By JAMES TABABA
Bamboo is a widely distributed plant in the Philippines and is considered one of the country’s versatile non-timber forest products as it is commonly used for construction purposes, furniture, handicrafts, and as an ingredient in Filipino cuisine. Bamboo has been gaining popularity in recent years due to its various uses, benefits, and aesthetics. But for Allen Reyes, bamboo has been a lifelong passion and advocacy. His daughter, Therese Hilario shares his vision to create a bamboo park that would promote local businesses and provide a venue for leisure and relaxation.
According to Hilario, her late father, Allen Reyes was a visionary who was passionate about researching the benefits of bamboo to the environment and human health long before the recent surge in popularity of bamboo products such as toothbrushes and straws. He foresaw that bamboo would become an essential material for various applications in the future, and his passion for the plant led him to establish the Allen Reyes Bamboo Farm.
A visionary’s legacy
Therese Hilario is the general manager of the bamboo farm in San Antonio, Nueva Ecija. She revealed that the farm was originally a mango farm that belonged to her grandmother but was badly hit by Typhoon Ondoy. However, this disaster led to an opportunity for Allen Reyes to turn the mango farm into his vision of a bamboo park. The conversion of the farm was made possible with the help of his townmates and the local government. They started propagating the plant about a year after the typhoon in 2010. Unfortunately, the mango farm was completely devastated, and they had to clear the entire area. It took time to rehabilitate the land, and instead of continuing with mangoes, they replaced them with bamboo.
“My dad is a visionary. He sees things more than what is it right now. He loves researching, he loves reading. He was already into reading about bamboo, its benefits of it to the environment, its sustainability, its versatility, and its green footprint. Bamboo produces 35% more oxygen than any other plant. It was really so it’s really very good for the environment and for our health. That’s why he really dove deep into research,” Hilario said.
Allen Reyes had a vision that extended beyond simply propagating bamboo. “His plan really is to have that farm, to have that bamboo park, and then retire and be hands-on there. He wanted to create a bamboo community for his kababayans,” Hilario said. “It was really an advocacy of my dad to build this platform to be able to promote local businesses and help his kababayan improve their means of living and provide a venue for leisure and relaxation.”
Hilario shared that one of the main goals of her father in establishing the bamboo farm was to improve the means of living of the local community. Her father envisioned the farm to become a platform for local businesses to showcase and sell their products, such as banig, walis, carabao’s milk, and other dairy products. By providing a venue for seminars and workshops, he hoped to promote the development of handicraft businesses in the area. Additionally, the farm would feature food and coffee stalls and recreational areas to provide a space for relaxation and recreation. The bamboo park would also offer a unique and elevated experience for visitors, expanding the variety of activities and products available in the province.
Allen Reyes expressed his plans before his retirement, “He was saying that he wanted to be able to establish all of those before he turns 90. He died 66. He wanted to retire soon. That is his plan for the next 10 to 20 years of his life, to be able to establish that and provide that experience to the locals, to his kababayans in Nueva Ecija,” Hilario said.
In early 2021, construction began on the first phase of the project. The bamboo farm, which was just a big piece of land without a house, required a dwelling for Hilario’s parents parents to stay in. They started building a bamboo house, which he wanted to name dampaminium, in February 2021. The house was built entirely from bamboo sourced from the farm, including furniture such as the dining table, dining set, and sofa set. Even the design, from the bathroom to the facade, was made from bamboo. The term Dampaminium was coined by Reyes, combining “dampa,” which was a local term for a hut, and “condominium,” which represented modernity. The Dampaminium became the centerpiece of the farm, representing his vision of a modern yet local dwelling place that he wanted to share with others.
Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with cancer around the same time as the start of construction. The family pushed for the completion of the house urgently so that he could experience the fresh air there. However, he passed away during the construction of the rest house, which included the bamboo house.
From bamboo farm to bamboo park
In 2021, the bamboo farm already featured a playground with swings that had unique bamboo suspensions. The atmosphere of the farm exuded a relaxing vibe, enhanced further by the addition of boho tents and picnic tables. Families often rented vans and spent the whole day talking and enjoying picnics there, promoting the idea of quality family time. The farm also partnered with concessionaires to sell popular Filipino foods such as halo-halo, barbecue, and milk tea. Visitors frequently bought from the food stalls, and the farm also became a popular location for photo shoots, including prenuptial photos. The bamboo farm’s unique bamboo façade provided an attractive backdrop for these photo shoots, with some couples even requesting to have their pictures taken outside the dampaminium.
“During that time there are still ITF regulations that kids were still not allowed. But when the regulations were lifted, families who rented vans started flocking in. There were so many of them, and most of them had children with them,” Hilario said.
“There was a sense of fulfillment because I know that that’s what our dad wanted to be able to share that experience with his kababayans. Because most of the customers coming are from within the area or the neighboring towns,” she added.
Hilario said that the bamboo park is not driven by profit, but rather by our advocacy to share a unique experience and support the livelihood of our fellow Filipinos. For this reason, they only collect a minimal fee of 50 pesos from each guest, which is primarily used for the maintenance and preservation of the bamboo farm. The collected fees are allocated towards cleaning and electricity expenses, as well as for the continuous improvement of the kawayanan, as referred to by the locals. Additionally, they offer photoshoot services for events such as such as birthdays and prenup shoots for a fee of P500. These fees allow us to sustain the farm and continue our mission of providing a relaxing and enjoyable experience for everyone.
However, as of now, the bamboo farm is closed due to the impact of typhoon Karding which hit in September. Some of the bamboo structures were damaged and the farm is undergoing rehabilitation.
“We are still in the process of rehabilitating, but we plan to go back there and fix our plans on when we plan to resume, open to the public, and what are the other amenities we would like to add. Because, of course, we really want continuous improvement, so whatever the amenities from before, we want to change it every now and then so that people will be willing to return and there’s something new that they are looking forward to,” Hilario said.
The distance between Manila and the bamboo farm presents a challenge for the Reyes family in addressing issues that may arise on the property. “But we are very grateful to have our katiwalas who we consider family already. They’ve been working with my dad. ‘Kumapre’ as he calls my uncle Teddy since the manggahan days. And from there, his whole family now helped to support and assists us,” Hilario said.
Hilario added that the Julianos, who has been working with the Reyes family for a long time, are always present to lend a hand and provide support in maintaining the farm. The family’s compassion and dedication to the farm are evident as they consider it their own. When the farm was hit by typhoon Karding, the Julianos were particularly affected and were eager to help rehabilitate it as soon as possible, given their expertise in farming and knowledge about bamboo.
Also, Hilario mentioned that despite the challenges, the shared community in the local area has a strong attachment to the kawayanan and is saddened by any damage or issues it may face. The locals feel that the bamboo farm is not solely owned by the Reyes family but is a shared community space.
As mentioned earlier, the Reyes family had grand plans for their farm. Despite the loss, the family decided to continue his advocacy. Their primary goal now is to rehabilitate the farm after it was hit by Typhoon Karding. Once that’s done, they plan to resume their plans for the bamboo farm, food stalls, and photoshoot venue.
Despite the farm not yet being fully restored, people still show interest in having their photos taken there. “Up to now, I receive multiple messages on our Facebook page asking if they can now have a photoshoot. And then I tell them that we are still in the process of rehabilitating, and it is not yet as nice as it used to be. Then people would say, ‘It’s okay, we’ll just stay in the beautiful part.’ Then I was like, ‘Okay, if you really want to.’ I am just managing their expectations, but people are still pushing to have their photoshoot even outside the house,” Hilario said.
The second phase of their plan involves adding more recreational activities. They have already ordered large kawas for a planned spa and massage area and have allotted spaces for it. They also want to involve organizations in conducting free seminars on handicraft businesses and provide them with a venue to sell their products. They have also designed brochures for weddings, as there has been a lot of inquiries about using the farm as a wedding venue. Their ultimate goal is to build a community with small kasitas for day tours, a small swimming pool, bike trails, a sports area, and wifi for the youth. They hope to attract more people to become part of the bamboo community.
“That is something that my mom and my siblings would really have to prepare for and strategize on how we will execute it while still being aligned to dad’s advocacy. It won’t be easy for us because my dad is really the brain and the heart of this advocacy but we try our best to mirror it and how he would want to execute it,” she said.
They have a variety of bamboo species in their farm including tinik, bambusa, giant bamboo, Japanese cane, and bayog. They are also continuing the propagation of these bamboos. Some people have been asking if they are selling propagating materials, which is part of their future plans but not their main focus at the moment. While their main focus is not on selling bamboo propagating materials, it is still part of their plan for the future.
Hilario and her siblings were born and raised in Manila, so they never spent much time in the province. However, building their farm in San Antonio, Nueva Ecija was a unique and bonding experience for their family. They were hands-on throughout the construction process, from building the house and incorporating bamboo into the structure to creating the bamboo park. Despite the challenges, it was a fulfilling and overwhelming experience.
During her two-week stay in San Antonio, Hilario was struck by the strong sense of community and connection among the people there. Even though he didn’t know everyone personally, there was a sense of comfort and familiarity as they were all kababayans or relatives in some way. Seeing children playing in the playground and mothers serving food from the casseroles brought her great joy and fulfillment.
“One of my favorite events was during the Valentine’s Day of 2022, we tried to manage the people because the parking space is not enough for the cars. People really went there and enjoyed. I felt like I achieved the purpose [of the farm]. It is unfortunate that the operation of the farm was cut short because of what happened. But we really want to rehabilitate and bounce back from that,” Hilario Said.
“We were able to align with Dad’s wishes and advocacies, but we’re still at the first level. We have yet to elevate the livelihood of the people because our ultimate goal is to have handicrafts made from bamboo, which is a very versatile material that can create different products. That’s what we want to achieve. We still have a long way to go, but with the limited time we were given, I think we were able to take the opportunity and make the most of it,” Hilario added.
The vision of Hilario’s father was not just a mere dream but a passion that fueled his desire to create something extraordinary for his kababayans. His goal was to create a bamboo community, one that would not only be a source of livelihood for the locals but also a haven for leisure and a means of sustainable living.
The bamboo community that Hilario’s father envisioned was not just a physical space but a way of life that would inspire others to live sustainably and in harmony with nature. His mission was not just to provide a venue for leisure but also to create a means of living for their kababayans. Through the cultivation and propagation of bamboo, they wanted to create a sustainable source of income for the locals, allowing them to earn a living while also preserving the environment.
Photo courtesy of Allen Reyes Bamboo Farm