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Farms as tourist spots

It must be an indication of the inexorable march to city living in this country (about half of all Filipinos now live in urban areas) that farms are becoming tourist destinations in themselves.

Most of these showcase farms, says former Tourism Secretary Mina Gabor, president of the International School of Sustainable Tourism (ISST), are small- to medium-scale farms owned and managed by families who have decided to open their humble estates to the public.

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Spread across these islands, the farms produce everything from cut flowers to organic fruits and vegetables, livestock for dairy and poultry, fish and other seafood, and even honey from bees. What is remarkable is that these destinations attract tourists from cities, or even from abroad, who want to experience—along with their own families—life in the bucolic confines of traditional farms. Some come to take part in harvesting vegetables and fruits, while children look forward to riding carabao-drawn carts or taking a tour of the hinterlands on horseback. Some farm-owners have even taken pains to provide entire packages for visitors: from taking part in farming chores to serving healthy meals, providing massage and spa services, lessons in ceramics or cooking, and even overnight stays in homey cottages.

What all these attractions have in common is a glimpse and a brief taste of the “alternative” lifestyle before urban concerns and pressures took over much of our time. And for many city-bred children, visits to a farm may even provide a concrete lesson on the origins of food (e.g., eggs are laid by chickens, not just found on grocery shelves!) and on the need to take care of nature that it may continue providing the sustenance we need to live.

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Gabor explained that the so-called “farm tourism” evolved from the widening gap between producers and consumers in the food industry; and with the growing trend towards health and wellness, “many consumers are looking for local, naturally-grown food and new experiences that promote healthy living.”

With this tourism sector growing by leaps and bounds, ISST has been sponsoring in the last few years a Farm Tourism Conference that showcases outstanding examples of destination farms and new developments from around the world. The next conference, which will host “hundreds” of small family-owned and managed farms, will be held from July 14 to 16 in Tagaytay City, with support from the Department of Tourism, the Tourism Promotions Board, the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, and the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Agricultural Research.

Gabor, the guest at yesterday’s “Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel,” said the conference will focus on low-impact travel “that will empower local communities socially and economically.” Farmers or farm owners, developers and tour operators could learn, from speakers invited to the confab and from international and local experts in the field, about “best practices on farm tourism,” Gabor added.

Among those invited to speak are such established names as Cathy Turvill of the Nurture Wellness Village, which has expanded to the “Nurture Farmacy” and “Camp Nurture” to offer a wider and more varied experience to clients; Robert Yupangco of the Zoomanity Group; and Nenette Aguirre Graf of Motag Living Museum in Malay, Aklan.

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Aside from the menu of talks and trainings, participants will also engage in in-depth discussion of the newly-signed Republic Act No. 10816, the Farm Tourism Development Act of 2016, authored by Sen. Cynthia Villar who will speak at the meet.

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This year’s conference is special, said Gabor, because it coincides with the celebration of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s “Year of Pulses.” “Pulses” refers to beans, chickpeas, lentils and other members of the food group whose role in health and nutrition is vital but often overlooked.

Said Gabor: “Farm Tourism attracts visitors and travelers to farm areas, generally for educational and recreational purposes that encourage economic activity to provide farm and community income. It is one of the country’s sunshine industries which can be developed because of the agricultural nature of the economy.”

Those taking part in the Farm Tourism Conference will also have a chance to visit some of the successful farms in Tagaytay and nearby towns like Mendez and Alfonso, which have become quite popular among foreign tourists as well as “weekend warriors” from Metro Manila and nearby areas in search of unique experiences.

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A previous “Bulong” guest, Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, spoke of the low morale and poor self-esteem of farmers and their families, mainly because they remain among the poorest sectors of the economy and because the public looks down on their occupation. Indeed, farming has retained such a bad “image” that even the children of farmers disdain it, choosing desk-bound jobs that come with a “sophisticated” image. So bad has it become that the average age of Filipino farmers has been rising, with most of them in their 50s and 60s.

Who knows? With the growth and popularity of farm tourism among city dwellers, especially among millennials and their young children, farming and farmers may yet regain the glamour, the value and their deserved place of honor in society.

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TAGS: farm tourism, farms, Mina Gabor, tourist spots
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