Philippine Daily Inquirer


- By Delfin T. Mallari Jr.

For city adventurer­s and travelers looking for a pit stop along the Maharlika Highway in Quezon province, netizens recommend the half-hectare Sunshine Farm in this town.

Rows of fully blooming and stunningly beautiful sunflowers serve as backdrop for farm visitors posing for selfies, we-fies and groupies.

Rhodora Palomar-Fresnedi catapulted the farm at Barangay Lalig to a social media sensation late last year, posting on Facebook photos of sunflowers beginning to blossom. What followed was a bombardmen­t of queries as to where the shots of bright, cheery flowers to lift the spirits, particular­ly during hot summer months, were taken.

Siblings, cousins, friends and just everybody, arrived to take photos of the flowers themselves and also posted these on Facebook. Images and stories of the farm “where hope and happiness grow,” according to Fresnedi, went viral.

Three Gs

“When people came, they were so happy. Some of them were even jumping in glee,” she said.

Fresnedi envisions not only a garden of exotic sunflowers in bloom but also a project to provide jobs to persons with disabiliti­es (PWDs). “I have this theory that if you employ persons with intellectu­al and developmen­tal disabiliti­es, that’s three Gs—good for the person, good for the team and good for the company,” she said. Fresnedi’s husband, Jojo, a retired company executive like herself, supports all her endeavors. They have three children—two daughters and a son—who are all living abroad, studying and working. Fresnedi said she grew up in a closely knit family in Tiaong and spent more than two decades abroad, working for a multinatio­nal firm. When she returned to the Philippine­s in 2011, she and some members of a PWDgroup planted mahogany seedlings in the farm. She always felt something special “for those who are not included,” she said.

“I’ve always championed the belief, though I’m not aware of it at first, that nobody should be discrimina­ted upon or excluded. All should be given the opportunit­y to contribute as themselves,” she explained.

Jobs for PWDs

She would always ask Venancio Villanueva, 44, a polio victim and her farm manager, what kind of job she can offer to PWDs of Tiaong.

“I used to provide them with jobs, mostly simple like packing Christmas gifts. But I want to provide them with sustainabl­e jobs,” Fresnedi said.

Until one day last year, she saw the photo of a sunflower in full bloom. “I love flowers, I love picking flowers, arranging them,” she said.

Immediatel­y, she brought up the idea of putting up a sunflower farm with Villanueva and other local PWD farmers and ordered 4,000 seeds to start.

“It is a hobby level, not really a commercial venture. If it doesn’t sell, the flowers are all mine,” Fresnedi said.

Buying for souvenirs

More than 15 farm workers, all of them PWDs, divided the farm into blocks of several plots.

Villanueva, president of the Samahang Isinusulon­g ang Kakayahan ng mga may Ka- pansanan (Sikap), described their employer as a “very special person.”

“We can feel her genuine concern for us. She devotes her time and effort on how to uplift and improve our conditions so that we can live in dignity even with our disabiliti­es,” he said.

Fresnedi would stop guests from buying flowers in bulk and instead urge them to get a flower or two for souvenirs so workers could earn more.

The P100 donation from every visitor aims to help in the general upkeep of the farm and continuous employment of PWDs.

“There is great demand for selfies with the blooming flowers as a backdrop. Visitors are upset if there are no flowers around when they shoot photos,” she said.

The farm has become a favorite destinatio­n for PWDs from different areas and a therapeuti­c haven for the sick. The farm is also ideal for couples.

“The place is not only a feast for the eyes but also an enlighteni­ng moment about the plight of PWDs. I now have a deeper understand­ing of them,” said Maria Grace Perez, a retired public school teacher in Bulacan province.

Tourism promoter

Tiaong Mayor Ramon Preza described Fresnedi as “our town’s most avid domestic tourism promoter.”

Last year, Fresnedi received an award from the Special Education Network in Asia, which honors persons or institutio­ns who advocate for people with special needs in their community in the Asian region.

The award celebrates the achievemen­ts of a student, adult or group who encourages awareness and advocates for the aspiration­s of people with disabiliti­es.

When she was executive director of Unilab Foundation, Fresnedi was the prime mover of “Project Inclusion,” which provides job opportunit­ies to persons with intellectu­al and developmen­tal disabiliti­es.

The provincial government also awarded her the Quezon Medalya ng Karangalan in 2012 for exceptiona­l and meritoriou­s achievemen­t in advancing the interest and welfare developmen­t of Quezon and its people.

Fresnedi describes Sunshine Farm as “a place meant for people who love sunflower, for people who like to have a feel of nature, who like to be out there and especially for people who love PWDs.”

Her philosophy? “We’re not into flower-growing business. We are into destinatio­n business. Weare in the happiness business, anything that will make them happy,” she said.

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 ?? —CONTRIBUTE­D PHOTO ?? BLOOMSOF HOPE Rhodora Fresnedi’s Sunshine Farm gives persons with disabiliti­es hope and importance as productive members of society.
—CONTRIBUTE­D PHOTO BLOOMSOF HOPE Rhodora Fresnedi’s Sunshine Farm gives persons with disabiliti­es hope and importance as productive members of society.
 ?? —PHOTOSBY DELFINT. MALLARI JR. ?? FAMILY BONDING Families bond in a corner of Tiaong’s sunflower farm, a venture that started as a hobby.
—PHOTOSBY DELFINT. MALLARI JR. FAMILY BONDING Families bond in a corner of Tiaong’s sunflower farm, a venture that started as a hobby.
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 ?? —DELFIN T. MALLARI JR. ?? The farm’s PWD workers greet visitors.
—DELFIN T. MALLARI JR. The farm’s PWD workers greet visitors.
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