Many of us have received a blessing in disguise – an apparent misfortune that eventually has good results. The Cruz family had its share of blessings in disguise, especially in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdown forced the family to shut down its resort in Bago City, Negros Occidental in 2020. Two years later, just when the family decided to slowly open the place to the public, Super Typhoon Odette (Rai), considered the second costliest typhoon in Philippine history, hit the country on March 23.
Ruth Minerva Cruz recalled the damage caused by the super typhoon to their property. They had to close the resort again to fix it. But Ruth, who has been living inside the resort since her parents Donato and Susana bought it in the 80s, said she never realized the value of the property until the lockdown. The pandemic turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“I have been living here but I never really connected with the place that much because before the pandemic, I would just go out in the day to work in Bacolod and come back at night. During the pandemic, I stayed here most of the time. It was really a bonding time for me with the place and I said, there is something to it that I never saw before. And then also, because our focus now is on food security, and my younger sister Ruby, is working in our business – D.C. Cruz, I realized that we should go into growing seedlings, putting up a nursery,” she said.
The family went back to basics, shifting their focus on helping the community become food secure. Aside from the five-hectare rice farm, there is a seedling nursery that Ruby takes care of. My favorite spot in the 25-hectare farm resort is the area where the 300 mango trees are! While walking along Banaba Drive on our way to the mango picking area, Ruby said her father, Donato, planted the mango trees (Guimaras variety) in early 2000. It was really fun harvesting mangoes using the high-altitude fruit picker. The best part was taking home all the mangoes I wanted at P75 per kilo (farm gate price) only! Believe me, the mangoes are very sweet!
Groups interested to visit the farm resort may book for a day visit inclusive of lunch and activities inside. “There is no charge for mango picking. Whatever you wanna buy, you will pay at farm gate price,” said Ruby.
On our way back to the main pavilion, she showed me the processing area where banaba leaves are refined and made into medicine. The banana trees form a natural canopy that provides ample shade for guests who need to travel on foot for more than 500 meters from the reception area to where the mango trees are.
Another interesting and fun activity, especially for plantitos and plantitas, is the herbal/medicinal plants tour led by Ruby’s husband Philip, who eagerly educated guests on herbs and medicinal plants. Philip made us crush and smell the leaves of a plant in the garden called Alagaw (Premna odorata), a species of flowering plant in the Lamiaeae family that is native to the Indian subcontinent. He said what we smelled was a compound called Linalool, which is traditionally used to treat cough and repel insects. According to the National Institute of Health, Linalool is a fragrant monoterpene alcohol found in the essential oils of aromatic plants. It is a constituent of lavender, bergamot and rosewood. It is found in many flowers and spice plants.
He also introduced us to an interesting tree – Chrysophyllum imperiale otherwise known as the Royal Tree, which according to him is not native to the Philippines, but a close relative of the Star Apple and its name derived from an unpopular king of Brazil.
“Star Apple is not native to the Philippines either. It was introduced from Mexico no. So this one grows in Brazil. During that time actually nag dissolve ang empire ng Brazil. And because people hated him and they knew this plant was associated with him, they cut the trees in Rio de Janeiro. So it became extinct in Rio. Fortunately, as a practice of western countries around the world, they plant seedlings in different botanical gardens, and meron sa Sydney (Australia). They were able to get seeds from there and plant again in Brazil. The fruit of this really tastes good,” added Philip.
Some guests who were adventurous enough tasted the leaves of Serpentina or Andrographis paniculata, the real name is Sinta, which is called the King of Bitters. Those who dared taste the leaf ended up squinting and squirming because of its extreme bitter taste.
From bitter Sinta,we headed to the small pavilion where we were served with chilled kombucha in two variants – bignay (bugnay in Hiligaynon) and roselle. Ruby and Philip’s eldest son, Don Theon, who is in-charge of Business Development of their family’s farm resort, explained to local media and guests the health benefits of kombucha which is a good substitute to soda because it has less sugar and it’s natural.
“It is a good probiotic, it’s good for gut health, so it’s a good antioxidant. The ingredients we use are bignay and roselle. These are some of the plants that we grow here in TQP. The recommended intake is one 300ml bottle of kombucha. It originated in China like in 200 B.C.,” explained Don Theon.
According to WebMD, kombucha is a sweet and sour drink made with tea which is set aside for a week or more in order for bacteria and acids to form in the drink.
His mom Ruby’s focus is on DeCal seedling production with modern farming and the vegetable area. A separate tour was conducted showing how modern farming methods can be used to grow vegetables even in backyards with small spaces.
“We strongly encourage people to have an urban garden in their homes. They can actually grow vegetables in pots and have a vertical garden. So you do not need to go to the market to buy your family’s food. You can just pick from your garden vegetables you need whenever you cook,” she said.
While having our tour in Herbe’s Garden, she pointed at an area where old bathtubs were recycled and used as beds for herbs and spices like scallions. The garden, named after their late sibling Herbe, also has an area devoted to more or less 20 ginger varieties. And then just a few meters away from the ginger garden, dwarf varieties of lemons and calamansi are growing and abundantly bearing fruits. One can just conveniently take a few steps from the house to reach the garden and pick fresh ingredients for a hot cup of lemon ginger tea!
Exploring the farm and getting acquainted with different species of plants and trees make one realize that there is more to plants and trees than we know. What I love about TQP Farm Resort is its educational component. Visitors do not only get to enjoy the amenities like the swimming pool and rooms for overnight stay but more importantly, they get educated about the importance of having a greener environment, the value of plants and its health benefits plus the importance of food security and how families and communities can contribute to it.
From six rooms when it started to operate, the farm resort now has more rooms to accommodate guests who want to stay overnight and spend more time in TQP for some rest and relaxation. It is really ideal for those who want some peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The good thing is, it is not too far a drive from downtown Bacolod. It is just a quick 30-minute drive from the city sans traffic.
“Now that the whole family is collaborating on how we can improve TQP and push our advocacies centered on food security. We realized that the farm component is more important than the resort component. That the resort should just be an additional facility, just a plus,” said Ruth Minerva. who pointed out that everyone in the family is invested in the farm which is good because they all have the same commitment and drive to pull their resources, energy and skills together to realize their dream for TQP which is one of their parents’ legacies.
I’d say the best decision the Cruz siblings ever made was to make taking care of and developing the farm a family affair. Being hands on increases everyone’s commitment to not only be part of the growth of TQP but also of the family’s advocacy that is, to educate and enjoin the community in contributing to all endeavors that will ensure food on every family’s table.*