Kaharian Farms located in Baranggay Adya, Lipa City, Batangas, only an hour and a half away from Metro Manila.  In Kaharian Farm, guests are shown the connections among the food that they eat, the farmers who cultivate the crops and the land where they grow.  The visitor will be able to see, smell, touch, taste, hear and truly experience organic farming.  It was the first to produce Certified Organic Rice Seed in the entire Southeast Asian region.  The farm is most famous for its spectacular collection of earthworms.   Currently the largest earthworm farm in the Philippines, it converts 400 ton of agricultural waste a month into rich organic soil through vermicomposting.  The compost it produces aids in plant growth for safe and healthy food and is used by the farms to produce organic vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli,  and cucumber as well as fresh herbs like stevia, tarragon and mint.  Visitors will be able to experience hands-on such farm activities as carabao cart ride, fish feeding, rice planting, a vegetable maze, organic soil and vegetable production, and vermiculture training.

         The Costales Nature Farms, located in Brgy. Gagalot in Majayjay, Laguna, is the first to be accredited by the Department of Tourism for agritourism.  Tourists can stay overnight in cottages located in the farm.  Varied tours are available according to the interests of the visitors. The Costales Nature Farms produce organic vegetables, organic chicken, organic eggs, herbs and spices which supply renowned restaurants, supermarkets, bakeshops, organic stores, resorts and casinos.  Products are also served in a restaurant located at the U.P Open University Community hub in Brgy. Maahas, Los Banos, Laguna.  As a provider of agricultural extensions services, Costales Nature Farms offers seminars and workshops on various aspects of organic farming.  There are internship programs and Joint Venture arrangements that are made available especially to the families of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who would like to venture in farming as an investment of their savings.

         In Brgy. San Jose, Antipolo, Rizal is Flor’s Garden owned by top banking executive Flor Gozon Tarriela who started the project as a hobby farm meant to collect different kinds of weeds which eventual grew into a multi-functional farm that now spans more than 5 hectares of land which can serve as a venue for a variety of functions such as camping, team building, training sessions and workshops.  Flor’s Garden also serves as a farm educational learning destination for students’ field trips through which they can learn more about nature, medicinal plants, weeds, vermiculture production and the like.   To contribute to a very relaxing stay overnight are two springs, swimming pool, gazebo, cabana, gardens, fish ponds as well as a cageless bird and butterfly sanctuary.  Day tours are also available together with welcome drinks, buffet lunch and afternoon snacks.  Packages are also available for overnight stays and extended visits.  It is DOT-accredited for farm tourism  and a learning site for organic agriculture.

         Not to be outdone, Cavite offers, among others, the Gourmet Farms Inc. along Km 52, Aguinaldo Highway, Buho, Silang, Cavite.  Started in 1987 with a 2,000 square meters farmland by entrepreneur Mr. Ernest Escaler, it has expanded to a six-hectare plantable area for high value crops,  mainly  leafy vegetables, herbs and spices.    It offers farm tours with such activities as herb potting, lettuce picking, harvesting and livestock feeding.  It can accommodate educational farm tours and field trips for students in universities offering agricultural courses.  The farm also conducts agricultural training program ranging anywhere from one-day to three-day training activities.  It has partnered with the Tokyo University to offer training programs for university students during the months of February and August.  Both professors and students from this Japanese university are immersed in activities in the farm for a number of weeks.  This program has already been functioning for the last 15 years.   Guests can also avail of a three-day detoxication retreat in live-in facilities that can make room for 26 individuals.  There is also a famous restaurant best known for mediterranean cuisine and Italian set menu of pizza, salad, pasta and signature lemonade.  The restaurant has become famous for one of the best coffee blends.

     Those interested for more complete information about this laudable agritourism program  of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Tourism may log on to the website www.ati.da.gov.ph/calabarzon or inquire through the email address of atirtc4a@gmail.com or telephone 046-419-0210.  Since the average age of a Filipino farmer is already close to 60, it is important that even non-farmers coming from the urban areas be involved in producing high-value crops which are going to be in increasing demand as more households attain middle-income status.  The biggest challenge to the world in the coming years will no longer be the shortage of energy.  It will be a shortage of food.   For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.