Issue of February 18, 2018
Mt. Province

Panagbenga Flower Festival
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Baguio strawberry farm is newest tourist attraction
by Rimaliza A. Opiña

BAGUIO STRAWBERRY FARM -- A vast tract of land at Barangay Sto. Tomas Proper, some 10-minute drive away from the central business district, which is planted with San Andreas strawberry variety from the United States that can be grown whole year-round, is being projected by the city government as an agro and eco-tourism site. Here, visitor Lalaine Payay presents the freshly harvested and bigger strawberries during the pre-launching of the site last week.
-- Harley Palangchao

Finally Baguio will have its own “Baguio strawberries.”

In time for the biggest events of the Panagbenga next week, a group of farmers at Sitio Bilis in Barangay Sto. Tomas Central in this mountain resort is opening their farms for the first time to tourists.

According to Sto. Tomas Bilis Farmer’s Association president Solomon Lang-ay, they decided to allow tourists to visit their farms to prove that even in the midst of a concrete jungle, there is a spot devoted to the cultivation of plants and vegetables.

The Sto. Tomas Bilis Farmer’s Association is spearheading this venture, with assistance from the local government of Baguio.

Sto. Tomas, which is principally a farming community, is a source of broccoli, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and chayote among other crops, which are sold, together with other temperate vegetables from Benguet, in the Baguio public market.

The Lang-ay family started to plant strawberries in a portion of their property when a sibling who came back from the United States, brought strawberry seeds of the San Andreas variety.

The San Andreas variety is firmer and therefore can be transported even under humid weather; are bigger, and are more succulent, according to Lang-ay. 

Lang-ay said he started in 2009 but it was not easy at first. “I experimented by planting both runners and seeds but the product did not turn out so well,” he said. He did not give up and tapped the assistance of an expert from Benguet State University and since then, several plots of their farm have been planted with strawberries.

Solomon’s brother, Aguinaldo, also started propagating strawberries two years ago, after he retired from the mining company he was working for. He used the same variety that their sibling brought from America.

Soon, the family not only planted strawberries, they are also started selling runners to their neighbors and these too were propagated in their own gardens.

One runner can produce three to four baskets of strawberries in one year.

In the property of the Lang-ay’s alone, 1.5 hectares is planted with strawberries and the rest are for other vegetable varieties that tourists may also harvest once the farm opens. The association has planted strawberries in three hectares land, in total.

He said through a middleman, they are now suppliers of strawberries in some resorts in Boracay. They are also currently in talks with Yamang Bukid Food Products, as source of raw material for the company’s growing herbal drink products.

Other vegetables in the Bilis farms are red lettuce, butterhead lettuce, and rhubarb which are imported from Australia, tomatoes, and wombok. 

The association guarantees that their products are free of any chemical inputs and can be eaten immediately after picking it is watered by spring water coming from the springs of Mt. Sto. Tomas and from dew that is a common occurrence in their area because it is located at a higher elevation, compared to other areas in Baguio City.

Plans on opening the area for agro-tourism began last year and took several brainstorming sessions before the association agreed albeit for small tours only.

Solomon said they could only accommodate small groups as they have yet to evaluate how the community would react to the expected upsurge in the number of people who might be interested to see the area. 

Since the tour is still in its infancy stage, services such as parking, public toilets, and garbage disposal are not yet in place. To address this, an individual or groups interested in the tour are required to book an appointment first.

“We do not want another La Presa,” Sto. Tomas Central Punong Barangay Grace Kelly said, referring to the neighboring sitio of Kabuyao in Tuba, Benguet, within the Mt. Sto. Forest Reserve, which was swarmed by tourists and merchants when a television network filmed a TV series in the area. The subsequent environmental damage to the area resulted in the Supreme Court issuing a Permanent Environment Protection Order to avert more damage that might happen in the reservation. 

Councilors Leandro Yangot Jr. and Elmer Datuin, chairmen of the committees on urban planning and agriculture, and tourism, respectively, admit that some in the community are adamant about allowing agro-tourism in their area.

They said this is why they are consulting barangay officials, the community, and other stakeholders so they will help in crafting guidelines that would regulate the entry of tourists. Yangot said the barangay council should also pass an ordinance mandating the payment of a green fee or environmental fee, which the community can use to maintain cleanliness in the area.

He said this is aside from the P2.5 million approved by the Department of Agriculture as financial assistance for farming communities in Baguio.

“This has potential as a model for agri-tourism. We just have to put in place regulatory measures to preserve the area,” Datuin said.

He said that while the farm tour will be an added attraction in Baguio, promoting the same is not meant to compete with La Trinidad – home of the famous strawberry farms.

In the Bilis Farms, a kilo of strawberries costs P500 to P600.

For appointments, call or text 0917-507-0681.

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