[PHOTO A LEFT - A hacienda with a view of Mount Malarayat]

MANILA, OCTOBER 17, 2009 (STAR) RENDEZVOUS By Christine S. Dayrit - In life, it happens quite often that we don’t know what we have been missing until it arrives and we don’t realize the value of what has arrived until it is missing.

In these days of storms and disaster, we all dream of a paradise, a place of peace and security, where living is not a struggle but a lasting delight. However, we must do our fair share to heed the call of caring for Mother Nature, for in return she will protect us and shield us from irreverent forces.

A dear friend from Peninsula Hong Kong, communications director Therese Ortega, recently introduced to my siblings and I to the Pachamama Alliance, a group whose mission is to save our planet by helping us to understand the risks of our environment being ravaged and damaged beyond our wildest fears. More importantly, they embark on endeavors to preserve what is left in order to be able to leave behind to future generations a much better world than the one we’re faced with. They reveal the current state of our planet — where we are and how we got here — then encourage us to embark on what is possible for the future. Very alarming videos shown on YouTube, television and the news dramatically show us the effects of global warming, climate change and incessant calamities befalling our land. Only 10 percent of the world’s animals are still around, our islands and coastlines are sinking at an alarming rate and rain forests are heavily denuded.

What gives the world hope is the growing number of committed individuals, families and communities aware of the problem and who, in their own ways, practice small changes that contribute a lot to saving the world for future generations. Sustainability will be attained when the present generation fulfills its needs without undermining the earth’s capacity to meet the needs of our future.

As a travel writer, my responsibility includes sharing places we can visit that promote sustainable tourism or green tourism. One such haven is Hacienda San Benito. My dear friend Noah Manarang, who saved our beach property from erosion and, recently, our city home from flooding, took me there for a visit. Hacienda San Benito is a fabulous 22-hectare residential-farm community in the heart of the coffee capital of the Philippines — Lipa City. HSB is one of the few “green and sustainable” communities in the country and has dedicated a five-hectare communal farm as its primary amenity to homeowners. Lot owners have a stake in the five-hectare commercially integrated central farm that grows organic herbs, vegetables, fruits and tends ornamental plants. At the Terraza De Barako, a relaxing “terrace” where visitors can experience the famous barako coffee of Lipa, we enjoyed sipping aromatic coffee while feasting on freshly harvested greens with honey cider dressing, native binalot of chicken adobo, steamed rice with boiled egg wrapped in banana leaves, and fresh banana and tender coconut meat in muscovado sugar. It was truly a slice of ethereal bliss on earth as we marveled at the exhilarating view of the dramatic Malarayat Mountain range.

The farm operations are efficiently run by resident farm manager Eden Alforja, a BS agriculture graduate of UP Los Baños. Eden, together with in-house farmers, plant organic vegetables such as lettuce, eggplants, cucumber, peanuts and all of the vegetables you can find in the native song Bahay Kubo. They have an apiary (bee farm) wherein homeowners can maintain bee box colonies and harvest the honey for their own use or sell it back to SBWI. The apiary is maintained and managed by Apiarist and Entomologist Albee Marcia. The hardworking army of bees does not only produce honey, they are vital to the food chain as they naturally pollinate all of the flowering crops and trees around us. All of the produce is sold to homeowners or to establishments with contract growing arrangements with the farm. We felt like Dr. Doolittle as we explored this sanctuary of Boer goats and horses, carabao, turkeys and free-range chicken, Japanese kois, and even the very animated ostriches whose hilarious antics made us reel with laughter. We took a refreshing dip in their three-layer “organic” swimming pool (untreated with chlorine or other chemicals) and had a soothing aromatherapy massage with virgin coconut oil with lemongrass in the thatched-roofed coco cabanas.

Hacienda San Benito is the brainchild of “Think Green” developer Ricky Ocampo, CEO of Milrose Development Corporation. Ricky has passionately put together a very young and talented “green team” to realize this environment friendly community. Youthful architect Jason Buensalido, board topnotcher in the 2005 Architectural Licensure Examination and first place winner in the Cultural Center of the Philippines Design Excellence Competition (National Competition, Professional Category), did the master plan and designed amenities/structures of this stunning haven of eco-tourism. Jason says the Villa San Benito is a “retreat in green” whose concepts can directly be related to farm architecture or farm houses with characteristics that are natural, organic and usually draw the focus to the surrounding landscape more than towards itself.” He adds, “The structure also has integrated rainwater harvesting tanks whose contents can be used for flushing toilets and irrigating the vegetable plots around the property.”

Mary Noah Manarang of Biosolutions Inc. is the consultant for environmental management and farm development of Hacienda San Benito. Noah, whom we fondly call the “Vetiver Queen,” is the expert on Vetiver grass application for bioengineering works here and abroad. She learned this technology from a scholarship given by the Chaippatana Foundation of Thailand’s HM King Bhumibol Adulyadeh in 1996 where she studied as an environmental scholar. She is the only Filipina, and the youngest Class 1 Vetiver Grass Technology consultant as certified by the International Vetiver Organization. There are only 23 certified class 1 Vetiver consultants worldwide. I have joined Noah in the International Vetiver Conferences in Bangkok and Guangzhou China and it is worthy to note that Vetiver grass is dubbed the “miracle grass,” with its roots growing downward to a maximum length of three meters. These roots have the tensile strength of mild steel and have proven very effective in binding the soil. For HSB, Noah has implemented the use of Vetiver hedgerows on steep and cut slopes (instead of using concrete) for better erosion control. Instead of manicured landscaping, open spaces and lots are cultivated with Vetiver grass or vegetable plots. Lot owners who are not building their houses yet can have their property utilized by the farm for contract growing of crops with profit sharing from the harvest.

The koi fishpond and water drains are lined with Vetiver plants to prevent siltation. HSB set up a showcase of Vetiver propagation and Vetiver grass applications inside Hacienda San Benito so that people can see how green technologies like this can be a cost-efficient solution to erosion and slope stabilization in a residential development set-up.

The Hacienda actively promotes agri-tourism and agri-education among its residents. This will ultimately help in making the commercially integrated farm within the subdivision a profitable investment. The community farm managed by San Benito Wellness Inc. espouses eco-friendly agricultural practices and technology and does not use chemical pesticides and fertilizers in its production of organic vegetables. Certainly, the Pachamama Alliance will salute such earth-saving practices. Hacienda San Benito beckons and espouses a world where nature harmoniously communes with God and man, where the philosophy of “Back to Basics” is supreme. Let us appreciate every gift from nature now and not wait. Let us heed the call of Mother Nature before it is too late.

For more information about Hacienda San Benito, call 772-4262 or visit their website at www.haciendasanbenito.com. For information about Vetiver grass, you may call 534-9780 or visit www.biosolutions.com.ph.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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