BY PATRICIA BIANCA S. TACULAO

Among the different sectors in the Philippines that have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic is the tourism industry. Because of the community quarantines, people weren’t allowed to travel to new locations or visit new tourism sites. 

This has been the situation since March 15, 2020, when the community quarantine was first imposed throughout the country. A year later, the rules have slowly become more lax and people are looking to get back out again. 

Some of the popular tourist sites include farms. Not only do they surround their guests with greenery, but they also have enough space and fresh air to help minimize the risk of people contracting the disease from being near others. 

Tom Pestaño, a general manager who currently resides in Pestaño Farm in Antipolo, Rizal since the lockdown started in March 2020, recognized the potential of an agritourism site.

“Our farm has been around since the mid-80s, but I started to develop the agritourism side only last year. Because of the pandemic and halted travel activities, people have been looking for travel alternatives,” he said.

Tom Pestaño, a general manager, planted more fruit-bearing trees and added more amenities on the farm.

Now, he’s working towards developing their family farm to become an agritourism site that people can visit when they get the chance. 

What started as a family farm

As Pestaño said, their family farm has been around since the mid-1980s and was started by his parents. 

Pestaño’s father started their farm by planting hardwood trees and fruit-bearing trees like durian, marang, dragon fruit, mangoes, rambutan, lychees, mangosteen, cacao, and many others. Seeing how his father worked his way around agriculture, Pestaño also picked up the same interest in growing food. 

When his father died last year, he took over and has been actively running the agriculture side of their farm resort while also thinking of ways to be more welcoming to its guests. 

Under his supervision, Pestaño and the other workers on the farm planted more fruit-bearing trees like grapes, citruses, strawberries, and vanilla vines. They also planted naturally-grown vegetables and herbs, and naturally raised livestock like chickens, ducks, and sheep.

Fruit-bearing and hardwood trees in the farm’s nursery.

“In October, we will be opening our doors to the public so people can visit and spend a day at an actual working farm. They can pick their fruits, feed the animals, and have picnics in our huts and cottages,” he said. 

Raising different livestock breeds

Aside from the additional fruit trees planted on the farm, Pestaño added various livestock as another attraction for their guests to enjoy when they visit the farm.

“We are currently raising rare imported duck breeds such as Mandarin ducks, Carolina wood ducks, Call ducks, Aylesbury ducks, Rouen ducks, and Duclair ducks,” Pestaño said.

He added that their fish ponds are also stocked with tilapia and pangasius for their consumption as well as a fishing attraction for their guests. 

Pangasius refers to the medium-large to very large shark catfishes native to fresh water in South and Southeast Asia.

They are also breeding Brahma chickens and other heritage chicken breeds such as Rhode island reds, black Australorps, and Barred Plymouth rocks for their egg-laying purposes.

Chickens are among the livestock raised on the farm.

Pestaño added that they are also raising and breeding native sheep. 

But the chickens do more than just provide eggs and serve as an attraction to farm guests. These also help in fertilizing the fruit trees available on the farm because Pestaño shared that they use compost, chicken manure, carbonized rice hull, and crushed eggshells as a natural input to help boost the production of their fruit trees. 

He added that they also use spring water to irrigate their plants as well as natural fertilizers and neem oil as a pesticide to keep their vegetables healthy and free from pests. 

Value-adding from their fruits 

Although the farm is being developed as a farm tourism site where people can enjoy outdoor activities, farm stays, and educational tours, Pestaño shared that they are also value-adding from their cacao trees.

It was only last year that Pestaño began developing the farm for farm tourism purposes.

“We recently started producing our tablea grown from our cacao trees. In the next two years, we will have over 6,000 cacao trees bearing fruit,” he said. 

Pestaño added that they also plan to establish their artisanal chocolate brand by then. But in the meantime, they are focusing on producing tablea, cacao nibs, and cacao tea which are available for sale on their farm.

Another source of income on the Pestaño Farm are the cacao products made from the cacao plants that grow on the farm.

For Pestaño, farming is both a lifestyle and a job, yet not an easy one. 

“We have our own sets of challenges such as the weather and we have to deal with and manage pests and/or diseases,” he said. 

But all these challenges, according to him, become worthwhile in the end, especially after seeing their produce being enjoyed and appreciated by other people who visit their farm. 

There’s a lot of potential found in farming. Not only does it provide people with a fresh and sustainable source of food and income, but it also can be a way for others to get away from the mundane and enjoy a day surrounded by nature. 

For more information, visit Pestaño Farm on Facebook.

Photos from Pestaño Farm on Facebook