In Taiwan, leisure farms are quickly growing in number. Last year, when we were invited to visit some of them, there were just a little over 200 members of the Taiwan Leisure Farms Development Association (TLFDA).

BY Zac Sarian.

This year, when we were invited once again by the association to visit 12 farms, the membership had grown to about 300, located all over the island nation. The reason is that there is a conscious effort by both the government and the private developers’ association to promote the industry.

More Income Sources

The Taiwan government sees the promotion of leisure farms as a means to help small farmers become more profitable by making them more entrepreneurial. They don’t just produce crops or farm animals for sale, they also undertake many other things that will give them more income. These include attractions that lure visitors, especially from the urban areas, who would like to experience rural life complete with good food, great fun, fresh air, and more.

Leisure farms offer a wide variety of attractions, depending on their location and the special interests of the owners. In all the leisure farms we visited this year (from June 15-21), there is a strong focus on the environment. Most of them plant a lot of trees within their projects. They shun the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers in growing their crops. And they also serve fresh produce from their own fields or from accredited suppliers.

Fu Wan Leisure Farm

This is a two-hectare farm plus a one-hectare fishpond in Tongkang, Pingtung, the southernmost county in Taiwan. Owned by a jolly 63-year-old fellow, Hsu Feng Chia, it is enjoying very good business for a number of reasons. It has a restaurant which serves a wide variety of seafood, including heart of tuna, scallops, shrimps, and grouper. These attract a lot of people, including those with strong purchasing power. Set meals cost from NT$650 to NT$1000. That’s how special the food is. (NT$1 is about R1.60 in Philippine
money.

Mr. Hsu has a built-in source of visitors because he is near a race track that stages Formula car racing twice a month. Every event is participated in by as many as 300 car racers, with some 2,000 spectators. Many of them go to Fu Wan to eat or check in at its comfortable lodging facilities. There are villas for two, suites like those in a high-end hotel, and accommodations in one building for a family that costs NT$13,800 a night. On the ground floor is a swimming pool.

Tiger Lapu-Lapu

Fun activities at Fu Wan include fishing. The tiger grouper (lapu-lapu) is a very special catch for
which the fisher pays NT$200 for each half kilo of fish that he catches. He can also have it cooked in the restaurant for a fee of another NT$200. If the fisher catches tilapia, it is for free. Biking is also another fun activity for visitors. Or one can just while away the time enjoying the breeze in a hammock under coconut trees by the surrounding fishponds. Garden weddings are another moneymaker for Mr. Hsu. The charge is NT$400,000 for a reception of 300 people.

There is also a Tuna Gallery which is some kind of a fisheries museum where the life cycles of tuna and other ocean species are showcased. There is also good business here because there are a lot of souvenir items that visitors can buy.

The Tuna Gallery building is unique because it is built with mud bricks. Mr. Hsu explained that this kind of building uses less electricity. During winter, it is warm inside whereas in summer, it is cooler.

Fu Wan also has a big collection of culinary and medicinal herbs which are used for making herbal tea and for adding flavor to dishes served in the restaurant.

Natural Garden Restaurant

In the town of Ligang, Pingtung, we met Wang Ping in his natural garden restaurant. Mr. Wang is an unusual man obsessed with ecology. While he is a professional photographer, his passion centers on promoting ecological consciousness.

Mr. Wang does not own the 1.3-hectare property where he put up his Natural Garden Leisure Farm. He purposely rented what used to be a garbage dump so that he could show his townmates how to transform it into something clean and beautiful.

Most farmers rent a piece of land the size of Wang’s rented land for NT$40,000 per year. Instead, Wang offered to rent the land for NT40,000 per month for 20 years! Why oh why? He explained that he wanted to create more value for land in his community. And he is showing that he can generate the money to pay for the high rent from what he does in his leisure farm.

He put up his natural garden restaurant that serves all organically grown fruits and vegetables. On his rented land, he grows more than 30 kinds of culinary and medicinal herbs that he uses in his cooking as well as for extracting essential oils for making wellness and beauty products. He sources his organically grown fruits and vegetables from organic farmers who have been encouraged by him to go organic.

Modestly Priced

His organic meals are very fairly priced, ranging from NT$200 to NT$250 for hotpot and other preparations complete with herbal tea and fruits in season. Some 100,000 diners patronize Wang’s restaurant every year.

Aside from the delicious meals, visitors can also enjoy do-it-yourself (DIY) activities. During our visit, we had the opportunity to learn how to make our own insect repellent that included extracts of Australian tea, lemon grass, lavender, and peppermint plus alcohol and water.

Farmers going organic – Through his encouragement, Wang says that 20 percent of farmers in his town are now into organic farming. And more are expected to join the trend. There is an organic rose farm that produces organic jams and other preparations. Then there is a project that recycles paper into other useful products.

From Golf Course to Leisure Farm

What used to be a four-hectare golf course has been turned into the Kenting Stony Brook Nature Farm. It is near a beach but you will not notice the beach if you don’t go out of the farm because it is forested all around.

The leisure farm boasts three theme pavilions, namely: a wooden cabin area; Tuscany, a lodging facility copied from the Italian building in the movie of that name; and a French chateau which brings to Taiwan a flavor of France, complete with a winery. All the accommodations are very comfortable.

Camping

Kenting Stony Brook has also become a favorite camping ground during weekends. Elton Chen, the 39-year-old owner, said that as many as 4,000 campers go there during weekends. They pay NT$100 per person per night.

Tainan Duck Farm

This year’s trip was our second time to visit Tainan Duck Farm, which is a model educational leisure farm. The owner, Su Qing-fa, has developed many processed products from duck eggs, meat, and other parts. And the farm offers a host of classes based on agricultural experiences that are both interesting and informative, with a class on duck eggs being the most special.

Duck Vinegar

We asked Prof. Su Qing-fa what’s new and he readily said he has developed duck egg vinegar.
How’s that? Well, he included duck eggshells in the materials he made into vinegar. This makes the vinegar high in calcium and can help make the bones stronger and less prone to osteoporosis.

We also learned something new this time. How do they make the whole duck egg yolk that is used in making moon cake? Well, it is very simple. The method follows the production of salted egg. The egg is coated with clay and stored for about 30 days. After 30 days, the egg is opened and the yolk which has solidified is separated from the albumen. It’s that simple.

Duck Racing

Mr. Su has also trained some ducks which compete in a swimming race in a waterway about a meter wide and a hundred meters long. This is for the entertainment of visitors, especially children. This is how it works. From one end of the waterway, he gives the ducks enough pellets to whet their appetite but which is not enough to satisfy their hunger. As soon as the feed is finished (in just a few seconds), they race to the other end of the waterway because they know that there is another batch of feed awaiting them there. The feed at the end is still not enough so they rush back to where they started because they know there is new feed waiting for them there. In that particular race that we saw, one duck which was a couple of ducks behind flew over the two ducks ahead so it could reach the feed first. Quite entertaining.

Lychee Picking at Fairy Lake

Our visit to the Fairy Lake Leisure Farm in Dongshan, Tainan, was most memorable. Our group of ten had the experience of picking the ripe fruits of the lychee trees that were very lowgrowing, all the while eating all that we cared to eat.

Lychee picking is an annual event that is anticipated by visitors to Fairy Lake. By paying NT$100 (about PhP 160 in Philippine money), visitors get to enter the orchard to pick ripe fruits. While picking, they can eat all they can of the fruits and not have to pay for what they eat. However, if they wants to take out their extra harvest, they have to pay for this at the usual price in the market, which may be about the equivalent of sixty to ninety pesos per kilo. This is very cheap compared to the high price we pay for lychee in the Philippines.

Aside from lychee, Fairy Lake produces a lot of longan, Arabica coffee, and oranges. Like many other leisure farms, Fairy Lake offers excellent cuisine. And visitors also enjoy DIY activities, including grinding Arabica coffee beans then preparing the same to drink.

Smart Orchid Man

We also visited the leisure farm of a smart orchid man in the town of Tian-Wei in the county of Changhua north of Fairy Lake.

The owner, Mr. Wu Hong-Ze, used to be a small rack-type flower grower whose business grew and grew. In 1991, he reinvented his orchid business. He converted a big orchid greenhouse into a restaurant and orchid shop, which has become a profitable combination.

The restaurant has two big dining rooms. The bigger one which we estimate to be at least 600 square meters offers a buffet lunch and dinner as well as a la carte options. The other room which is just a bit smaller is also a dining area with a big portion devoted to a display of gorgeous phalaenopsis orchids for sale. Some are in big elegant containers for gift-giving or for home use.

The bigger dining room has a special décor beneath the ceiling – large Boston ferns that look like
green chandeliers. This is one idea that can be duplicated in the Philippines. One can put up a restaurant that serves really good food, and in one section, flowering and ornamental plants can be displayed for sale.

Flying Cow Ranch

This is a 52-hectare leisure farm that offers a lot of products and activities. It is one that is visited
by thousands of tourists who want to experience what it is like to be in a dairy farm. It is where we tasted for the first time a different hotpot lunch. Milk, instead of water, is used in the pot for
cooking the vegetables, meat, and seafood. We liked it and perhaps it is doubly nutritious.

Even the dessert is prepared differently. The pudding, for instance, comes like a big billiard
ball contained in a thin rubbery material that resembles that of a balloon. You pierce it with a
toothpick or a similar pointed object and the contents are totally unwrapped. Quite amazing.

The ranch has forests all around, except for a grassy area where 39 milk cows graze for visitors
to see. There are small farm animals that visitors love to feed, not necessarily the usual
way. For instance, there is a goat on a platform about 10 meters above the ground. Children and
adults alike love to feed the animal with green grass. How? Well, there is a bucket that the visitors fill with grass on the ground. The same is raised to the waiting ruminant through a pulley.

Then there is another event where more than a hundred ducks race toward the man who scatters a small amount of feed, then toward another man who also has his own supply of feeds. The fowls really run very fast toward the man who has the feed to the great entertainment of the visitors. Flying Cow Ranch offers so many other DIYs, including feeding goats and rabbits, milking the cows, making ice cream or cheese, and baking. Visitors don’t only stay for a day; many of them stay overnight or longer in comfortable guest houses.

What’s New at Hua Lu

We visited Hua Lua Flower Home Leisure Farm for the second time this year. So we asked Chen Shu Jen, the lady in charge of the farm, what was new. We remember that the place offers excellent cuisine; to this day, it still does. Last year, it had lots of potted ornamental plants. This year, the volume has gone down somewhat.

The focus now is more on organic food crops like cherry tomato, strawberry, and cucumber. We went around the growing area and we were really impressed by the performance of their cherry tomatoes. They are so healthy and fruitful.

High-priced cherry tomato – We were not surprised that they are concentrating on cherry tomatoes. Chen Shu Jen told us that organic cherry tomato sells for as much as NT$1,200 per kilo. That’s PhP 1,920 in Philippine money! Cherry tomatoes occupy the biggest area, and they are grown on a staggered basis. Many of the workers are women, especially the pickers, who are well paid. They are paid NT100 to NT$225 per hour. That’s PhP 160 to PhP 360 per hour.

ZBS with organic Cherry tomato at Hua Lu Leisure Farm.

Strawberry

Another moneymaker is organic strawberry. They make money not only from the fruits but also from the propagations. They have a very smart way of producing baby strawberries: they have long tables that are about two meters wide. In the middle of the table are two rows of mother plants.

On either edge of the tables are small pots on which the runners are “seated” so they develop into
young plants that are severed after attaining a reasonable size. These baby strawberry plants are sold in the store at NT50 each. Of course, they also produce strawberry fruits which are sold fresh or made into cakes, pastries, and jams. We also liked the strawberry beer, which is sweet. Hua Lu also offers training on essential oil extraction. The company makes and sells a lot of wellness and beauty products derived from the herbs they grow.

Old Industry Revived

Nestled in a heavily forested area in the Shangtuan Leisure Agri-Zone in Miaoli is a farm that has popularized an old traditional industry: indigo dyeing. This is the Zhuo Ye Cottage Farm, run by Ms. Mei-Shu Cheng.

An enterprising lady who has revived an old traditional industry has created a thriving business
by making high-end naturally dyed lady’s dresses, scarves, handkerchiefs, curtains, and more. These are the things moneyed people in the cities don’t mind paying a high price for. For instance, a scarf 90 centimeters (cm) wide and 180 cm long will cost NT$1,000 or Php1,600 in Philippine money. A lady’s dress could cost several thousand Taiwan dollars.

Training Seminars

Another source of income is training other people in the art of indigo dyeing. This is also a DIY activity for some visitors. Members of our group had the chance to create their own designs through the guidance of a tutor. The members experienced dyeing a white sheet of cloth into a handkerchief with designs in white.

We now realize that there are different species of indigo for dyeing. In the Philippines, our indigo has small leaves. In Taiwan, the Asamo indigo looks totally different. The leaves are broad and the stems are not as woody as the Philippine variety. Nevertheless, the indigo dye they produce is similar. Like many other leisure farms, Zhuo Ye Cottage Farm offers comfortable guest houses, each one different from the other. It also offers excellent food.

Observation

Leisure farms in Taiwan have different specializations but they have certain things in common. For one, they offer good, healthy food which many people in the cities are looking for. They also offer great fun with their DIYs. And they are all advocates of environmental conservation. What is admirable is that the Taiwan government encourages development of leisure farms. It constructs good roads leading to these farms so they become more accessible. On the other hand, there is also private initiative through the Taiwan Leisure Farms Development Association (TLFDA).

By the way, TLFDA invited our group to visit the Taiwan leisure farms through Leo Fang, manager for international marketing. The group consisted of eight travel agency executives that included Jane Chen, Irene Binag, Helen Hao, Lin Tiu, Janet Tiu, Melrose Ocaya, Vernon Prieto, and Allan C.K.Sze. Our other companion was Jimmy Cheng of United Daily News.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s August 2014 issue.