Real Estate Firm Wants Its Lot Buyers to Grow Vegetables
Here’s a unique real estate venture. Lot buyers use only up to 20 percent of the land area for the house they will build and the rest of the property will be utilized for growing food crops or ornamental plants.
That’s the contract that the Manila East Lakeview Farms (MELF) makes with buyers of its lots in its development area in Barangay San Guillermo in Morong, Rizal. The contract also requires buyers to submit in the soonest possible time their detailed development plan, and to immediately fence their lot.
A division of Prime East Properties Inc., MELF has sold 55 to 60 percent of the initially developed 36.6 hectares of the consolidated 300 hectares of hilly land in San Guillermo, says farm manager Bobby Mandac.
The project area ends on a bluff overlooking Laguna de Bay, the altitude giving the place a climate half-comparable at least to that of Tagaytay Ridge in Cavite. Mandac says that majority of the lots have a minimum area of 750 square meters, although there are what MELF calls enclaves within the development, where lots are from 350 to 500 sq.m. in area but which are priced higher than the 750-sq.m.-and-up lots. Lots on the area’s ridges cost even higher.
“Our company opened this project in 2001,” says Mandac, who joined MELF in 2003, starting as sales agent and moving up to be marketing assistant, then customer relations officer, before his appointment as farm manager. It was also in 2003 when MELF solved the problem of what to do with the people, most of them retirees, who wanted to grow things in the lots they had bought but didn’t know what or how to plant.
Learning from vegetable farmers in San Guillermo and in Morong and its neighboring towns about agronomist-sales representatives of a seed company who were a big help in producing commercial quantities of vegetables and sweet corn, Mandac contacted the agriculturists. And they turned out to be from Allied Botanical Corporation (ABC), a Filipino-owned producer and distributor of vegetable seeds and other farm inputs.
“Through the agronomists, I initiated talks with ABC that resulted in their setting up of demo fields where the lot owners and our maintenance people could get instruction and hands-on training in vegetable production,” says Mandac. “The ABC technicians taught our would-be farmers everything–from familiarity with the various vegetable varieties they were promoting, to the cultural practices and nurturing that each crop required, and up to harvesting the crops.”
Later, he found a San Guillermo resident who had graduated from the University of the Philippines Los Banos with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degree, major in Crop Science, and promptly hired her as MELF’s own live-in agronomist. The agriculturist, May Carigo, now oversees all the planting done in the area, although ABC agronomists still visit regularly to monitor the growth and yield of the crops and lecture the growers on new developments in vegetable production.
At first, lot owners were able to grow vegetables that were just sufficient for their consumption. But as they gained more know how, they were soon producing more food than they and even their relatives in Metro Manila (many of them being weekend farmers who had homes in the big city) could consume.
“We’re now encouraging them to band themselves into a sort of homeowners’ association to enable them to be more deliberate in choosing particular crops that are of marketable quality and quantity-wise to make their operations profitable,” says Mandac. “A concessionaire of SM Hypermart who has seen some of their harvests has told us he is willing to buy vegetables from us if we have at least the minimum volumes. According to him, the quality of our harvests is hardly a problem because of the seeds that Allied Botanical is supplying.”
ABC now supplies MELF and its lot owners with seeds of the so-called pinakbet (eggplant, ampalaya, okra, sitao, squash), chopsuey (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower) and salad (tomato, lettuce, cucumber, radish) varieties of vegetables, culinary herbs and sweet corn.
A sweet corn variety that the SM Hyper-mart concessionaire is much interested in is ABC’s Glutinous Corn called Batik because most of its kernels change color from white to different shades of purple as the ears mature. Distributed under the Condor brand, Batik, according to ABC’s corn breeders, also has more protein and vitamins in its kernels’ endosperm.
MELF has established two demonstration fields for those crops and another demo field for ornamentals and flowers. And every two or three months, it holds a harvest festival that ABC personnel help set up, and an open-house to show prospective lot buyers and other visitors how far the area’s development has progressed, not only in infrastructure but also in its efforts to make the place highly conducive to healthy, worth while living. The harvest festivals also serve to advertise to visitors that they can come to buy fresh vegetables for their consumption anytime they wish to. “We regularly have walk-in buyers of vegetables now,” says Mandac. “Most of them say they come because they not only avail of fresh high-quality produce but also get to see how we grow them.”
Visitors can also buy a head or two of native chickens or broilers that MELF allows residents to keep as long as they confine these, up to 10 head per home. “We want to practice full organic farming here, and raising chickens will help us attain that,” says Mandac. “Poultry manure makes good organic fertilizer for plants. The residents can also raise up to three or four head of goats, also confined, but definitely no pigs–not even a single head. We don’t want to have odor problems here.” At present, one of the lot owners raises fighting cocks on his property. Another has a honeybee project.
More development work will soon be underway. “We will put up a mini zoo and a butterfly farm here, while a rest-house and swimming pool belonging to a son of one of the owners of Prime East Properties that he has turned over to MELF will form the nucleus of our planned recreation site,” says Mandac.
Another project in the planning stage is beefing up the water supply system. “We get water from a deepwell pump and a concrete reservoir with a capacity of 70,000 gallons. We’ve talked to the local waterworks office but it requires us to completely provide for the means of delivering their water to our site, to which we’re not too keen at present because that means kilometers of water pipes. We won’t be able to use chlorinated water for our plants anyway. We’ll just probably have to add another deepwell when our existing system becomes inadequate,” he added.
With the nightmarish experiences of residents of the low-lying communities in Rizal during the recent floods, one would think sales of lots in MELF are picking up. “That hasn’t been the case,” says Mandac. “Sales in fact have quite slowed down. Developers of high-rise residences like condominiums may be the ones benefiting at present. But we continue to make our surroundings here greener, more healthful and highly productive to beckon to people who will want to spend their and their children’s future with the beauty, generosity and goodness of nature.”
By Antonio A. Rodriguez