by Rose Churma
In 2009, a group of trade mission delegates from Hawai’i stopped by a relatively unknown mango orchard located between the towns of San Marcelino and San Antonio in the province of Zambales.
It was a much-needed respite from their grueling schedule of business meetings, where they could eat the local cuisine, enjoy the outdoors under the wide leafy canopies of the mango trees—and watch a boxing match via TV (Pacquaio won!). That was 14 years ago.
Since then, the orchard has evolved into one of the Philippines’ top agri-tourism destinations, and its on-site dining Rosa Cafe, was included in 2017 as one of the Top 6 Organic Restaurants in the Philippines by the Tourism Promotions Board—in the same league as Sonya’s Garden and the Bohol Bee Farm—two iconic food places that are well-loved in the Philippines.
It has been the subject of travel and cooking programs on TV. It has hosted various student groups of all ages from the Philippines and around the world and conducted workshops for good agriculture practices for farmers as far away as Mindanao and the Cordilleras, and entertained enumerable local celebrities in its memorable farm fiestas.
This is the story of the farm’s evolution—from its devastation as a rice producing farmland soon after the Pinatubo eruption in 1991 to the after-effects of the worldwide shut-down due to COVID 19.
Using the two major catastrophes as bookends, the author weaves a compelling story of how she and her husband converted a 12.5 hectare farmland that was inundated with lahar after the eruption, into an operating mango farm, and its transformation into an agri-tourism destination and nature-retreat.
Originally owned by Rosa Magsaysay and David Jocson, the couple acquired the property on the eve of WWII—from their savings and winnings from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes.
Since they farmed the property, the farmland was not subject to the Land Reform program implemented by the Philippine government in 1973, unlike the other properties they owned which was “land-reformed,” or another euphemism for “gone for good”. The grandchildren eventually decided to preserve their legacy of grit, hard work and perseverance by creating this oasis of nature.
The author, Nelda Cruz Zulueta, calls herself a “corporate warrior” having honed her skills as an organizational development expert with various corporations and public institutions in the country—helping companies improve their bottom line.
Trained as a chemical engineer, she initially tackled the challenge of creating a mango orchard with a systematic and scientific approach using excel sheets and specialized apps. It didn’t work.
Well, maybe somewhat, but not in the way she expected. Instead, it deepened her respect for Mother Nature and a stronger awareness of the threat of climate change. It also gave her a deep appreciation for the farmers who toil the soil to provide us food.
One of the agricultural scientists whose findings were used in the farm was that of Dr. Ramon Barba.
During his tenure at the University of Hawai’i’s College of Agriculture, he developed a system of inducing the mango trees to flower. By staggering the flowering process, the mango harvest can also be spread-out to a more amenable schedule.
If you are a retiree and plan to purchase land and get into “corporate farming” or developing a mango orchard, read this book first.
Farming is not for the faint of heart, nor for those who still doubt the impact of climate change—it is very real and has insidious impact on our daily lives. But working with nature has its blessings.
You experience the joy of literally harvesting the fruits of your labor—of holding that golden heart-shaped mango once it ripens, and tasting its sweetness.
But simply put, this is a baby-boomer’s reflections on life as she navigates the last quarter of her lifespan. In a way, this is also the story of Zambales, and perhaps the nation.
Despite the many natural calamities and man-made catastrophes, life goes on. Despite the setbacks, there are the triumphs. It is a matter of observing life through the right lenses—one with gratitude, of acceptance, and with unshakable faith that the future is filled with promise.
For those who have visited Rosa Farms, remember those hours spent under the millennial mango trees, when you picked the vegetables for your lunch and ate with your hands kamayan style using woven plates lined with banana leaves.
Or when you enjoyed the cool breeze that wafted through as you napped after your meal, dreaming of the next merienda of kakanin and mango pizza. Bring those memories back. Read the book.
ROSE CRUZ CHURMA established Kalamansi Books & Things three decades ago. It has evolved from a mail-order bookstore into an online advocacy with the intent of helping global Pinoys discover their heritage by promoting books of value from the Philippines and those written by Filipinos in the Diaspora. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Rose Churma