FARMERS' DAUGHTER DEVELOPS A FARM RESORT THAT EARNS PROFIT AND PRESERVES THE ENVIRONMENT
BY PATRICIA BIANCA S. TACULAO
Manila Bulletin Publishing Corp
PEOPLE sometimes have the false notion that farmers would not wish for their children to follow in their footsteps, or that the youth have no interest in farming like their ancestors. Such a thought has never been more wrong. Despite how challenging farming can get, there are always those from younger generations who want to pursue a career where they can grow their own food. An example of this is Shezil Balili, 33, who grew up in the Zamboanga Peninsula with her farmer parents. "We were trained to plant, grow, and harvest crops with our workers in the plantations," Balili said. These fond memories encouraged Balili, who managed a real estate brokerage firm, to leave the corporate world, go back to her roots, and engage in farming once again. "One day I made a decision to live a simpler life so I was thinking how can I incorporate my real estate sales and marketing experience into farming, living a laid back yet comfortable life. I was 29 years old back then, after a year I launched and operated my plans," she said. In 2017, her plans became more concrete as she established Balili Farm in El Nido, Palawan. "Almost everything in the farm comes from the heart and [is the] outcome of my passion. Plus my family's support when I was travelling from Zamboanga to Palawan gave me strength and guidance. There were times that I found it too tough, especially my first year operations as the water and wind problems during the rainy season and lack of water supply during summer. But now we already have an ongoing plan to deal with the problems," the farm owner said. RELIVING HER PASSION FOR FARMING Being a farm resort, Balili wanted the area to be welcoming to the guests while also giving them an inunersive experience with farming, which is why she opted for a farm to plate concept where guests can pick and pay for the seasonal crops that they wish to enjoy in their meals that day. "We grow lettuce, arugula, and basil for our guest supplies. Sometimes, we also sell to other restaurants and hotels. We also grow eggplant, Malabar spinach, kangkong, chili, bell pepper, upo, squash, and rice among other things," Balili said. The farm also has different varieties of flowers that are used daily for guest arrivals and food decorations. Since Balili received a background in farming from her parents, she knows about crop maintenance. She decided to follow both natural and conventional approaches in farming. Plants that need an ample amount of sunlight are planted in an open area while those that require more care are planted in the farm's greenhouse which has two sections for naturally and conventionally grown crops. "We also use ground chili to get rid of pests, and animal manure as fertilizer for naturally-grown plants. The conventionally-grown ones were given synthetic fertilizer and pesticides," Balili said. Aside from crops, the farm is also home to pigs, chickens, pigeons, and ducks, which are all raised in an open area. Balili said that they're planning on eventually adding goats to the mix. Despite having a wide variety of crops at their disposal, Balili makes sure that they only plant enough to sustain 30 to 35 guests, along with some orders from restaurants and hotels, to avoid waste. "Mostly, our harvest is for daily consumption to our guests and our other locations in El Nido. But to our customers, we sell the lettuce for P500/ kilo, basil for P400/kilo, and the arugula for P500/kilo," the farm owner said. AN AUTHENTIC FILIPINO EXPERIENCE When it comes to their accommodations, Balili wanted the area to be authentic as much as possible. This meant Filipino-designed villas as well as locally-sourced furnishings to support the local community and promote sustainability. "Our rooms were built from indigenous materials such as bamboo, wood, cog on, and others. Plus the beddings, bedsheets, and pillow sheets are all handmade to blend in with the farm's concept. All in all, it took a lot of love and passion to establish, sustain, and eventually earn from the farm," Balili said. For their activities, Balili Farm offers farm tours, mountain hiking, cave tours, and island tours to their guests so they can appreciate the practice of farming while also getting a firsthand view of nature through Palawan's breathtaking sights. Seeing her farm flourish, Balili says that all her hard work and effort was worth it because even if she went back to her farming roots, she did it in a way where she not only enjoys growing her own food and earning a money from it, but also in a way where she can inspire others to become more aware about nature and farming.