Organic Fruits and Fun in Taiwan Leisure Farms
ORGANIC FARM PRODUCE has its own special appeal, especially to people who are health-conscious. Such products are not sprayed with poisonous chemicals. They are nourished only with organic fertilizers that are fortified with beneficial microorganisms and enzymes. They are therefore considered safe to eat. And so people are willing to pay a high price for them.
In Taiwan, where leisure farms that are visited by thousands of local and foreign tourists are fast increasing in number, organic or natural farming has become the predominant practice. They have good reasons for adopting the technique. Organic farming is not only for the benefit of the consumers, it is also safer for the farmers themselves.
Grape farmers around the world, including the few growers in the Philippines, spray a lot of expensive chemicals to protect the plants from diseases. Grapes are particularly susceptible to powdery mildew, a fungal disease, so planters use a lot of fungicide in their farms. Of course, farmers will tell you that fungicides are very expensive.
LONE ORGANIC GRAPE FARM
- In Taiwan, grape farmers are no exception. Practically every one of them uses fungicide to prevent or control powdery mildew. Except one by the name of Huang Shi Wei, owner of the Naimi Grape Farm in the town of Dachun in Changhua county. Now 60 years old, Huang has been growing grapes for forty years. And for more than 30 years, he cultured his vineyard the conventional way, using a lot of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
PROUD OF HIS FARM
- We visited Huang’s grape farm on June 23, 2015, courtesy of the Taiwan Leisure Farms Development Association. And Huang was understandably proud to show us his
farm because his is the first and only organic grape farm in Taiwan. After farming the conventional way for more than 30 years, he realized that the practice was endangering his own health. He is also aware that the farm chemicals could contaminate the water underground..
SEVEN YEARS TO CONVERT
- Huang said it took him seven years to convert his old farm into an organic farm, and in the process, he did not make any income during those seven years. What he did was to apply organic fertilizer, beneficial microbes, and enzymes. He cut the grasses that grew and let them decompose on the spot.
Today, Huang is reaping his reward from his organic grape farm. He harvests big fruits that are sweet and juicy. Best of all, they are free of any chemical residue and are therefore very safe to eat. He harvests at least 2,000 kilos from each hectare of his 2.5-hectare farm. And he gets almost four times the price of the conventionally-produced grapes.
EXPORTED TO HONG KONG
- He exports most of his harvest to Hong Kong and gets NT$ 370 per kilo or about PhP 600 in Philippine money. On the other hand, the conventionally grown grapes fetch only about PhP 160 per kilo.
Although he does not use any chemical pesticides, Huang’s vines are healthy and without signs of insect damage. Each bunch of fruits is protected from rain and too much sun with a sheet of durable white paper material.
Here’s one good idea that an investor in the highlands, say Benguet, can possibly consider. Perhaps, Gov. Nestor Fongwan, who we know is interested in developing agritourism, would be interested to help.
The idea is to put up a leisure farm that grows blueberries as the major crop in combination with some other suitable crops that will make the project economically viable.
This idea came to us after visiting the Sheipa Leisure Farm in the Yemakan Mountain in Hsinchu, Taiwan, located literally above the clouds at 1,923 meters above sea level. The farm grows organic blueberries and other exotic fruits like kiwi, cherries, plums, pears, and persimmons.
TRIAL IN BENGUET
- We thought of the idea because several years back, an American agribusiness assistance program had a small blueberry planting trial in Benguet and blueberries did grow and bear fruit that time. However, we have not heard of any commercial planting of the same since then.
Sheipa Leisure Farm is a well-developed agritourism destination most famous for its organic blueberries. It is said to be the only commercial blueberry grower in Taiwan. The lure of picking and eating fresh blueberries is attracting many visitors, young and not-so-young, from the local population as well as overseas.
THREE MINUTES TO PICK BLUEBERRIES
- Not far from the lodging houses with excellent amenities are greenhouses where blueberries are grown. These are where the visitors experience the joy of picking and eating fresh blueberries that they themselves harvested. Each in-house guest who pays NT$ 3,000 ( R4,800) a night is given three minutes to pick as many berries as he or she can in that short period. Lily Yeh, farm supervisor, says that they can only give that short period to each guest because otherwise, the other guests will not have enough berries to pick. The harvest season is from July to September, although there are some that ripen as early as June.
- Aside from the three-minute blueberry picking sessions, the guest enjoys breakfast, lunch, dinner, afternoon tea, and a do-it-yourself recreational activity. One DIY that our group enjoyed was making blueberry vinegar after dinner. The vinegar is healthful to drink. Of course, the visitors also enjoy walking on the mountain trail where large cypress and other trees provide an invigorating forest scent.
Sheipa Leisure Farm devotes just 7,000 square meters to blueberries. Last year, it harvested 3,000 kilos. Some were sold fresh right on the farm while others were frozen or processed into wine, vinegar, juice, and jam, and used for making cookies and cakes.
- Fresh berries command a high price. One hundred grams fetches NT$ 130 or R208 in Philippine money. That’s a whopping R2,080 per kilo! Blueberry wine is R960 per 400 ml bottle. Vinegar is R640 per 400 ml bottle; jam is R240 per 200 grams and R480 for 420 grams; and juice, R608 per 300 grams.
The next step for the Filipino entrepreneur would be to look for a source of planting materials. This also means looking for a production technoguide. One should gather as much information as possible about growing blueberries. Experimental plantings could be undertaken by university agronomists as well as well-focused private individuals. Blueberries could be an added attraction to strawberry projects. This crop could make agritourism more fun and profitable in the Philippines.
All along the footpaths that lead to different sections of the Sheipa Leisure Farm are gorgeous flowering plants in bloom. Two of them were in full bloom at the time of our visit this year. They were very impressive for their floriferousness, size, and brilliant colors. One of them was the hydrangea, better known in the Philippines as Milflores. They are also grown in some parts of the Philippines like in Tagaytay or Baguio but the local versions are small compared to those in Sheipa.
The Milflores has an unusual trait. If you grow it in an acidic soil (below pH 6), the flowers will be blue. However, if the soil where it is grown is above
Huang Shi Wei (owner, second from left) with visitors in his organic vineyard.
Organic grapes are sweet and juicy. They are not sprayed with chemical pesticide.
(Below): Huang Shi Wei with Zac B. Sarian and Chona Paredes. The group that visited Huang’s organic grape farm: (front row) Leo Fang of TLFDA and Ariel Fernandez; (standing, from left) Jane Chen, Helen Hao, Christine Dayrit, Malou Villanueva, farm owner Huang Shi Wei, Ethelberg Go, Marbee Go, Chona Paredes, Jimmy Cheng and Zac B. Sarian (ZBS).
From left: A smiling Huang Shi Wei and a bunch of his ripening grapes. Helen Hao, travel agent, poses with a ripe bunch of organic grapes.
Lily Yeh and ZBS with their harvest of blueberries in the greenhouse.
Yeh and two cups of freshly picked blueberries.
Clusters of unripe blueberries.
Ripe and unripe berries are found in one cluster.
Close-up of blueberries.
Guests participating in the do-it-yourself activity of making blueberry vinegar.
ZBS with kiwi fruits on the vine.
Milflores along the pathway add charm to the leisure farm.