Remote forest farm in Rizal boasts an allnatural farm experience



Manila Bulletin Publishing Corp


IN HINDUISM, Vaikuntha is the name of the celestial abode of Vishnu, one of the three main gods of the religion who is responsible for protecting and maintaining life on earth. Meanwhile, in the local setting, Vaikuntha is the name of a natural forest farm nestled in the Sierra Madre mountains. It is located in Barangay Daraitan, Tanay, Rizal and is just a breath away from the border hem cell Rizal and Quezon Province. According to Shai Tainavo. the farm's proprietor and a holistic nutritionist, it is more than just a farm that produces naturally-grown herbs, fruits, and vegetables. “Vaikuntha Forest Farm is a place to learn, unwind, heal ,detox, get lit, and meditate. Its not the regular tourist destination. I like to call it an eco-destination. More than a destination, it's an experience you don't get just where” she said. Once a month, it hosts events where guests can participate in yoga, survival training, emergency preparedness, wilderness rescue, first aid, as well as ,the common from tourist goals of rest, relaxation, and 'DELIGHTFULLY NATURAL ALBEIT ROUGH AND TUMBLE' When Tamayo said that the farm offers an experience that most guests can't get anywhere, she was referring to the natural scenery and back to basic encounters that make the farm unique. "It's off-grid so you won't find concierges and attendants anytime all the time. A couple of hours after the sun goes down, the staff goes back to their homes across the river- a mountain away. Of course, we live there, so we will always be there to take care of guests, like a host family will take care of you while you're a guest at their home," Tamayo said. Vaikuntha Forest Farm has a few small private rooms and a communal type of lodging that can be rented as a whole cottage. Although they don't have private bathrooms, the farm has compost toilets to relieve the guests while also finding a way to give back to the earth. Banking on the idea of following natural practices, the farm strictly prohibits smoking, gambling, and drinking on its premises because its proprietor and staff would rather their guests be intoxicated with the mystic mountain air and the wonders of nature in their surroundings. Tamayo shared that the farm doesn't have amenities like karaokes and such because they would like their guests to enjoy nature's choirs and orchestra since it's a rare treat especially in modem situations. "We now have a bit of solar power going, but it's still not a bright-light destination because we give due respect to Mother Nature's downtime. We would like our guests to experience darkness as a good friend and because we would like our guests to enjoy the magic of a diamond-sprinkled sky and the fantastic live firefly shows, or to bathe in the moonlight," the farm's proprietor said. Aside from implementing such practices, the farm also imposes a strict vegetarian rule and encourages its guests to follow suit even if it's just for the duration of their stay. Tamayo assured, however, that guests will be supplied with simple yet filling meals made from the natural produce that grows on the farm. The farm was established in 2007 when Tamayo began dabbling in farming. Eventually, it got closer to its goal of becoming a sufficient organic pantry. "Our aim was, and still is, to live off the land by planting everything we need to eat and what we need to preserve our health like natural medicines and such. We are not only passionate about organic and natural- we live and breathe it," Tamayo said. She added that Vaikuntha Forest Farm is a genuine retreat place where guests can take the road less traveled because there's a lot more to see in the forests and the mountains surrounding the farm. All that's left is for the people to leave the city behind and enjoy a few days of going back to basics and communing with nature in the most authentic way possible. ASUFnCIENT AND SUSTAINABLE PANTRY To complete the all natural experience at Vaikuntha Forest Farm, Tamayo and the farm's staff follow a strict vegetarian diet which is supplied by the naturally grown produce in the farm. "We have lots of fruit-bearing trees such a langka, kamansi, calamansi, dalandan, guyabano, guyatis, rambutan, mango, avocado, santol, bananas, durian, marang, pomelo, papaya, coconut, etc. Not all are avid producers so we keep a lot to offer variety," the farm's proprietor said. THERE ARE ALSO OTHER INDIGENOUS TREES AND MORE UNCOMMON SOURCES OF FOOD. Vaikuntha Forest Farm also has lots of herbs both cultivated and wild which we consume as food and also as medicine. "For veggies, we have various types of tomatoes, lettuces, eggplants, peas and beans, okra, sitaw, upo, patola, ampalaya, com, pineapple, dragonfruit, gabi, camote, cucumber, pechay, wild spinach, and other seasonal veggies like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and sayote," Tamayo added. She admitted, however, that she had no prior experience in farming but she made up for it by reading her fill, taking examples from visiting other farms, and keeping an open mind to try out new things to find out which practices are suitable for growing plants. "We practice natural farming with no use of any chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. We have vermicomposting, composting using cow dung, guano (or bat droppings) when it's available, and chicken manure. We also follow a lot of permaculture practices like making our own plant nutrients, enhancers and pest repellents from available materials at the farm," Shai said. Aside from the fresh produce, the farm also offers processed products such as jams and teas made from the raw ingredients growing on the farm. Despite their efforts to strictly follow natural farming practices, Shai shared that it's not always smooth sailing. "Natural farming becomes harder when your neighbors are not practicing the same. When a neighboring farm sprays their trees with deadly pesticides, the pests run to our farm for shelter. And there you go- a major pest problem. So we spend a lot more time trying to solve that problem with our organic sprays, smoking the pests, and strengthening the plants so they don't look too attractive to pests," she said. The farm's proprietor added that nature is a great teacher. In dealing with natural challenges, it's important to listen, learn, and then apply the lessons learned from nature. SOME TIPS IN MANAGING AFARM In securing a natural farm's success and productivity, Shai shares a few tips that anyone can follow. "First, you have to be hands-on. It just doesn't work when you are not hands-on. Next, you have to be patient. Nature has her ways, her time. You can't force or push it. Chemical farming does that. It always ends up badly, no matter what," she said. Next, the farm proprietor emphasizes to not make money a goal. "Money is needed for sustainability, of course, but if you place first the good and the true, like taking care of Mother Earth, nurturing the soil, the other creatures who share the space with us, money will come as a matter of course," she said. The important thing, according to Shai, is to think and live simply. Start by always having food on your plate. "If it goes the other way around, money first before anything, it won't tum out good. You end up being a slave of your farm. We have to go above the money mindset and search for true purpose and meaning," she said. As Shai said, she and the staff ofVaikuntha Forest Farm aim to live a simple life that revolves on the natural and healthy because they believe that true wealth lies in a person's well-being. Photos from Vaikuntha Forest Farm on Face book