While the high-density cities of Manila, Cebu and Davao attract throngs of tourists because of their wide selection of pulsating bars, tasty restaurants and numerous shopping options, the rest of the Philippines has a more quiet and idyllic appeal. In tourist destinations like Zambales and Palawan, travelers are spoilt for choice when planning for a tropical island holiday. But beyond their pristine beaches and clear blue waters, these two Philippine provinces are also home to agricultural farms that work closely with the local community.
Yamang Bukid Healthy Products
Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Yamang Bukid Healthy Products in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, has come a long way since it was established in 2017. From being an extension of its Baguio-based turmeric farm, it is now a full-fledged agri-tourism site that has made meaningful impact on the lives of the local community. It employs former illegal loggers and idle gamblers “to teach them that they don’t need to destroy the environment to make a living,” says Hope Maglinte Alas, Yamang Bukid’s vice-president for tourism affairs.
Yamang Bukid currently has 360 employees, 90% of whom are from the local community. It cultivates 40.6 hectares of land using organic farming methods, which is another important advocacy of the farm. It harvests vegetables, turmeric and fruits that are either sold at markets, serve as ingredients at its five restaurants within and outside the farm or used in its flagship Turmeric 10-in-1 tea product.
More recently, Yamang Bukid has been promoting art within its Palawan farm. Two resident artists, also farmers, teach art to the community. “It has become a favorite pastime of the farmers and they are enjoying it a lot,” Alas says. Most of the artworks are displayed inside the farm while some have been sold, with proceeds funding the tuition of the farm’s scholars.
Currently the farm supports 4,000 college scholars and a thousand more in grade school and high school. According to Alas, all these advocacies support the company’s uniting philosophy of living a life for others by doing business with a heart. “We work hard so we can help more,” she says. To arrange a visit, educational tour or overnight stay, contact Yamang Bukid via their Facebook page.
Iba Botanicals Inc
In 2017 Australian-born Ben Mead took over Eco Village, a 20-hectare farm owned by his good friend, the late environmentalist and philanthropist Gina Lopez. “She asked me to develop my business here to create opportunities for the community,” says Mead, chief executive officer of Iba Botanicals, which employs members of the local Aeta community. By 2025, Mead hopes to have 500 workers from the indigenous group.
Mead has since expanded the Iba Botanicals farm to 70 hectares and plants ylang ylang, vetiver and elemi. He extracts oils from these plants and sells them to international companies which then use them for food flavoring and fragrance. “The oils are used in soaps, shampoos, detergents, toothpastes as well as food and beverages, so there’s a big chance that our products end up in your homes,” Mead says.
“Living Sustainability” is the philosophy that guides Mead as he grows Iba Botanicals. He wants to keep introducing high-impact and long-term programs that focus on inclusive community development and environmental conservation, recognizing that these “can change the path of farmers’ children and generations to come.”
Iba Botanicals teaches scalable farming methods, conducts medical missions for children with cleft lip and palate and funds clean drinking water infrastructure, solar power and communications equipment for those living in remote mountainous areas. It also taps the Aeta community to help reforest 150 hectares of land in the next five years.
For its conservation projects, Iba Botanicals has partnered with DENR and the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, a leading conservation group in the United States, to restore 200 hectares of coral reef by 2024 and to achieve the “highest possible hatching rate” for sea turtle conservation. Many of these projects are tied up with the family-run Mead Foundation.
“The business is designed to be here for many years,” Mead says, “so we take a long-term view on programs that will benefit the community and the local environment for generations to come.” Contact Iba Botanicals to arrange a visit, educational tour or overnight stay at their guest houses.
San Narciso, Zambales
Built in 2010, this 26-hectare farm and beach resort in San Narciso, Zambales, is anchored on the philosophy of fun and purpose. “Zambawood was born out of a desire to employ people who are differently-abled, in a location immersed in nature and in a wonderful part of the Philippines,” explains Zambawood founder and owner Rachel Harrison.
Harrison’s original intention was to build a farm for her son Julyan, who was diagnosed with autism at two. Now 28, Julyan has found his own daily rhythm in this fertile place which provides him the space to farm, cook and paint.
It is because of Harrison’s creative vision and social enterprise that Zambawood continues to evolve and flourish. Apart from being an ideal escape for guests, it is also a venue for training persons with disabilities barista skills and housekeeping. “Like Julyan, they too can be productive members of the community,” she says. Harrison has also put-up coffee shops both in Zambales and Manila, hiring employees who are deaf and mute.
In 2017, Zambawood started planting sunflowers in addition to the vegetables, herbs, citrus, and fruits already thriving there. “We then opened the farm for agri-tourism and people came to have their photos taken with the sunflowers and they would post these on Instagram,” Harrison says.
However, since the Covid-19 pandemic, the place has been closed to visitors. “The farm has found solutions by pivoting where it can,” shares Harrison, adding that pre-pandemic, visitors travelled to the farm to buy the sunflowers but these days it brings the flowers, and other farm produce, to clients in Manila.
“Our customers know that when they buy from our farm, they are contributing much sunshine and happiness not only to our farmers, but also to the purpose that has shaped Zambawood into what it is today.” Contact Zambawood to arrange a visit, educational tour or overnight stay.
Lionheart Farms works closely with the indigenous peoples of southern Palawan, who own the ancestral land where it established a coconut plantation in 2016. Located at the foot of Mount Mantalingahan, Lionheart Farms uses a combined plot of 3,500 hectares spread across 14 barangays in the municipalities of Rizal and Bataraza.
“We are focused on creating this ecosystem of value creation so all those who participate are able to contribute,” says Christian Eyde Moeller, who co-founded the farm with Anders Haagen.
Lionheart Farms harvests the coconut palm’s flowers, extracts the sap and converts it into sugar, aminos, syrups and vinegar in a local processing plant. These are exported mainly to the US and Europe and used as healthy additives and ingredients to a wide array of food and beverages.
Apart from earning rental income from Lionheart Farms, the locals are also given priority employment.
One of its most notable efforts is the adoption of a natural farming method. It pays for community-sourced natural ingredients – such as animal manure, azolla (aquatic ferns) seaweed and banana – that supply the required macro nutrients for the palms and promote a healthy diverse soil.
This illustrates both the community and the farm’s shared value of income generation, environmental sustainability and production of chemical-free products.
In the pipeline are more job opportunities for the next generation of farmers to ensure succession and provide an alternative to illegal activities like poaching and logging. It also recently established the Gabay Kalinga Foundation which focuses on the health and educational needs of the community.
In its first project, teachers were trained in online teaching to guide children in three barangays with the school modules as most parents cannot take on the responsibility due to lack of education and work.
According to Moeller, all their programs are part of Lionheart Farm’s vision to drive transformation in the coconut industry. “We want to prove that it’s possible to have a future-proof platform through which it is meaningful to be a coconut farmer,” he says. Contact Lionheart Farms to arrange an educational tour.