By Henrylito D. Tacio
Foreigners usually think of the Philippines as a place of dreamy golden beaches, shimmering azure waters, blue skies and gently swaying palms. But there is a new wave in tourism across the country – especially for those interested in sustainability. Farm tourism has become the new norm in travel.
The Republic Act No. 10816, otherwise known as the Farm Tourism Development Act, defines farm tourism as “the practice of attracting visitors and tourists to farm areas for production, educational and recreational purposes.” As a reason to visit, it is becoming increasingly popular in the country.
The activities vary, depending on the farm that is visited.
“It ranges from very (sophisticated) tourist farms to very simple … farms,” pointed out Senator Cynthia Villar, author of Act No. 10816. “They are the same thing; it’s about being creative.”
The Philippines is the largest archipelago in the world with 7,641 islands, of which about 2,000 are inhabited. The total land area is estimated to be about 30,000 million hectares, with about 11 hectares classified as agricultural lands, according to Asia Research Media.
The Asian country has a maritime tropical climate with two distinct seasons – the rainy and dry seasons – making it an ideal place for farming. Located in the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, volcanic activities also ensure the fertility of the soil.
Since 2018, the Department of Tourism (DOT) has been strengthening the development and promotion of farm tourism as a major tourist product. It supports stakeholders in innovating and diversifying farm sites around the country to include recreational and leisure activities for tourists in addition to food and wellness.
“Shake the hands that feed you,” said former Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat.
What most Filipinos don’t know is that the Philippines is now among the world’s top farm tourism destinations. That’s according to the Laguna-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA). It is now at par with other farm tourism sites all over the globe, including Taiwan, Hawaii, Tuscany, Mallorca, California and Brazil.
Davao City, the country’s largest city in terms of land area, has its own shares of farm tourism destinations. There are several of them but one that attracts more tourists than others is the 80-hectare Eden Nature Park and Resort, located in Toril.
“Eden is the living legacy that my parents left behind,” said Miguel M. Ayala, the chairman of the resort and JVA Group of Companies. He is the son of Jesus “Chito” V. Ayala (JVA) and Fe Misa Ayala.
At 2,650 feet above sea level, Eden offers breathtaking views of Davao City and the Davao Gulf. “This place was a remnant of logging concessionaires in the 1970s and was covered only by a blanket of wild grass,” said Brenda Ocampo, when she was still the resort’s marketing manager.
It was the late Ayala who saw the potential of the place in 1971. He bought the barren area and made terraces carved out of the mountain slope. To revitalize the area, he planted thousands of pine trees all over the place.
Today, there are over 100,000 pine trees spread across about 80 hectares, making the resort 95-percent man-made. Some of the pine trees are planted in areas where there are cottages. Guests can walk under the canopies and not feel the scorching heat of the sun as only a few rays of sun could hit your skin.
In areas not planted to pine trees, various fruits were planted. As the place is good for growing mangosteen, about three hectares were allotted to the fruit crop. Mangosteen is considered the queen of tropical fruits.
About five hectares are planted to dragon fruit, the yellow variety. These are harvested twice a year: the peak season is from August to October while the low season is January. These are sold locally although some of them are exported to Japan.
A piece of trivia: Dragon fruit is a native to southern Mexico and Central America. It is also called pitaya, pitahaya and strawberry pear. The most common type has bright red skin with green scales that resemble a dragon – hence the name.
Other fruits planted include marang, durian, avocado, guava, and santol. Cacao, from which chocolate gets its start, is also grown as an intercrop of some of these fruit trees. During the time of the presidency of Rodrigo R. Duterte, Davao Region was declared the Cacao Capital of the Philippines with Davao City as the Chocolate Capital of the Philippines.
When Ayala bought the land, he saw some bamboo growing naturally. Those were not harvested but instead they were allowed to grow for aesthetic reasons. To pay homage to the world’s tallest grass, it has created a bamboo maze, which reminds you of the movie The Shining – but without the snow, of course. It takes about 8-10 minutes to complete the maze.
Eden also practices organic farming in the form of hydroponics. Occupying about three hectares, it involves growing vegetables anchored in containers with a solution of water and nutrients.
Two greenhouses are used to grow several varieties of the lettuce. Other crops grown are Japanese tomatoes and cucumber. Some of the harvested vegetables, about 4-5 kilograms daily, are used in the resort’s restaurant.
Aside from being organically-grown, hydroponics offers several advantages, notably a decrease in water usage. Studies have shown that to grow one kilogram of tomato using intensive farming methods, for instance, requires 400 liters. In comparison, growing the same amount of tomato using hydroponics, only 70 kilograms of water is used.
Not far from the hydroponics is the 2,000-square-meter fishpond where hito (catfish) and tilapia are being raised. Guests and visitors can do fishing here while those who don’t want to do fishing can stay at the cottage. There’s no limit of how many kilos visitors can catch. All they have to do is pay all the fish they caught. In fact, they can ask some resort personnel to cook the fish for them.
The resort is also concerned with the country’s flora and fauna. So much so that it includes as part of its itinerary some areas where visitors and guests can have a close encounter with Philippine deer and butterflies.
The Deer Park serves as the domicile of over thirty deer. At the Butterfly Garden, visitors can actually play with these familiar, colorful insects while taking the path around the 2,000-square-meter garden.
The power of flowers is also apparent in the resort. From her travels abroad, the idea of putting a flower garden came to Mrs. Fe Ayala. Some of the flowers grown were from the resort and nearby places but most of those gracing the garden were brought by the owner from her travels abroad. This is the first stopover for those who will take a guided tour. Most people go down from the vehicle and run here and there to have their souvenir photos taken.
Among those flowers you can find are sunflower, jade vine, blue salvia, amaranthus, coral vine, peace lily, cat’s tail, billy button, blue rose, buddleia lavender, gerbera, St. Joseph coat, marigold and the very popular mickey mouse, among others. Most of these are replanted quarterly.
More flowers, which are grandma’s favorite, can be found at Lola’s Garden. This place is famous for its carabao statue and wishing well, whose water is decorated with various colors of gumamela flowers. From here, you can take the breathtaking view of the Davao Gulf.
Eden’s day tour takes about almost an hour. And there were only three stopovers where the tourists could take photos of themselves.
There are rooms, cottages, mountain villas and suites available for rent just in case you want to stay for the night or spend the entire day there. Check with the Activity Center, the information nerve, for the accommodation and overnight rates.
By the way, the park was named after the barangay where it is situated. According to some people, the barangay was named in honor of a beautiful resident named Edeng. Her Japanese husband reportedly couldn’t pronounce her name correctly, so he called her Eden. Because of her beauty, the barangay was named after her.
Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio