Natural farm atop Underground River
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY — In a kiosk on a hill in Palawan’s capital, food is served on wooden plates, with wooden spoons and cups to match, giving the guests a wholesome, natural feel. Clay pots of warm food and a basket of fruits and corn cobs complete the meal on the table.
The hearty main course consists of vegetable salad, “laswa” (vegetables in tamarind soup), slightly spicy “gising-gising” (swamp cabbage stems simmered in coconut milk) and organic chicken adobo. For dessert, “kamote” (sweet potato) cake is partnered with warm or cold tarragon tea.
“Everything came from this farm, except, of course, the mayonnaise on the salad,” Anastacio “Nonoy” Angeles said.
Angeles, 60, manages Sheridan Organic Farm and Eco-village, a 50-hectare vegetable and livestock farm and forest land built around the same time Sheridan Beach Resort, a popular hotel and spa, was opened in Barangay Sabang in 2011.
The farm in the adjacent village of Cabayugan is a 15-minute drive (7 kilometers) from the resort and the wharf, where pump boats take tourists to the world-famous Puerto Princesa Underground River, declared a world natural wonder in 2012.
“Actually, a part of the farm sits atop the Underground River,” Angeles said.
He and his 21 staffers grow vegetables and raise poultry and livestock in the farm. They also plant and harvest organic black rice and breed kingfish in a small pond.
When he took the job in 2015, Angeles, an advocate of natural farming, told management of his plans to go “purely” organic.
This means no use of chemical pesticides or fertilizer but reliance on vermicompost and other natural farming methods.
Moreover, no commercial feed for the cattle, horses, goats, ostriches and turkeys.
In adopting farm-to-table practices, Angeles said, “everything we serve is harvested and prepared just hours before the guests arrive.”
A photojournalist during the regime of strongman Ferdinand Marcos, Angeles spent years working with local farmers and nongovernment organizations. He underwent organic farming training under Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura, a network that promotes sustainable management of natural resources.
“The fundamental idea of natural farming is to let the land be. Years of farming operations deplete the soil of its nutrients,” he said.
Recognizing farm tourism as an emerging trend, Angeles said he did not want it to be “simply a visit or a dining experience.”
“Our idea is for the guests to have an activity inside the farm, an immersion with the people,” he said.
At Sheridan farm, there are no air-conditioned rooms, cable television, or internet access.
There are a variety of things to do, however, such as vegetable harvesting, plowing the rice field, or riding the animal-drawn sledge.
The staff can also set up a cockfight, which is a common past time of locals.
“Think of it as having a moment for you to contemplate. This is the perfect place,” Angeles said.
Being part of a protected area, Sheridan farm has a “self-proclaimed” staff mission to preserve the ecosystem.
Every year, it organizes tree planting with guests in the forest.
“We tag each tree after the guest’s name,” Angeles said. “In the future, should they come back, there’s a grown tree waiting for them.”
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