One unique farm where we enjoyed partaking of unique food is Forest Wood Garden in Brgy. Sta. Elena, San Pablo City.

by Zac B. Sarian

Operated by the husband and wife tandem of Joel and Myrna Frago the farm is a five-hectare forest of tall coconut trees, fruit trees, and forest trees, but there are also spaces for growing root crops and vegetables the natural farming way, i.e., without the use of chemical pesticides.

An intriguing sign at Forest Wood. Top photo shows a Forest Wood worker holding a big yellow yam tuber used for making Plantsado.

The specialty foods that they serve at Forest Wood Garden include what they call “Plantsado.” This is a concoction of finely grated root crops that can include various proportions of tugui, taro, ube, yellow yam, camote, cassava, and others that are locally produced.

To the finely grated root crop are added honey, buko, and margarine. The materials are wrapped in banana leaves then cooked with an old flat iron loaded with burning charcoal. The flat iron is placed atop the wrapped ingredients and it takes only about five minutes to finish the cooking, according to Joel. The Plantsado goes very well with herbal teas like ginger tea, which is served in unique bamboo cups. The Plantsado is best eaten right after it is cooked.

That way, you really imbibe the very pleasing aroma not only of the cooked root crops but also the singed banana leaves. The Plantsado can be eaten with a fork but some people, according to Joel, enjoy eating the same with their fingers.

Another special food that they serve to visitors is what they call Kalabuko pansit. Instead of traditional noodles, the ingredients consist of strips of buko, kalabasa, green papaya, mushroom, and an array of vegetable “talbos” or tips that include purple camote tops, sili, takip kuhol, and kangkong. This is for vegetarians.

For non-vegetarians, Kalabuko pansit can include the meat of a native pig that is seasoned in a solution of turmeric (luyang dilaw) and marinated with basil before it is steamed in bamboo tubes then used in cooking Kalabuko. This recipe, called Tinaktak, can also be served separately for meat eaters.

Another dish that is unique to Forest Wood is what Joel calls Bolol. It is the meat of a native pig that is marinated with herbs (basil and rosemary) then grilled.

At Forest Wood, they also have a unique way of preparing the ground for planting their vegetables and other crops. First, they use what Joel calls Mr. Pig Tractor. These are actually pigs in portable enclosures that are placed in some grassy grounds. They eat the grass and other weeds, enrich the soil with their manure and urine, and also cultivate the soil. After doing their job, they are transferred to the next grassy section to do the same thing.

There are actually four batches of Mr. Pig Tractor doing their job at the moment. Once they are finished with their assignment, the ground is formed into plots for planting vegetables, herbs, and other crops.

Forest Wood chef cooking Kalabuko pancit.

One of the Fragos’ favorite products is mushroom, which is used in cooking their Kalabuko pansit. They have a mushroom house which they call “Kubote.”

They are also in love with bamboo. They have a collection of more than 20 varieties. One beautiful and useful variety is what Joel calls Sunburst bamboo. This has small culms that are yellow, long, and straight. This makes a very decorative bamboo for landscaping and the culms are also made into dividers or blinds. For vine crop farmers, the culms could be used for trellising indeterminate tomatoes, ampalaya, patola, cucumber, sitao, and the like.

The husband and wife tandem is really in love with nature. Joel, a registered nurse, and Myrna, an architect, got married soon after graduation.

Not long after marriage, Joel became an OFW in England where he worked as the quality control technician of a mining company. Myrna, in the meantime, stayed home and engaged in a charcoal business, put up a sari-sari store, and got into multi-level marketing. The income from those businesses was not bad but it was not to Myrna’s liking. She wanted a more meaningful career.

That’s when she engaged in landscaping where awards in garden shows. After 12 years abroad, Joel decided to quit his job and join Myrna in putting up their dream permaculture farm on a five-hectare forest area in San Pablo.

They are now enjoying their brand of farming, and in 2013, they decided to open their farm to visitors. So far, they have been visited by students on “Lakbay Aral” as well as health conscious individuals. Foreigners from at least eight countries have also visited them and enjoyed their unique food and the ambiance of their farm in the forest.

This story appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s January 2017 issue.