By Zac B. Sarian
Here are two organic farms that you would love to visit if you happen to be in Iloilo and you are interested not only in enjoying Mother Nature, but also in picking up practical ideas that you can adopt or improve on in your own leisure farm project.
One is the Damires Hills Leisure Farm in Brgy. Damires in Janiuay, Iloilo, and the other is the Orchard Valley in the town of Pavia.
Damires Hills in Janiuay
Damires Hills was started in 2010 by Dr. Louie Tirador, a 59-year-old cardiologist. This is a 45-hectare property that has been lying idle for 20 years until Dr. Tirador did something about it. The leisure farm is divided into two. Sixteen hectares are devoted to the farm resort which, has become a favorite for daytime visitors as well as those staying overnight. The remaining 29 hectares are preserved as forest and for growing food crops.
Managing the resort section is Paolo Tirador, the eldest son who finished a management course at the Ateneo University in 2014. Visitors averaging 1,500 a month are attracted by the beautifully landscaped grounds and excellent facilities that include three swimming pools, hotel-like accommodations, a hanging bridge said to be the longest in Iloilo at 270 meters long, a canopy walk, and a zipline. Of course, the farm’s good food is also an attraction.
Another attraction to visitors is the aquaponics showcase in the resort. Dr. Tirador explains that about 2,000 to 2,500 tilapia fingerlings are stocked in a 35-square meter pool. The water is recirculated to supply the water and nutrients needed by the lettuce growing in the soilless medium that consists of fine gravel. In a matter of 30 days, the seedlings are ready for harvest. Every week, according to Dr. Tirador, they can harvest 100 kilos, which are used in their own restaurant or sold outside at P160 to P200 per kilo.
Vegetables produced in Damires Hills are not enough for the requirements of the restaurant. That is why in 2020, Dr. Tirador said, they will grow many of the favorite vegetables throughout the year like ampalaya, eggplant, okra, pumpkin, peppers, tomato, sitao, cucumber, and many others.
He said they already have a water impounding pond which they previously used for growing rice, but they will make additional ones so that they will be able to produce vegetables year round.
Orchard Valley in Pavia
This is a 33-hectare organic farm in Pavia town owned by Johnny Que, vice president of the Panay Organic Producers Association (POPA). Soon upon entering the farm, you will notice a lot of malunggay trees, thousands of them that are pruned about four to five feet tall, each with numerous leafy sprouts.
Growing so many malunggay trees makes sense at Orchard Valley. For one, malunggay is very easy to grow and is a perennial crop that stays productive for years. Malunggay trees are not attacked by insects, hence are perfect for organic production. The malunggay leaves are sold as fresh vegetables in the eight supermarkets owned by Johnny Que’s family so there is no problem about marketing. The leaves are also fed to milking cows to promote higher milk yield. The powdered leaves, on the other hand, are used by a sister in her bakeshop to produce malunggay pandesal.
A big area is used for growing different varieties of lettuce, upland kangkong, and culinary herbs, which all find their way to their own supermarkets. Orchard Valley has a resident chef who concocts salads and other food preparations using products grown in the farm like white cheese, fruits, and others. Aside from salads, they serve deep-fried mushrooms, fried root crops, camote leaves ala tempura, organic yoghurt, various desserts, juices, and more.
Orchard Valley is an accredited tourism destination by the Department of Tourism as well as a TESDA Learning Site where students go to train in organic agriculture. There, they learn to produce fermented plant and fruit juices as plant growth promotant and protection from pests and diseases. They also learn to take care of free range chickens for egg and meat production, native pigs sans foul smell, and rabbits for meat and manure for vermicomposting.