Saturday, September 16, 2006

Bohol Bee Farm

If you were to ask Victoria Wallace a year ago if she ever thought of entering the hotel, farming and restaurant business, she would have answered with a polite no.

But in that short span of time, she and her little farm have come a long way to what it is today: A quaint resthouse-for-rent and buffet restaurant nestled in fields of organic vegetables, fruits, flowers and beehives, called Bohol Bee Farm.Wallace, who asks you to call her Vicky as soon as you set foot in the place, says she herself has come a long way, too, not only as a businesswoman but as a person.

Clad in a simple top, jeans and a bandana, she single-handedly runs the place with zest and a constant smile on her face."This is my dream here," she says. "I'm enjoying what I'm doing. It's fun, gardening and cooking. I have so much energy."

Indeed, energy is a must for all the work that must be done-cooking, cleaning, planting, harvesting, even making handicraft like hammocks and bags, not to mention raising two teenagers.

But Wallace doesn't show the stress and tension brought on by such tasks; instead you see peace and happiness in having a flourishing farm, a beautiful home, a booming restaurant, and contented workers and visitors.

Born and raised in this province, Vicky remains vocal about the sorry state of farming and of farmers. She observes that they have not regained their niche in the local markets due to the onslaught of liberal trade policies existing in the country.

The hope gets dimmer, Vicky says, as she notices the country's continued reliance on foreign produce, setting aside support for the locally grown. "We have to create the markets to help farmers raise their standard of living a notch higher."

Unknown to many, Vicky is not only a mouthpiece of issues that affect the plight of farmers. She is a staunch believer in life, an advocate of organic farming, a firm practitioner of companion planting and an avowed insect-lover.

In 1991, she bought a 4.8-hectare property to pursue her love for farming. Two years after, she established the Bohol Bee Farm to continue promoting things that are organically grown.

She thinks her love for farming was more innate than developed, and must have been strengthened during years of living with her grandparents in Pangasinan.

"Farming is the best thing that ever happened in my life," confesses Vicky, eyes rolling upward, hands open as though receiving grace. "I remember we would visit the farm and haul camote, corn and ube. The sheer delight of cupping the earth with bare hands gave you such an affinity with Mother Nature. Then, we would walk the farm animals in a clearing or simply play with them."

Vicky still spends most of her mornings among rows of green leafy plots that she has devoted to assorted romaine lettuce, mustard greens, celery, eggplants, pepper and many more. Although the absence of big animals is obvious, nothing is lost with her newfound fascination with the insect world.

The ant world in particular is of interest to Vicky. While others have considered insects predators on the farm, Vicky calls them her friends and allies.

"We have introduced companion planting that allows the growth of different kinds of indigenous materials near the vegetable gardens. The materials are never removed because they serve as shelter and nesting place for insects."

There are 14 brown houses at the bee farm intended for basic composting purposes.The vegetables are naturally grown and are spared from chemical sprays. Not only does Vicky cite the harmful effects of these on human health, but also the damage they can do to the soil.

After farming for nine years,Vicky has come up with her own mix of fertilizer that is partly seawater and partly tap water.Insects are not an alarming issue, as far as Vicky is concerned. "It is easy to live harmoniously on the farm with other creatures."

Observers have pointed to the practice as very Oriental, but Vicky insists she is not aware of such similarities. Even if this raised speculations that her marriage to American Thomas Edward Wallace resulted in some weird transformation, Vicky says she is not aware of that, either.

"My marriage to Thomas, who was 58 years old, when I was 20, had nothing to do with how I think right now."A typical discussion with her husband, an African American, was always interesting, she recalls, as it delved on world issues such as racism, equal rights, freedom, slavery and economy, among others.

When Thomas died in 1988, Vicky waited for three years to "stabilize" herself. She bought the property in Barangay Dao, Sitio Dauis (where the bee farm is) to pursue a dream to go back to farming. Another property in Barangay Inabanga, 70 km north of Bohol, was improved to house the bees.

Farming was not a half-baked decision I resorted to after becoming a young widow. The enthusiasm was shared by my children Mellanie and Abdul who, like me, believe that being close to Mother Nature is far more important than other things.

The bee farm is Vicky's way of sharing knowledge with visitors about products that are organically grown. The house's mouth-watering specialties include vegetable and honey-based products such as squash muffins, herb camote bread, and bee farm concoctions of fruity ice cream, homey spread, garden salad and honeyed tableya.

There is Vicky's inner sanctum, too, which she calls her meditation place. Devoid of clutter and unnecessary things, its is also decorated with beautiful blue tile works and flimsy white fabric for curtains. "You don't have to go somewhere to find a place to meditate," Vicky suggests. "A quiet spot at home where you can regularly meditate for about 15 minutes is fine. It is a cleansing process so wonderful for the system."

Running both the coffee shop and the farm is not a profit-driven endeavor. Vicky refuses to mass-produce because she believes her market might not be able to understand how the bee farm operates.

The resort owners around Bohol buy her vegetables in bulk, but she sees to it that her specialties are bought only at the coffee shop, and not anywhere else. In this way, she can meet with the buyers and explain to them the bee farm way.

These days, Vicky is not only tied up with information dissemination. She also sits as an active member of the Bohol Initiatives for Sustainable Agriculture and Development (BIFAD).

Her continuing struggle to make organic farming a priority item for agriculture tops her wish list. "Let us not turn down the opportunity to help others. In life it is not only about an individual or about ourselves, but also the welfare of others."


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