Or­ganic Fruits and Fun in Tai­wan Leisure Farms

Agriculture - - Front Page - >BY ZAC B. SAR­IAN

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.

OR­GANIC BLUE­BER­RIES

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.

VINE­GAR MAK­ING

- 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.

HIGH PRICE

- 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.

OR­GANIC FLOW­ERS

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.

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