DA Undersecretary For Special Concerns Berna Romulo Puyat brings media friends to Kalinga Apayao to showcase its potential in organic ecotourism.

By Sandy and Doc Rey
(Merging ideas of a natural farmer and a vet)

So you are thinking that organic agritourism is hard to promote? You are probably waiting on the wrong cows to pass by. Organic agriculture is just taking off, so with the many farms vying for attention from the few who are interested, it can get tricky.

Be noisy about what you have in terms of produce, landscape, practices, culture, food, and products. There are some looking out for something new, or rather something old to bring out.

We were lucky that we were able to join Undersecretary Berna Romulo Puyat’s Kalinga Apayao trip. We were a diverse group of chefs, writers, a clothing designer, and restaurant owners. Each of us wanted to know about a particular subject and yet everyone was learning from the others. Even the locals’ eyes were opened. It was good that we had guides, although not necessarily from the tourism industry; still, they were people who knew where to stop, shop, and go.

Our first stop was a coffee cooperative. Aside from the Excelsa green coffee beans, the local food specialty Inanjila that was served to us caught the group’s attention. Another one that got everyone excited was the wild native lime. It was similar to the dayap, and the leaves were very aromatic. The chefs in the group lost no time in getting leaves to try in dishes.

Before dinner, we went to the market to check out the local woven products. You’d think it would only be the clothes designer who’d be interested, but even the restaurant owners and caterers got pieces for use in their Filipiniana-themed setups. We ourselves got wonderfully made ethnic collars with modern twists. We recommend that you visit Kinwa Etnika Handicrafts when in Tabuk.

The next day was for the upland rice in Pasil. Starting out early, we were told we were going to be above the clouds. Driving up mountains and negotiating bumpy, zigag dirt roads, you knew you were getting close to heaven as you view the landscape of rice terraces.

When we got there, we found they had it planned to make it a comprehensive morning trip. We were greeted by festively dressed ladies sporting their tribal wear. I can see how this will excite the clothes makers.

The chefs wanted to learn how to make the Inanjila rice cakes. We were shown the process step by step, first making the rice flour. The ladies pounded rhythmically on the rice grains in pairs, much like a team rowing a boat. They were singing, I guess to make things easier and the work lighter. All this was like a cultural show for us visitors, but in reality it was a demo on making rice flour. Show us the way and next thing you know, we were trying it out. There was another section on pottery making. Everything was done manually, from scratch. It wasn’t easy making them, much less the bottom.

Next was learning to assemble the Inanjila, wrapping them in Taong palm leaves and setting them to steam in clay pots over wooden stoves. In the kitchen, the chefs were so amazed by the local cooks’ style—like just slicing the ginger directly into the pot, no need for chopping boards. They saw native ingredients being used that may have been long forgotten by city dwellers.

Everyone ended up buying heirloom pots for their own cooking back home after experiencing what it was like to make and taste food cooked using clay pots. Oh but wait, the dancer in Len Cabili couldn’t let the opportunity pass. She got one, then two pots, then she asked for more. She said it was easier to balance them on your head when they were heavier. Now, it was the turn of the locals to get entertained by a visitor who knew their dance. Everyone joined in the dancing and was a good bonding activity as it was not scripted nor planned.

Rice transplanting was considered such a fun activity in our group.

After a hearty lunch, did we want to try transplanting rice? The group had energy, even in the noontime heat. We walked down a slope to reach the first of the rice terraces. They gamely rolled up their pants and sleeves and got in the paddies. Laughter and giggles: “ Oh my God…this is so much fun!”

Fun when you have to do it just for 30 minutes, with one bunch of seedlings to transplant. After settling back with coffee in hand, they now saw the farmer, the rice, and the wage earning staff working for them, all in a different light. You now appreciate the small things…. making you want to know your farmer more.

The result? Consumer: Got to meet their farmers and understand what it takes to for them to give consumers their needs and wants.

Saw what is available out there and were able to communicate with the possible suppliers of their requirements. Fed their bodies, eyes, mind, and soul with what they saw and experienced. They will surely share this experience with others who will want to go and visit too.

Farmer: Met consumers. Saw that responsible traders are fair to deal with. There were close interactions, and the farmers were glad to hear the consumers say that the “high” lowlanders are reachable. Meeting up your client up close will motivate you to give a better product and reinvent yourself. Hope this gives you ideas on how to attract your agritourists.

Extension workers: We hope the time was well spent and you observed well how both sides reacted to be able to bridge the gap in helping one another. Had a great time…hoping for more opportunities to be able to observe and learn.

We were above the clouds. (From left) Katrina Limcaoco of Old Swiss Inn, Leni Cabili of Filip+Inna, Undersecretary Berna Romulo-Puyat, Chef Angelo Comsti, Chef Margarita Fores, and the author.

Q: Where can I market my organic produce?

A: You can try contacting the the Regional Field Office of the Department of Agriculture. They have a marketing arm, AMAD (Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Division), which supports the farmers during promotions. I suggest that you go approach the restaurants and hotels in your area. They are probably wanting to switch to healthy produce but just do not know where to source these.

If you are in Manila, join our monthly Organic Agripreneur Market for free. We are also doing this in the regions nationwide.

Email spreadorganicagriculture@yahoo.com. Join Spread Organic Agriculture in the Philippines (SOAP) on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/ spreadorganicagriculture/ to get the schedules our free seminars.

This appeared as “Experience to Appreciate” in Agriculture Monthly’s October 2014 issue.