How a nurse dreamed of putting up a bee farm and how she became successful with her dream. 

By L. F. Gingoyon

Victoria Sandidge vividly recalls how it all began as she looks back with fondness on how a budding business she started about 15 years ago into the thriving entrepreneurial venture it is today. 

DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Peña caps his brief eco-village tour with great-tasting organic ice cream courtesy of Bohol Bee Farm proprietor and general manager, Victoria Sandidge.

She owns and manages the Bohol Bee Farm Resort, a booming eco-tourism destination ensconced in a wooded coastal enclave that not only offers the idyllic look and feel of tropical countryside living but also provides the kind of service that lends itself to organic, sustainable lifestyles and work environments.

Located on Panglao Island, Bohol, the approximately six-hectare nature-inspired hideaway takes pride in its rural charm accented by a tree-covered landscape; niparoofed, wood-and-concrete-walled chalets; and a majestic seaside cliff along the south periphery of the resort premises. Down the rugged perch of the cliff sits a rustic restaurant inviting visitors and guests to indulge in the unique taste of its healthy green cuisine against the backdrop of breathtaking vista of Panglao’s pristine waters.

A DREAM FULFILLED – Sandidge is a nurse who made good money in the United States. Once a little girl who dreamed about the joys of living a bucolic life in her sleepy village in Panglao, she spent 40 years immersed in what she thought were the “grander” pursuits in life, nearly burying her original dream.

Realizing, however, that material fortune was not all there was to life, she decided to return to the Philippines, against the protests of many, including her parents. “I came back because I still believe that, in our own country, we can still do something. We have to start believing. This is the way to go,” says Sandidge, who took her two children—then 12 and 10 years old—with her when she flew back to the country.

Vivid colors accented the rural simplicity of the Bohol Bee Farm lobby where some of its unique organic products are displayed.

She started small at the farm in 2002, with a restaurant in a canopied cottage and a modest two-room vacation inn manned by only four workers. An organic gardening hobbyist, she used the eatery to showcase the recipes for her organic spreads, pastries, delicacies, and other food items she made from the produce of her organic garden.

As the business grew over the years, many new organic food items, along with other homemade commodities, were produced to give customers a wider array of products to choose from. Soon, she needed to increase the production volume of goods as well as to ensure proper preservation and packaging of food products to extend their shelf life to address the growing consumer demand for them.

The need to upgrade the Bohol Bee Farm’s production quality and efficiency prompted Sandidge to seek assistance from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) for Region VII. Having seen the huge potential of the Bohol Bee Farm business, the Bohol Provincial Science and Technology Center (PSTC) extended a helping hand to Sandidge, providing her the much-needed funding and technical assistance in a partnership deal under the Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SETUP).

Boosted by the agency’s support, the Bohol Bee Farm was able to improve its business in terms of production efficiency and product quality. The assistance included, among others, training on basic food sanitation, hygiene, and current good operation and manufacturing practices, as well as a consultancy on food safety and manufacturing productivity.

The agency likewise provided technical assistance for product packaging and labeling, the provision of a food safety and good manufacturing practices (GMP)-compliant plant layout, and product development to address the shelf life issues of the goods.

Years later, the Bohol Bee Farm introduced homemade organic ice cream, which contained natural ingredients extracted from fruits, vegetables, and herbs produced at the farm. It quickly gained popularity on the local market. A manual juice squeezing method prevented Sandidge’s factory from meeting the demand for it; they barely managed to produce a maximum of 40 gallons of ice cream in a day of 14-hour, two-shift work.

With the market for the Bohol Bee Farm’s frozen specialty steadily expanding, Sandidge saw the need to boost production in order to meet the demand for the dessert product. Initially, she was set to procure a second-hand ice cream machine for ₱650,000. The DOST intervened through the Bohol PSTC and helped the Bohol Bee Farm factory acquire a brand new modern ice cream machine and a blast freezer.

A FRUITFUL PARTNERSHIP – The partnership between the PSTC and the Bohol Bee Farm has upgraded production technology and the technical skills of its workers, enabling the company to increase its ice cream production rate by 70 percent. “Whereas before, we (could) only produce only around 40 gallons a day, now we can produce 200 to 250 gallons a day. And now we have seven branches,” Sandidge says proudly. The company was able to develop new product lines and penetrate new markets in Bohol province and Cebu City.

The Bohol Bee Farm Resort has since grown to become one of the most lucrative ecotourism businesses in Bohol today, offering quality services and more diverse products made from organic materials sourced from within the farm. The resort’s biggest attractions are its delectable organic ice cream, spreads, pastries, delicacies, and other products which the DOST has helped raise to excellent standards.

GIVING BACK – But what makes the Bohol Bee Farm Resort stand out is Sandidge’s advocacy; her company prioritizes social responsibility and ecological sustainability over profit. Organic food production not only promotes nutritious diets and a healthy ecosystem, it also provides jobs to village folk who are hired as farm workers, production crew members, and service staff members at the village resort. Even if the factory uses high-powered machinery, Sandidge sees to it that she employs more villagers and their dependents as her way of giving back to the community.

“It’s not all about money. You realize you are not here just for yourself. You are here to serve. Success is not all about material things you have. Success is deeper than that. Success is about helping others,” she says.

Thanks to its success, the Bohol Bee Farm has received many prestigious awards attesting to how it has lived up to its commitment to value the environment and humanity over profitability in its business.

Looking back on the remarkable growth of her enterprise, Sandidge recalls the moment when she decided to come back to her old hometown for good to live her dream. She remembers the wonderful journey and partnerships she has made with those who stand by her and how the agency supported her through challenging times. “What you see here (in Bohol Bee Farm) is my dream when I was small. When my teacher asked me to draw something, I drew a small nipa house in a farm, with the river, with the tree…And my God, 40 years later, God gave you more than what you expected. And I couldn’t have done this alone. I have my people, and an agency that really believes in me.”

Sandidge has kept faith in herself and in her country in the face of those who tried to dissuade her from going home. “Even my own parents did not believe in (our) country…But as long as you believe, that thing you believe in can grow. With just four workers before, now we have 423 people working with us.”

It is said that a dream does not become reality through magic, but it can weave magic that turns it into reality if that dream is buttressed by determination and hard work born of faith and courage. “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams,” Eleanor Roosevelt once said. The woman behind the Bohol Bee Farm has continued believing—in her country and in the DOST. And the DOST believes in her.

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