Farm resort encourages value-added farming by turning bananas into banana chips
VILLA SOCORRO Agri Eco-Village is a farm resort located in Pagsanjan, Laguna. The 11-hectare property sits at the foot of the Sierra Madre mountain range and is bounded by the Balanac river.
The property was originally intended to be a private farm, but in 2008, the owners decided to open it to the public. Now, it is a popular farm resort whose most popular product, banana chips, is exported to 15 countries including the US, Canada, the Middle East, and Korea.
BAHAY KUBO, KAHIT MUNTI
The farm has rooms–some air conditioned, some fancooled, some of them themed–that are good for around 50 people. Most of the wood used to build the huts and furniture (fondly called ‘farmiture’) come from trees that fell during typhoon Milenyo in 2006. Guests can stay in quonset huts that were built as part of the set of the Kevin Costner film Thirteen Days. Film buffs will delight in the fact that the farm was used as a set for Vietnam War battlefields in the movie Platoon and in a Korean TV movie series. Bahay kubos are surrounded by fruit trees and vegetable gardens where produce is harvested for the farm restaurant and where guests can try their hand at farming if they choose.
Villa Socorro doesn’t have a pool, but guests are welcome to swim in the river. A small forest surrounds the path to the cool waters, with signs that encourage guests to forest bathe and enjoy the greenery that surrounds them. The food is excellent, too. The resort is famous for its boodle fight, where different dishes are laid out on a long table covered with banana leaves, and everyone digs in at the same time. They best way to enjoy a boodle fight is to eat with one’s hands, though utensils are on hand just in case.
BANANA CHIPS FOR YOU, BANANA CHIPS FOR ME
The other thing that Villa Socorro is known for is Villa Socorro Farm
Sabanana Banana Chips. “It started when we planted a lot of bananas. Biyaheros or middle-men would buy it from us at around 30, 40, 50 cents per piece. And as an entrepreneurial farmer–a farmer who would really want to have a business, that’s really not gonna work,” says second generation farmer Raymund Aaron, 32, Villa Socorro’s Banana Chief. “We wanted to add value to the banana so that we can really have a business for it. We [built] own banana chips manufacturing facility. It picked up and we started selling banana chips.”
Aaron credits his parents for igniting his interest in agriculture. “I really wanted to get into a career in social entrepreneurship, and being in a farm I would say, “nakatapak sa lupa,” (set foot on land) literally and figuratively. You’d have the biggest chance to have an impact on your community and that’s the path I really wanted to take,” he says.
Nowadays, the bulk of the saba bananas ( Musa acuminata x balbisiana, particularly the Cardaba subgroup) come from the 100 partner farmers Villa Socorro works with. “We provide them the shoots that comes from the farm, they plant that, [then] after 18 months, when [it’s] ready to harvest, they harvest it themselves and they deliver it to our farm. We purchase it at prices higher than market value,” the Banana Chief says. “From then, we manufacture it in the farm. We start by peeling them and then slicing them in the process. After slicing, we fry, and then we let it settle a little bit. And then we pack, and then box it, and then out it goes into the world.”