We left Manila before sunrise. We were heading to the province of Abra, around eight hours north of Manila, to interview a free-range chicken farmer and shoot her farm for food magazine, Yummy.
I pitched to my editor a story on the people who raise and grow our food. Good food. Literature and previous conversations with farmers on sustainable forms of farming were always driving this one point: nowadays, we don’t know where we get our food. Most of us don’t know how they were grown (whether they were soaked–not simply sprayed–in a vat of chemicals to kill all the bugs in say, ampalaya), how they affect the environment, what they were fed or in what conditions they were raised. The farmers I was going to interview were all devoted to the cause of bringing good, clean food to table.
There’s Nicolo Aberasturri of Down to Earth farm who raises grass-fed cattle in Bukidnon, Daisy Langenegger who has a farm in the province of Isabela growing vegetables and rice among other things (and a home in Quezon City filled with all sorts of herbs and vegetables), Ronald Costales of Costales Nature Farms for his organically-grown pigs, and Tina Morados-Papillon of Pamora Farm for her free-range chickens in Abra. (Though I interviewed them on those particular things, they all grow and raise a variety of plants and animals as it makes for a more sustainable way of farming. Take the pigs: they eat the organic vegetables, their manure goes to a compost or vermicast, worms feed on it, and it turns into fertilizer which is used on the plants, and the plants are fed to the animals again, and the cycle keeps going. Pretty basic stuff that it reminded me of grade school science class, but it takes time and time means money, so many farmers or ‘factory farms’ don’t resort to this form of farming.)
I was with a photographer, her assistant, and our trusty driver when we made our way to Abra. Surrounded by the Cordillera mountains, we found Pamora Farm in the town of Garreta (km. 396). Amidst nondescript houses, we saw a pretty wooden gate and a few meters away stood a dressing plant with the Pamora sign. We entered and a lady motioned us to go farther up the driveway. Flowering bushes lined the rest of the driveway until we reached a small house with a porch that had two tables and benches. Tina was out, but one of her sisters told us to wait; she was one her way back from the town.
When she came back, Tina was with her husband Gerard, a French national who’s made the Philippines his home. We were spending the night in the farm so after the gracious couple showed us to our rooms, they told us to join them for a late lunch. We ate the simple and lovely spread of Pamora’s eggs (hard-boiled), chicken liver pate, their mini chicken empanadas, and bread they have bought in a weekend market in Makati, where they came the night before. They have a home in Manila’s CBD but they regularly make their way to Abra. A long, exhausting drive that took us more than eight hours; Tina, who knows the road well, can make it in five.
It was a sunny afternoon, but because of the nearby mountains the air was not too warm, which made eating outdoors more pleasant. While we ate, I wondered where the chickens were. They pointed to a nearby fenced area surrounded by creeping greens. I was surprised that I couldn’t smell them. But as I would find out with the other farms employing sustainable forms of farming, the strong, foul smell I’ve associated with poultry and pigs does not choke the entire farm.
We did the interview and shoot after lunch, ending just before sunset. It was when Tina told me about her desire to return to her hometown after working overseas and living in Manila for several years; how she started a little farm with her parents; and how she and her husband Gerard, who grew up in a farm in France, found themselves raising free-range chickens.
For dinner, Gerard took a capon from the farm and roasted it with a bit of salt and pepper and rosemary. It was one of the best roast chickens I’ve ever had. It wasn’t slathered with all sorts of herbs and seasonings–the strong flavor of the chicken was enough, and the meat was tender and perfectly cooked.
The following morning, we woke up before sunrise again. The photographer and her assistant got ready to shoot more of the farm (the small vegetable garden this time, where Tina picked the salad greens the day before) and the fields and river outside of it.
Pamora Farm is also something of an eco-agri tourism spot. Travelers who want to experience a bit of farm life can rent the small house and experience the countryside of Abra. Walk the through the farmlands with the Cordillera mountains as backdrop, go camping or picnicking by the nearby river, go kayaking, fishing, horse-back riding and carabao sledge riding.
I love living in the city. I love all the activity, the mass of people, the noise, the energy… but walking from the farm to the fields, to an expanse of sand, to boulders, to the river–the landscape goes from Amorsolo painting to the cinematic sand dunes in Panday–and the food you raise and grow yourself was just right outside your door. I could see the charms held by this quiet countryside. I could see why Tina wanted to go back.
Pamora Farm, Brgy. Garreta, Pidigan, Abra; (2) 759-2678, (0917) 537-5639; http://www.pamorafarm.com
Where to get Pamora Farm products: Santis Delicatessen, Terry Selection, Bacchus Epicerie, Rustan’s Supermarket, Shopwise, Legaspi Market (Mara’s Organic Tent), Salcedo Market (Rizal Daisy Farm of Jacquie Alleje as Abra Chicken), Mercato Centrale