Story & photos by Bernard L. Supetran
The Covid-19 pandemic has undeniably shaken the world’s tourism industry to its core, eventually redrawing the travel map, and reshaping the way we look and do our journeys in the months to come.
While weary souls are raring to go the countryside with the prolonged quarantine, the crowd-drawing international destinations may have to wait and local spots will have to be the first options.
The Department of Tourism itself sees domestic travel to be key in helping restart the country’s tourism industry, hopefully in the last quarter of the year when the sector is opened up. In view with the “new normal” setup, the DOT will be endorsing protocols to ensure public safety even as people begin to travel and help bring the economy back to life in the process.
Among the alternative and less-crowded destinations worth exploring nowadays are the so-called farm tourism sites which take us back to the basics of fresh food, clean environment, and living in harmony with Mother Earth to make us healthier and more resistant to illnesses. Long before the Covid-19 outbreak, the DOT has been pushing farm tourism and various resorts have been making their presence felt with their unique offerings of garden and agricultural experiences, organic harvest, and family-oriented recreation.
Tucked inland in Mendez town at the Tagaytay Ridge area, L & J Country Estate is a farm resort has been luring visitors for the past few months with their blend of country-style vacation with its manicured gardens, diverse plantations, and special events venue. It has amenities such as swimming pool, aviary, and children’s playground and comfy air-con rooms minus the trappings of gadgets to enable families to bond the old-fashioned way.
The 1-hectare property is also known for its delectable local cuisine, most notably bulalo, and a variety of farm-to-table food, side dishes and specially concocted beverages.
A pioneer in the industry which predates farm tourism is Costales Nature Farms, an 8-hectare plantation-slash-vacation place and major producer of organic high-value vegetables and herbs for food outlets, organic chicken, eggs and pork.
Situated near foot of Mount Banahaw in Majayjay, Laguna, it conducts seminars on organic farming, farm tourism, effective microorganism technology, and organic hog raising. The first DOT-accredited agritourism site, it is a favorite for benchmarking sustainable practices by agriculture agencies, both here and abroad.
To tap the tourism market, it opened up for day tours and overnight stays for those who want a farm getaway vacation or a different approach to team building. Visitors stay at the cozy but no-frills farm houses, and get a hands-on experience in tending the plots, feeding the animals, and other farm labor.
Joni and Susan Agroshop and Integrated Farms (JASIF) in San Pablo City is among the hottest farm sites close to the metropolis. The 2-hectare farm’s core attractions are its three sunflower mazes, nipa hut-themed gourmet restaurant, a children’s playpen, ATV rides, gazebos, and Instagram-worthy corners.
Over the quarantine period, the farm added recreational facilities to provide more options to active children. Once restrictions on leisure activities are lifted, it will be ready for overnight visitors, campers who want to rough it out under the stars, and weekend acoustic musicians.
In the “heartland” of the archipelago, in the island province of Marinduque is Agrea Farm School, a 2-hectare property which aims to help eradicate poverty for farming and fishing families, alleviate the effects of climate change, and help establish food security.
Using its “Ecology of Dignity” philosophy, it has been helping empower farming and fishing communities in island economies to attain food security through sustainable practices. It has been mobilizing various sectors to inspire farmers, enthusiasts, garden hobbyists, professionals, and others to maximize agriculture competencies for a healthy lifestyle.
In the ongoing lockdown, Agrea is bridging rural producers with urban consumers through its Move Food Initiative.
Down south, Mindanao is an ideal hub because of its vast fertile soil, fair climate the whole-year round, and age-old farming practices by the lumad indigenous peoples. Malungon town in Sarangani is an emerging farm tourism hideaway with the concentration of agrarian-based recreation.
A must-visit is the CCT Malungon Retreat and Training Center which is engaged in grassroots empowerment initiatives to help preserve the Blaan and Tagakaolo way of life. Its 72-hectare model farm promote traditional agriculture, aquaculture, and recently, a package tour which showcases their tribal indigenous culture and cuisine.
Nearby is RioVerde Farm and Forest, a reforestation and integrated, organic upland farm which two farms—the 47-hectare Sitio Rancho for upland crops, and the 15-hectare Sitio Alngihan for high-value vegetables. Recognized as an Agriculture Training Institute Learning Site, it offers an array of farm activities to visitors after going around the usual attractions.
Also within the town is the B3 Sodaco Farm which has a natural lake dotted with native cottages, and bamboo rafts for leisurely boating and fishing.
Beyond the usual places with the madding crowd, this extraordinary situation is an opportunity to go back to the basics, reconnect with Mother Nature, and relish the simple joys of life.