Friday, October 21, 2016

The Birth of Costales Nature Farms and Agritourism in the Philippines

Our weekend getaway last month was welcomed with an abundance of positive energy. We breathed in fresh air, and were constantly embraced by cool and gentle winds. We were also greeted with picturesque landscapes, served with fresh and organic meals and drinks, attended to by the friendliest staff, and were warmly received by the owners, as if we were old friends. The existence of the farm has certainly showed us how much of a precious gem it is, especially to its founders, farmers, partners and employees.

[L-R] Jherson, Mai, Claire, Paula, Mrs. Josephine Costales, Lana and Karl. :)

Focusing on Agritourism, Costales Nature Farms promote not only a farm-to-table concept. They religiously campaign for healthy living through the use and consumption of fresh organic produce and livestock. 

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Located in Barangay Gagalot, Majayjay, Laguna, Costales Nature Farms was founded by Mr. Ronald Costales and Mrs. Josephine Costales. Married for 28 years, both came from the IT industry before venturing into Agritourism. Mr. Costales worked as a VP for a Telco company in Makati, while Mrs. Costales managed 10 branches of Internet Cafes in Laguna. 


During our first day in the farm, we got to ask Mrs. Costales why she and her late husband ventured into the business of farming when both of them were IT graduates (from IT to Agri). She simply shared how growing up amidst a farmland, where rice is planted, got her accustomed to farm living. Back then, they were able to harvest vegetables for free (talbos ng kamote was a staple), grow livestock (i.e. chickens and ducks) and other farm produce, which helped them save money. They were able to keep their father's income by using the basic resources that already grew in their surroundings. 

FROM LEISURE FARM TO AGRITOURISM DESTINATION

The land where the farm stands was acquired in 2005. But they moved to Majayjay a year later. From there, they started to plant different kinds of organic produce for the family's personal consumption. They really had no plans to expand the farm because Mrs. Costales just wanted to grow old healthy, and to have easy access to fresh organic produce. 

They only had family as visitors, until family members invited friends over to the farm. It wasn’t long until the estate gained exposure through word-of-mouth. The Costales' eventually decided to share their knowledge by teaching others about farming. That's when Italianni's discovered them, and partnered with CNF in 2009, making the well known restaurant their first corporate client. Soon enough, Solaire, Shopwise and Rustan’s followed suit.

Mt. Banahaw de Lucban and Mt. Cristobal

They were never into Agriculture. They also had no prior knowledge when it came to handling crop production and food growing. But the couple decided that if they were to do everything as partners, and if they were to build things together, then they would surely make it. And they were able to succeed in building their farm in just 7 years.

ACCOLADES AND OTHER RECOGNITIONS

The late Susan Calo Medina, along with a DOT personnel, suggested that the farm get accreditation because there was a new product then that was perfectly suited for it, which was called Agritourism. So Mrs. Costales applied for certification. Soon after, she found out that Costales Nature Farms was the first farm to ever get an official recognition in the Philippines. From then on, they have been going around the Philippines to help promote and teach Agritourism 101 or Farm Tourism 101, to convert their farmland into an agritourism destination.

Aside from being the 1st DOT accredited farm tourism destination in the Philippines, Costales Nature Farms also gained more accolades and other recognitions:

  • 1st Private agriculture on a national level 
  • Model for farm tourism (DOT 2015) 
  • Most valued extension partner for sustainable livelihood program (DSWD 2015) 
  • Most outstanding community enterprise in the Philippines (Villar Foundation 2014) 
  • Outstanding professional award, agriculture category (2014) 
  • Most inspiring Agri-Entrepreneur (Go Negosyo 2014) 
  • Most outstanding organic farmer of the Philippines (2012) 
  • Most outstanding organic agriculturist of the Philippines (2011) 
  • Accredited by TESDA as a Training and Assessment Center for Organic Agriculture Production NC II (1 of 13 farms that offer this program in the Philippines) 

A PRIME FARM TOURISM DESTINATION

Costales Nature Farms is also a prime farm tourism destination. They conduct ecological and balanced farming techniques, which is promoted through an integrated organic farming process (i.e. sustainable agriculture, healthy lifestyle, environmental biodiversity). It is also the largest single producer of organic vegetables and herbs in the Philippines today.


The farm has several organic produce (naturally grown and pesticide free), which consists of vegetables, edible flowers, herbs and spices, eggs, and raw and processed meat (i.e. longanisa, tocino, tapa, embutido), which they call “Porkganics”. 

Their Porkganic line, which is also for sale, consist of certified organic pork (features raw and processed goods that went through standard operating procedures that ensure the safety of the food). In addition, the creation of this product helps magnify the delectable flavors of their meat by discouraging the use of artificial food additives, especially preservatives, coloring and flavoring. You will be able to enjoy a guilt-free dining experience with their healthy and delicious treats because you’ll always be assured that the pork that you will eat came from certified organic pigs --- pigs that were fed with guaranteed organic vegetables, feeds (non-commercial) and silages, while grown in a natural environment that prohibits the use of artificial growth hormones, antibiotics or vaccines. 


THE FARM EXPANSION

The Costales' couldn't fund the construction of all 30 greenhouses in the farm with just Mr. Ronald's retirement funds. So what they did was, they partnered with several Overseas Filipino Workers, several of which only heard about CNF through media outlets and through their website. 

Their OFW partners helped finance the construction of the buildings (greenhouses, function hall, accommodations, restaurant) and other farm projects, while CNF focused on the marketing and production side of the business. 


THE FARM ADVANTAGE

Costales Nature Farms has an Organic Certification, which gives them an edge when selling their goods in the market. According to Keneth Caoile De Gracia, CNF’s Farm Tourism Director, farmlands aren’t allowed to promote their products, and label them "Organic" using the right spelling without getting certified. The use of ‘Organic’ without having the proper certification (farm should be accredited) is punishable by law. 

THE CHALLENGES OF MANAGING THE FARM

According to Mrs. Costales, overseeing management was the most challenging for them because a new technology was introduced, which was completely new to the workers who were not used to that kind of system. The Costales’ had to be extra patient in teaching them on how to distinguish what organic farming is compared to conventional farming, and what the effects are for each method. 


HOW THEY MASTERED ORGANIC FARMING

Mrs. Costales shared that they were able to master Organic Farming in the farm as well. But they also studied in seed companies that offered seminars and trainings to further widen their knowledge. They also went to Thailand to study organic farming, and stayed in Aloha House (an orphanage in Palawan), where they were offered to learn and train about EM1. EM1 or Effective Microorganisms is a Japanese Technology that uses 80 beneficial microorganisms. It is a Japanese product that was developed by Teruo Higa, a professor at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa. 

THE USES OF EFFECTIVE MICROORGANISMS

EM1 is already being applied in the farm, which works effectively on their livestock and produce. Take for example the pigs in the farm, which has no foul smell. This is the result from EM1, as it helps neutralize the bad odors from an ordinary pig. EMAS is used as an inoculant to help counteract the bad bacteria, which usually gives certain diseases to pigs. 

There's also a 3-way application on how to integrate EM1 into the pig’s system:

1. Through their food, where it is mixed with the feed.
2. Through their pen and beddings, which are sprayed with EMAS.
3. Through their drinks.

TRIVIA: Their Function Hall was also mixed with EM1, which makes it the first “living building” in the Philippines.


WHY WE SHOULD ALL USE AND PROMOTE ORGANICALLY GROWN PRODUCTS

'Premium Price' exists because of the law of supply and demand (not many people use organic products yet). But the Costales Family made sure to remedy the present situation by putting up a farm school: The Costales Agricultural and Skills Development Institute Inc. (TESDA accredited). Students will be taught how to produce naturally and organically, so that the supply can grow, and the price can go down. The use of this method also makes it safe for the farmers, the environment and consumers. 

Mrs. Costales, who is also the VP of The Farm Tourism Movers Philippines (Luzon Group), and the President of Agri Farm Tourism Alliance for Calabarzon, pushes for the propagation of farm tourism in the Philippines, with the purpose of helping the poor and marginalized farmers. This is to help alleviate the farmers’ lives, so that they can also experience financial freedom. Their group aims to empower our farmers so that their families, especially their children can be proud to say that 'our fathers are Farmers!', given that they are the ones responsible for harvesting goods that give us sustenance on a daily basis. 

They also have a ‘Buy-Back Scheme’ wherein the farmers are trained in Costales Nature Farms (along with a starter kit), from which their produce or livestock are purchased by CNF later on. But how does that work? The farmers will be taught how to do the beddings, and will be trained how to tend to their pigs. Once the pigs are grown, CNF will buy them, and will process them into food soon after. And when the members finally profit from the process, they can buy another pig, and do the cycle all over again. Since the cycle is continuous, the farmers will always have a guaranteed customer in CNF. So instead of just waiting for the money to come every month, they will have something to look forward to on a constant basis.


NOTE: The pig feed also comes from CNF, so everyone is assured that the pig has been grown organically and consistently. Even the beddings that are already mixed with pig manure, which is also made out of plants, can eventually be used as fertilizer. 

WHAT IS INTEGRATED ORGANIC FARMING?

Everything in the farm is integrated because they not only grow plants. They also raise and nurture animals (pigs, chickens, rabbits, buffalos), fish and worms (for composting). They also practice a Zero Waste Policy.

Here’s to better understand their system:

1. High Value Crops - Costales Nature Farms took advantage of the climate in their location by focusing on the production of high value crops (i.e. Lettuce variations).


2. Aquaculture – They also breed Tilapia Fish.

3. Vermiculture - Vermicomposting is an integral part of an organic farm because the compost that is gathered from the worms (their manure) can be used as an organic fertilizer.


4. Free-range chickens and birds - Though still caged, they're still provided with a lot of room to wander and to do their activities (this helps produce tastier chicken and birds).


5. Rabbits - Their manure is also used as a fertilizer because their poop has the highest nitrogen content, which also helps with plant growth.

6. Hogs – This is a flagship product for the farm because it has one of the highest productions.

7. Orchard – Their orchard has several traditional Filipino fruits like Lanzones and Star Fruit (Balimbing), which they also use in their salads. 

8. Peking ducks and other local duck varieties.

9. Herbs – Herbs in the farm aren’t planted all at once. Planting specific herbs are actually done depending on the requirement of their clients. The standard procedure works by making an advance purchase order, from which a contract will be made before planting. This is done only to ensure that after a harvest, the plants will go to a direct consumer. 

Costale Nature Farms, which chefs call "A Paradise of Herbs", also grows thyme, sage, rosemary, all varieties of Basil, and different types of oregano (amongst other aromatic plants).


FARM ACTIVITIES

You will never get bored in Costales Nature Farms, as they offer a variety of activities. They have Vegetable Harvesting, Transplanting (from nursery to open field), Seed Sowing, Animal Feeding, Egg Harvesting, Fishing or Hito Catching, Chicken Chasing, Fruit Picking, Tea Making, Tupig Making (an Ilokano delicacy that is a personal favorite of Mr. Costales), and even Pizza Making.


They also offer Salad Making. Now, you might perceive salad making as a simple activity where you just toss in all the vegetables, and then drizzle it with your desired dressing. It's actually not. It feels entirely different when you go through the whole process of creating your own plate, when you know that each ingredient was lovingly grown and harvested from the very ground you stand on. The farm-to-table concept is an ingenious idea because not only does it promote the consumption of fresh and organic food, it also reduces our personal carbon emissions.


They also have Cultural Shows during the summer, and also offer different kinds of tours (i.e. Wellness, Life at the Farm, Green Living, Lakbay Aral). Tours can also be customized according to preference.

There are also other activities that can be done outside the farm, which can be arranged with CNF like a visit to Liliw, Majayjay Falls, Hulugan Falls and Kamay ni Hesus in Lucban. You can also go rafting in Magdalena.

There are special activities for students as well, which includes a pre-tour orientation. Students will also be taught the best practices when it comes to Organic Agriculture, Farm Business Management, Farm Tourism, Organic Culinary Arts, and Farm-to-table concept (just to name a few).

OTHER FARM AMENITIES

There are also other amenities in the farm that can be enjoyed and availed by staying guests such as the Bed & Breakfast and Spa (with on-call therapists). CNF also has its own in-house restaurant called Apong Damian's Organic Resto, which serves some of the most palatable organic dishes. 


THE RIGHT FOOD DELI & MARKET

Costales Nature Farms just recently opened its own diner, ‘The Right Food’, which is an organic farm-to-table deli and market. Plans to expand are in the works. But their main goal for the deli is to serve their customers with healthy, farm-to-table food with vegetables on the side. They aim to have more TRF delis in every bus stop and terminal (just about anywhere), so that everyone can have access to healthy food options. 

They also aim to educate more farmers, so that they can show them that there is a market for organic produce. Organic is definitely of high value. But there is a reason why it is expensive. One reason is the farmers are taught to produce organic goods in a natural way, in order to gain a supply. To be able to create a market, CNF will eventually build restaurants and create more products (i.e. Muchosarap pandesal). 

According to Ms. Angelica Costales, the challenge for them and the organic industry is to know what approaches to use, especially when it comes to bringing to the urban market safe and fresh organic food. They will probably venture and open up convenient stores in the future because the market is already there, especially in Makati and Manila, where life is fast-moving. Their goal is to promote healthy living and eating despite having a fast paced life. 

HOW TO GET TO COSTALES NATURE FARMS

FROM CALAMBA: Ride a van at SM Calamba terminal to Lucban. Fare is P120 per person. Travel time is around 2 hours, depending on traffic. 

FROM ALABANG: Ride a Lucban-bound van from Festival Mall Alabang. Fare is P 150 per person.

Make sure to tell the driver to drop you off at Costales Nature Farms. The main entrance to the farm is right beside the San Isidro Labrador Chapel.



INSPIRING QUOTES TO LIVE BY

"Instead of curing the sick, I will do something for them not to get sick. Prevention is better than cure. Kuya (eldest brother, Mr. Reden Costales) will be the one to produce the goods. I, on the other hand, will create something that is safe and more appealing, so they won't get sick." -Ms. Angelica Costales (UP LB Agricultual Biotechnology)

“During these times, those who are really protecting the environment, and serving healthy food should unite. We shouldn't do it as competitors but as partners.” – Mrs. Josephine Costales, Founder

“Agriculture brings us life. Tourism brings us joy. Agritourism brings us joyful life experiences." – Mr. Ronald Costales, Founder

Explore & Be Free!
Mai

Costales Nature Farms
Address: Costales Nature Farms Training Center, Brgy. Gagalot, Majayjay, Laguna, Philippines
Phone: (049) 576-3824
Email: inquiries@costalesnaturefarms.com

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