By Zac B. Sarian

A leisure farm in Taiwan has way of inculcating the importance of agriculture in the young minds of kids and their parents. This is at the Tongshan Rice and Tea Resort, a member of the Taiwan Leisure Farms Development Association based in Yilan county.

Kids work on materials for the mushroom fruiting bag.

We visited the place recently in the company of other journalists and travel agents. What did we find when we arrived there? About a dozen kids less than ten years old were accompanied by their mothers. The kids were really enjoying straining and mixing the medium for producing mushroom spawns.

Tongshan township is where 40,000 people, mostly farmers, reside. Several years back, Tammy Chien decided to convert an old warehouse into a learning center with a focus on farming. The town’s four main products are rice, mushroom, pomelo, and tea.

At the learning center, the participants experience hands-on do-it-yourself educational activities. In mushroom culture, they don’t only teach how to prepare the planting materials and to grow them. They are also taught to prepare the mushrooms into delicious dishes.

During our visit, shabu-shabu was served with different mushroom species as the main ingredients. The kids who were at a different long table prepared their own lunch also with mushrooms and other vegetables.

For a half-day session, the kids are charged a fee of 250 Taiwan dollars equivalent to P375 in Philippine money. Last year, about 8,000 kids participated in the do-it-yourself educational activities, according to Chien, the lady CEO. That’s apart from the adults who also take part in the activities.

In rice, planting rice is not the only topic that is discussed. To appreciate the rice that is cooked, there is a mini rice mill installed in the learning center where one can see how rice is milled. The rice mill can produce well polished rice. The learning center also shows how to produce brown rice that is richer in vitamins than its well-polished counterpart.

Then there is value adding in rice. Installed in the learning center is a machine that can convert milled rice into poprice. The small machine can make poprice in just a few minutes. The popped rice is whole, not broken. One kilo of rice which costs NT$100 can be worth NT$400 when sold with a little added expense on brown sugar to sweeten it.

Close up of popped rice. The grains are whole, not broken.

The Tongshan Rice and Tea Resort has also put up a store where the farmers’ produce are sold. Most of them are in processed form. By the way, leisure farms in Taiwan have been promoted by the government for several years now to improve the economic status of farmers. Agritourism is being promoted by the Taiwan Leisure Farms Development Association (TLFDA) which is financially supported by the government.

The association assists members in putting up their own leisure farms in the form of training, assistance in business documentation, and promoting agritourism among local and foreign visitors.

TLFDA has been active in attracting visitors from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and lately, the Philippines. In the last few years, an increasing number of Filipino visitors have visited Taiwan leisure farms. Recently, a group of Filipino-Chinese students went on a 3-week orientation on environment as well as to practice their Mandarin.

Filipino entrepreneurs who want to put up their own leisure farms can learn a lot from visiting some of the farms in Taiwan. Most of them are family-owned, some occupying only a hectare although there are also much bigger ones.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s October 2016 issue.