Experience farm tourism: When a retirement haven is turned into a destination

By Henrylito D. Tacio

Most Filipinos in the rural areas farm. Even in the cities, some entrepreneurs also grow crops under urban agriculture. Some of these farms have been turned into tourist areas that attract non-farmers, so much so that agri-tourism or farm tourism came into existence.

Agri-tourism is a mash-up of both “agriculture” and “tourism.” The United States Department of Agriculture defines it in this manner: “(Agri-tourism) is a form of commercial enterprise that links agricultural production and/or processing with tourism to attract visitors onto a farm, ranch, or other agricultural business for the purposes of entertaining or educating the visitors while generating income for the farm, ranch, or business owner.”

“We see farm tourism in our area as a potential business opportunity,” says Jelvin C. Tuballa of La Tuballa Agritourism Park. The local government is fully supporting those who manage such initiatives knowing these would help generate more employment among the locals.

La Tuballa Agritourism Park

Tuballa and his wife, Joebeth, are the owners of the one-hectare La Tuballa Agritourism Park located in sitio San Roque, barangay Bololmala in Tupi, South Cotabato.

Mr. Jelvin Tuballa and his wife, Joebeth. (Henrylito Tacio)

“Our farm is nestled at the foot of Mount Matutum, a dormant volcano,” he says. The town is considered the flower, vegetable, and fruit basket capital of South Cotabato. Travel time from General Santos City is less than a one-hour drive.

The farm is planted to various fruit-bearing trees like mangosteen, berries, lanzones, guyabano, pomelo, jackfruit, mango, marang, and lemon. Scattered around the farm are Thai coconuts. Some vegetables are also planted.

The farm, which would serve as the couple’s retirement haven, was opened to the public on November 9, 2021. What usually catches the attention of guests and visitors are those brightly painted big jars lined-up on the way to air-conditioned glamping houses, which can accommodate two to four persons.

These big jars are located just near the restaurant. (Henrylito Tacio)

Adjacent to the big jars is the restaurant, which is decorated with Indo-Moroccan motifs. All over the place, you can get a glimpse of various paintings which were done by fine arts students.

“The concept of our restaurant was inspired from our food trips in Maldives and Kuala Lumpur when we watched the 2018 Shell Motorcycle Grand Prix,” Jelvin says.

At the restaurant, they serve various foods to their guests and visitors. “We get the stocks of our foods from the local market like native chicken, hito, tilapia and pork,” he says. Seafoods like tuna and squid and beef are purchased from General Santos City. Some of the fresh vegetables come to the farm’s garden.

Guests and visitors can order mouth-watering food from this Indo-Moroccan restaurant, which Joebeth manages.  (Henrylito Tacio)

Various flags and see-through pool

If you go further, you will be surprised to see different flags from other countries – Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Maldives, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand – hanging just like bantings. “The flags serve as a reminder of the countries we have visited,” he says.

Another attraction is the swimming pool. “This was constructed during the pandemic for our personal use,” he explains. “But later, when we opened the farm to the public, we decided to open it also to our guests and visitors to generate more income.”

One thing that makes the swimming pool different from others is that fiber glass was installed on one side. People can see in full view those swimming inside the pool.

Jelvin got the idea of the fiberglass swimming pool when the siblings celebrated their mother’s 70th birthday in Palawan in 2017. “I was kissing my wife underwater while my brother Jozald was taking photos of the scene,” Jelvin recalls. “It took several shoots until there was one which we considered as perfect. I almost drowned and everyone witnessed it through the fiberglass.”

The farm also has a fish spa, a playground and basketball court. It can also be used as a venue for weddings, birthdays, and other special occasions.

“The reason why people come to the place is so they can have peace of mind,” says Joebeth. They can sleep well during the night as there are no disturbances. And of course, the exclusivity.”

Right now, the couple is building accommodations for their guests. They are also planning to construct a big function hall that could accommodate 300 people. “We will also build a coffee shop and receiving office. We will improve our restaurant building as well as landscaping the sides of the farm,” Jelvin says.

Guests and visitors can order mouth-watering food from this Indo-Moroccan restaurant, which Joebeth manages.  (Henrylito Tacio)

The origin

Actually, the Tuballa couple is based in General Santos City, where they operate two motor parts businesses. They have been in such business for more than a decade already when the pandemic hit the city.

“The pandemic affected our business significantly, particularly in the operations and sales,” recalls Jelvin, who is an accountancy graduate from Mindanao State University. “We found an opportunity to fight back as travel restrictions were implemented not only in the country but globally. We were forced to stay home.”

Since they could no longer travel, they decided to purchase a farm in 2020, where the family could stay together. They could not go out when they were in the city, but in the farm, they had a bigger space where they could walk and enjoy the scenery and rural living.

The couple also built a house. “This would be our retirement house,” says Joebeth, an agricultural engineering graduate from Mindanao State University. “We love it here as the air is fresh and we can have peace of mind.”

During the pandemic, people who wanted to go out cannot do so immediately. Movement was limited in the province where they come from. And so, the Tuballa couple decided to turn the farm into a destination. “Personally, we want to diversify our business and farm tourism is another way.”

Difficulties along the way

But it wasn’t easy. “During the initial phase, we encountered financial constraints which forced us to tap the banking institution,” Jelvin says. “The generated funds assisted the different stages of development and improvements of the farm. We saw the potential markets locally but our place needs trendy ideas.

“Our two children assisted us with the millennial designs, motifs and paintings. My wife managed the resort focusing on the restaurant and reservations. My brothers and sister, who are working abroad (in Australia and Canada) were fully supportive with their constant ideas at part with international standards,” he adds.

The Tuballa family loves to travel – locally, nationally and internationally. “Our family explores, plays, works and dreams together,” he says. “Our strong bond creates a harmonious exchange of ideas, concepts and suggestions.”

They did that during the conceptualization of the farm. “After brainstorming, we created and implemented them like trial and error. The critics, feedback and complaints from our guests inspired us to give more thrills, excitement and happiness back to them,” Jelvin says.

Some lessons learned

Along the way, the Tuballa couple has learned some lessons. “Operating an agritourism park involves various challenges – from creative ideas to physical implementation, from environmental sustainability to market demands,” Jelvin says.

But the trickiest part was “the financial aspects wherein every new idea corresponds to a certain amount of money.” He adds, “The marketing to the different age and social demographics must be sustainable, realistic and timely.”

The Tuballa farm has come a long way. “We built our farm in Tupi as our gateway during the pandemic,” Jelvin says. “But today, our home is now everybody’s destination.”

Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio

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