WHAT began as a stress-relieving activity for the head of a local college has developed into an expanding organic farm and eco-tourism resort, with long-term plans including the construction of a small hotel and other visitor facilities, as well as increasing the farm’s output.
Emerson Atanacio, the president of the National College of Science and Technology (NCST) in Dasmariñas, Cavite, explained that he acquired a one-hectare farm in the more sleepy part of Maragondon, Cavite sometime in 2005, after a doctor advised to take up farming to help relieve him of work-related stress.
Over the next several years, Atanacio and his two brothers, Ericson and Erwinson, acquired more adjacent lands. Today, Terra Verde Ecofarm and Resort occupies 15 hectares of land whose potential is slowly being tapped by the Atanacio brothers.
“To start this kind of farm, it need not be big from the start. Just like what we did, we did it slowly. So if we have savings, we invest it in the farm. Up to now, however, we still do not have loans to pay,” Atanacio said, adding “several millions” so far have been invested by him and his brothers in the farm.
He said 10 percent of Terra Verde has been developed so far and there are plans to devote 60 percent of it to organic crop production and 40 percent for human activities related to eco-tourism. It is also a partner farm of the Department of Agriculture for the agency’s eco-tourism and organic agriculture advocacies.
Atanacio related that the entire project started as a result of stress-related illness.
He explained he was exposed early to managing NCST, and given its student population of 12,000 and employee count of 500, it was indeed not an easy task to run the college.
“Medyo nagkaroon ako ng siguro, six months yata for that matter hindi ako pumapasok sa school [I think that for about six months for that matter, I did not go to work at the school]. Later ko pa nana-find out [I found out I had a] thyroid problem pala but it was all triggered by stress. So sabi ng doctor [the doctor said]‘why not try farming, or go back to basics, nature tayo [let’s do nature],’ sabi niya [he said],” said Atanacio.
In addition to his work at NCST, Antanacio is also the private sector representative of the Regional Development Council of Region 4A (Calabarzon).
When Atanacio acquired the first hectare of the current 15-hectare eco-tourism farm, it was filled with trees and shrubs that made it look like a forest.
Currently, Terra Verde has plots devoted to organic farming, and the raising of sheep, native pigs and wild boar, and ducks and geese. A number of sheep, an ostrich, a native deer and two native monkeys add to the attraction. Guinea fowls also roam freely around parts of the eco-farm to help control pests.
It also facilities to produce vermicompost, natural soil enriching agents and natural insect control agents, making Terra Verde a showcase of organic farming.
There are cottages that can accommodate a total of 24 guests complimented by a large open space where tents could be pitched by guests. There is also a restaurant where the organic harvests from the plots can be served.
There are concreted trails in Terra Verde and three all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) can be used by guests to tour the site, which has beautiful rolling hills. More ATVs will be added in the future.
Atanacio said the besides providing a place for tired urbanites to relax and enjoy nature, Terra Verde will help educate the youth on the importance of farming.
“Mga bata sa plato na lang nakikita yung food [The youth only see the food on their plates]. So we hope with this farm, we can open the minds of the youth. Especially so sad that the average of our farmers is 56 years old,” he added.
Terra Verde can also host team-building activities and can host up to 150 people for that purpose.
Atanacio has hired professional manager Jerick Gampesaw to manage and help set the development framework for Terra Verde. Gampesaw, whose last stint was with the customer relations group of the Ayala conglomerate, believes in the future of Terra Verde given its large expansion areas.
No concerted marketing effort for Terra Verde has been made so far, but the eco-tourism site is getting its shares or visitors through word of mouth and social media. It was only from early this year that Terra Verde started accepting guests and visitors.
At present, Terra Verde limits the number of its visitors to about 200 and its guests can enter the eco-tourism site only through reservation or invitation. Gampesaw said the development of the eco-tourism destination would result in the hiring of people from within the community.
“Maybe I need to hire people first, and we will train people here. The plan of the Atanacios is to hire from the community,” Gampesaw said.
Atanacio said that among the immediate projects of Terra Verde is the completion of a dormitory and convention
center that both can accommodate up to 150 people.
He added that a hotel would also be constructed within the eco-tourism site. It will have at least 20 rooms.
As for the eco-tourism site improving the health of Atanacio, he said it did just that since he is able to attend fully to his duties as NCST president and “weekend farmer.”
“Then on, totoo nga stress buster ito [this is a real stress buster],” he added.