An agritourism site fosters sustainable agriculture to strengthen communities

After 14 years of abandonment, a family-owned land in Pampanga was redeveloped by a couple as a way of giving honor to their late father. Tibby’s farm is an 11-hectare farm located in Angeles, Pampanga that aims to empower people through training them on natural farming for inclusive growth. 

Angelo Valencia, known as Kuya Pultak, a lawyer by profession, decided to put up the farm four days after he left his post as a Chief Operating Officer in an agricultural company where his love for farming was rooted. He refers to this work experience as the destiny that led him to be a farmer. 

The name Tibby’s Farm was derived from his wife’s nickname Tibang, which he converted into English. The lot where Tibby’s farm stands today was passed down through several generations of his wife’s family for more than 60 years. In those years, their ancestors raised cattle and grew crops like rice, vegetables, and sugar. In 2016, the farmer asked his wife to develop the land to honor and fulfill the wish of his late father-in-law. 

Tibby's Farm is an 11-hectare farm in Angeles, Pampanga that promotes EAT: education, accommodation, and tourism.

The development stage

Their early days on the farm were quite challenging; tall grasses and wild animals welcomed them. To roam around, Valencia had to ride a car to protect himself from the attacks of wild carabaos. After a few years of planting different crops and gradually turning the lot into areas for food production, animal raising, and accommodation, the farm is now fully established and operational. From an idle land, it has successfully evolved into a tourism and learning site that continuously makes opportunities available for everyone. 

When it comes to maintenance, Tibby’s farm practices natural farming techniques including the use of animal wastes for compost and by not using pesticides. They cultivate vegetables that are present in the song Bahay Kubo, which varies depending on the season. 

Tibby’s farm also houses free-range chickens, horses, and goats. They used to keep hogs, but when African swine fever (ASF) occurred in Pampanga, over 180 hogs on the farm were culled. As per Valencia, they won’t raise pigs for the next five years for the farm’s safety. 

One distinct animal on the farm is named Bambi, a goat that keeps the guests entertained due to her warm and welcoming nature. Unlike other goats, Bambi isn’t the type that leaves when visitors come close. She is comfortable around humans to the point that she naps, eats, and stays close to them. 

Bambi with Angela Valencia, co-owner of Tibby's Farm.

A farm with a purpose

More than an agritourism destination, Valencia highlights their private initiative for a public purpose, which is to serve and empower communities through agriculture. Tibby’s farm works under a company called Community Sustainability Ventures Inc. (CSV), a social entrepreneur company that creates shared value with corporations, institutions, and communities.

Through this, Valencia works with corporations for funding support and trains the communities that the corporations host. “People are brought here to be trained on how they take care of their land, how to take care of their environment, and how to grow food,” said Valencia. One of the groups that they train is the Dumagat tribe from Dinapigue, Isabela. As per Valencia, the Dumagats can recognize the trees, however, they do not often know its purpose in the environment. Through the training that they hold, Dumagats learn better. 

They also advocate for HEELS: health, environment, education, livelihood, and security, which they execute through HELP: helping people excel one community at a time in a sustainable manner.

Angelo Valencia of Tibby's farm with the Dumagat people of Dibulo, Dinapigue.

Marketing the produce 

When asked what happens after the communities were able to produce food, Valencia replied, “What the Dumagats produce, we make it a livelihood for them.” 

Every Saturday, they conduct a market for local farmers coming from different communities and municipalities to give them a chance to bring and sell their freshly harvested crops at Tibby’s Farm. They either sell them on-site or by roaming around town using the farm vehicles to reach more customers. Some commodities that are usually gathered at the Saturday market come from Pangasinan (for Bangus), Nueva Ecija (for rice and other lowland vegetables), and Batangas (for Tilapia).

Photo taken during the Saturday market.

When it comes to the farm produce, most of them go to the meals served for the guests and to the daily food supply of the farmworkers. If there’s an extra harvest, they sell them in the Saturday market as well. As per Valencia, their food cost is quite low and the only thing that they usually buy is oil. If they want to eat chicken, they can easily obtain them from the farm. Aside from this, they also save money from the plants. For instance, a bushy plant or grass called Amaranth or kulitis is what they use to make a broom for sweeping.

 A service for all

Tibby’s farm does not charge an entrance fee for visitors as they advocate three things: education, accommodation, and tourism (EAT). It serves as space where anyone can have access to education on agriculture, aquaculture, agroforestry, and natural farming by just roaming around the farm and interacting with the farmers. 

They also offer accommodations where guests can stay and feel the richness of our culture. In these rooms, you will get to experience living in native Philippine houses like nipa huts, bale (Ifugao house), and Ivatan houses. 

A home away from home – the goal behind the traditional houses is for the IPs not to feel out of place when they come to the farm for learning.

The reason behind this concept is to provide the Indigenous peoples (IPs) a comfortable stay when they visit the farm, given that they’ll get to sleep in a familiar structure where they are accustomed to living. The farm is also a safe place where they can freely perform their cultural practices. Valencia says, “Here, they can do their dance so they can still feel at home. They also get to see animals and trees that they're used to.”

Valencia and a Dumagat are all smiles for a photo.

The IPs are not just the ones who are learning, but Valencia and all the farm people learn from the IPs’ practices too as they converse with them during training.

Tibby’s farm allows educational tours every Saturday. For 80 pesos, a student can have a tour around the farm and enjoy a complimentary farm-to-table food. The farm is flexible in terms of the activities that they can offer based on the tourists’ budgets and needs.

Moreover, it is also open for rental as a venue for any occasion as it can accommodate up to 500 hundred persons. Events on the farm are a great way to support the farmers too because they can supply the giveaways for the guests using the fresh produce that they personally nurtured. 

The people of Tibby’s 

Presently, there’s a total of 15 workers on the farm and some of them came from the company  Valencia used to work for. Following the rule of one hectare per person, four farmers are assigned to the vegetable section.  One person is responsible for the facilities,  the wife of one of the farmers is also set to cook for the guests, while the other nine are part of the construction team. 

One of their farmers, Lito, with his harvested squash and avocados.

Valencia treats the farm and its people as one; all equal and with no hierarchy. He makes sure that no one is left out. He also lets staff live with their families on the farm if they opt to. He says, “You have to know them eh, you have to consider and treat them so they will treat you like a family too. Kasi if you’re not family, panget yun diba. Family kami dito, kung anong kinakain namin, yun din yung kinakain nila. (You have to know them, you have to consider and treat them so they will treat you like a family too. Because if not, it’s not a good sight to see. We are a family here. What one eats, the other eats the same.)”

Re-greening efforts

One of their agroforestry efforts is planting indigenous trees like Philippine Talisay (Terminalia catappa). There are invasive trees planted on the farm for more than 20 years, which they cut down and changed into indigenous varieties. As per Valencia, indigenous trees are considered the hardest to cultivate on the farm as most of its species are critically endangered.

One of the trees that they planted is this four-year-old dao tree (Dracontomelon dao).

They also trimmed 15 footer invasive mahogany trees and turned them into tables and other furniture for the farm’s dining and garden area. Other trees are also used as a foundation to strengthen their facilities.

Farm challenges

So far, the biggest challenge they have faced is the weather. As per Valencia, there was one time when the rainfall lasted for 21 days, which resulted in the death of some plants and goats. When it comes to the market, it was also challenging at first, but eventually, Tibby’s farm has gained more attraction through the bloggers and visitors who share the farm online. 

Another problem is dealing with some guests in terms of waste management. There are times when plastics are thrown by visitors everywhere. For instance, there are some cases when children tend to throw away their trash as they step out of the vehicles out of excitement. The same goes for people who smoke cigarettes in the area and throw their cigarette butts on the farm premises. This exposes the animals to possible risks as they might eat them. To prevent these things, they remind the guests about their regulations upon entering the farm. They also keep the farm cleaned and maintained by collecting waste and other unnecessary items after every event.

A closed door for bigger opportunities 

As of now, Tibby’s farm is closed as to follow the protocols set by the authorities. The community quarantine has been an avenue for the entire team of Tibby’s to be empowered through lectures and experiential learning. They’ve also used the time to put up raised beds and to grow high-value crops in it including cherry tomatoes and arugula and highland vegetables such as lettuce, carrots, Chinese cabbage, and potato.

The farm hasn’t been getting sales due to the current state of the nation so Valencia opted to share their produce to restaurant owners who are providing food for the front liners of Pampanga. According to him, to stay focused on planning for the long term and to upgrade the skillsets of the whole team is what makes him busy nowadays. So when things get back to usual, they would be able to offer something new for the guests and they will be able to provide naturally raised produce to the community. 

A lawyer-farmer-advocate 

It was once a dream for this farmer to be an agripreneur, aquapreneur, and agroforestry practitioner who owns a farm school where the needs of food security will be addressed and imparted to the youth. Today, it is now a reality that he continues to pursue as his school project is almost one hundred percent done. 

The school of practical agriculture will be a learning ground for individuals of all ages. Learners can choose from the sustainable programs anchored on agriculture, aquaculture, permaculture, and agroforestry that will be available soon. 

A see-through school – a concept that Valencia had in mind for the school so that the students would be immersed and inspired by nature while learning.

Working towards the end is what makes this farmer successful in achieving his goals. In four years, he was able to develop the farm, conduct training for the IPs, and now off to open a farm school. 

From being a lawyer to working in the field, Valencia chose farming, when asked why, he answered that agriculture is a big factor that can bring our economy to its right place. Considering that 57 is the average age of a Filipino farmer, he added, “I am turning 52 and if I can lower down to my age and ask the other people to join the crusade, then we’re going to make a dent.” Through Tibby’s farm, it’s his one way to show the youth how agriculture can be sexy.

Valencia says to them, “In time, most of the jobs that we’re doing will not be relevant anymore. The technology, the computer, and other devices will get wiser and wiser, but these will not be able to provide us food the same process that our farmers do; it cannot plant and grow crops the natural way, it will always need a guide and support by the humans.” He hopes for the youth to look at agriculture as something that is rising and as he calls it, a ‘sunrise industry’.  

Photos from Angelo Valencia.

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