Life is better at the farm
We all thought that the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and all the other lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic will last only for a few months. And now, more than a year later, we are still forced to stay in our homes, wear face masks and face shields whenever we go out, and try patiently to wait for the time we get vaccinated.
It’s the same goes for Michelle Tiotangco, also known as the “Palawan Princess” who manages various tourism businesses on one of the world’s most beautiful islands, Palawan. A go-to summer destination, this island is a tourist magnet all year round. But when the virus hit the country, all travels were stopped, hotels were closed, and Michelle was forced to stop operations and wait for things to get better.
“I have my own travel agency, Amica Travel and Tours. I also manage our resort in Coron, Sophia’s Garden Resort, and another resort here in Puerto Prinsesa, Kamia Bay Resort. We also have a restaurant in Coron, the Viewdeck Grillhouse, and a café here in Puerto Prinsesa International Airport, Mrs. Teacafe. I have another business in the automotive industry, which is Foton Puerto Prinsesa. So basically, almost all of them revolve around tourism,” says Michelle.
The COVID cases in the province are slowly yet continuously rising. When the lockdown started, the locals of Palawan were still free to roam around but now they are not allowed to go out of their municipality, unless they secure a negative antigen test, which is not always readily available on the island.
“When the lockdown started and we had to stop our operations, I tried to hold on to my staff for a couple of months because I thought we would be able to resume operations sooner. But when we reached the third or fourth month, I had to decide what our next step would be. For our travel agency, we resumed operations last December in Coron when the airport opened. But it closed again this March because of the surge of cases. For our resorts, while everything is on hold, we are processing the necessary permits we need once we are allowed to reopen,” she says.
‘Any business must be sustainable so that even if there were a pandemic or an unforeseen situation in the future, your business wouldn’t stop because this will affect people, not just yourself but your family, your staff, and your staff’s family.’
It was during this unexpected break from her businesses that Michelle had the time to revisit the passion projects she once started. One of her dreams is to have a farm so she decided to research more about it.
“I went on researching online and I just wanted to try it. I asked my dad if I could borrow a part of his property near our place, a 300-square-meter land. Since I have zero background on farming, I asked a friend if he could recommend someone who could help me start a small farm. He introduced me to Yamang Bukid. From there, we bought the seedlings and materials we needed and started designing and preparing the farm,” says Michelle.
Together with her staff, Michelle enrolled in basic organic farming classes, and now she has discovered a different tourism business. “We had to pivot also,” she beams. “So I got three of my staff, a chef, a driver, and a cashier, and we underwent training from forming, organizing, and starting a farm. Before, I thought na simple at madali lang, dapat alam mo lang ang gusto mong itanim (that it was just simple and easy, you only needed to know what you wanted to plant). They showed me a professional way of doing it because different plants have different needs in terms of soil, sunlight, and water, and you need a specific place to put them in.”
At first, their harvest was dedicated to their person consumption but eventually they gained customers and orders from the local restaurants in Puerto Prinsesa. Now, they are selling a wide variety of vegetables, such as lettuce, eggplant, okra, tomatoes, pechay, and broccoli, and fruits, such as papaya, bananas, and a lot more in baskets and bouquets in their farm called “Taraneman sa Palawan.”
“We introduced selling our vegetables in baskets and bouquets. They were not in ordinary boxes or plastic. They were given as gifts last Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Right now, we are in the process of expanding our farm because we are seeing huge demand. This is our first time to do it and we are amazed we can plant crops and be creative. We also became conscious with how we ate and where our food came from,” she says.
From one dream to another, Michelle is continuously reaping the fruits of her harvest. Knowing that this journey of success is not the same to all entrepreneurs, she realized that businesses should be, first of all, sustainable.
“Any business must be sustainable so that even if there were a pandemic or an unforeseen situation in the future, your business wouldn’t stop because this will affect people, not just yourself but your family, your staff, and your staff’s family. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Invest in other opportunities. Plan ahead in case another situation like this happens in the future and save your money,” she ends.