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Friday, October 16, 2015

CheChe Lazaro Probes the Fertile Land of Lotus Pod Farm in Bay, Laguna


A man of many hats; early 20th century environmentalist, forester, ecologist, scientist and author Aldo Leopold wrote on his 1949 non-fiction book A Sand County Almanac, “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”

Known for her gritty investigative journalism that threads the layers of stories she covers like needles, deeper into probing every facets of truth; renowned journalist CheChe Lazaro is taking that same passionate approach as she now follows Leopold’s train of thought - that man should foster a good relationship with the land they dwell on, by advocating organic and backyard farming. 


We meet CheChe Lazaro in her very casual self, contrasting the fiery and intense persona we see on her investigative news shows; The Probe Team, I-Witness, and Cheche Lazaro Presents. Catching up with her in the confines of her farm’s chilled down environment, she still speaks with an aura one should be all-ears about. This time however, instead of asking questions, she’s at the other end receiving queries about the origin of her new endeavor; the Lotus Pod Farm, a four-hectare piece of land situated at Bay, Laguna. 
“This property was idle for many years before we decided to develop it into Lotus Pod. One of my favorite places to visit is Bali. I was inspired by what I would see in Bali.  The architecture, the landscape and the serenity that surrounds the place. Originally, this place was all rice fields. We did some work to convert parts of it so we could build a few structures on the property.” 
She explains to us as she walk us inside the main house and spa which infuses a typical Balinese architecture and vibe.


We stride inside her spacious room adorned with wooden interior that opens up to a spectacular view of an oval pond inhabited by many Lotus plants – everywhere I gaze is filled with lush greens comprising a variety of vegetable plants like; lemongrass, ampalaya, calamansi, green papaya, leeks, malunggay, okra, eggplant, lime, tomato, red and green lettuce, arugula, swiss chard, talbos ng kamote, kangkong, patola and saging na saba.  Lotus Pod also grows an assortment of herbs like oregabo, basil, sawtooth, tarragon, mint, coriander and ashitaba aside from also producing fresh oyster mushroom and chemical-free vinegar sourced from the farm’s coconut trees and other fresh juices from the farm’s vegetable produce. Completing the farm is a small expanse of land dedicated to rice crops which at the time of our visit is gearing up for harvest season.  


Calling herself a newbie in the world of farming, CheChe Lazaro explains the process of molding the over-all character of her farm by tapping influences from her world travels and getting advises from farming experts. 
“There was no grand design.  It came in bits and pieces--slowly over time. The choices were personal.  We wanted to have fresh organically grown vegetables we could pick them from the garden-so that's how the vegetable plot came about. While the architecture is Balinese-inspired, it's more of a mix of elements I have seen during the times we travel. I'm not sure the garden can be called landscaped---it just forms as we go along.  We have no landscaper---only experimenters like us! More trial and error than anything else”

In fruitfully crafting an organic farm, she adds; 
“We only (use) natural fertilizers made on the farm utilizing vermi-culture, plant cuttings and sawdust. So when you eat locally and organically grown vegetables and fruits, you are assured of eating only the healthiest and cleanest. We compost and use that to grow our veggies. We have one greenhouse that grows hydroponic veggies as suggested by our friends at UPLB”

CheChe Lazaro believes one doesn’t need hectares of land to heed the call-to-farming in one’s own home no matter where it is located; may it be in the urban neighborhoods or in the countryside.  Today, she promotes backyard farming through Lotus Pod, which she hopes will become the vessel that will spread her message across. 
“We started our "backyard" farm as an experiment to grow our own veggies – the one we wanted to have most was arugula. It has grown from that single plot to a few more now.  Our list now includes mushrooms. We think it would be great for everyone to do backyard farming.  On the farm, we have a row of veggies growing in two liter bottles of coke just to demonstrate that you can grow your own veggies! During our agri-tours. Dr. Lilian Patena from UPLB is the one that teaches us how to become backyard farmers“

Encompassing the Lotus Pod are numerous fancy corners that summons picturesque views conveyed by its wide open green spaces and with the backdrop of Mount Banahaw providing additional romantic vibe, the farm has opened the place to hold various events such as wedding receptions, pre-nuptial photo-shoots and intimate lunches and dinners.  CheChe Lazaro proudly states. 
“We have only recently opened it up to events.  Our first event was a beautiful wedding in March. It was a garden wedding ceremony where the bridal couple did everything themselves from building a little altar to lighting up the reception area with strings of bulbs that crisscrossed the open-air reception area.”

In charge of the Wedding and Event Catering Services is multi-awarded Chef Ariel Manuel of the popular fine dining restaurant Lolo's Dad. He brings along a wealth of experience creating sumptuous dishes in the kitchens of The Westin Philippine Plaza, Mandarin Oriental Manila, Makati Shangri-La, Peninsula Manla just to name a few, to the fine al fresco luncheon setting of Lotus Pod. Wellness enthusiasts will gleam in delight to learn that Lotus Pod Farm also provide an ideal setting for Yoga aficionados as well as ‘Agri-tours’ for those who want to learn more about organic farming and the basics of vegetable and fruits cultivation. Dr. Lilian Patena of UP Los Banos lends her expertise as she explain the concepts of organic farming divided in three parts; tissue culture, hydroponics and vermin-composting. 


As spectacular as the surrounding of Lotus Pod, its promise does not remain singularly attached to its visual aesthetics, rather it hinges on the promise and advocacy it promotes which are; healthy living, backyard farming and self-sustainability that can become a model for communities looking for ways to harvest food for themselves without having to rely on the rising cost of farm products from the groceries.


I asked CheChe Lazaro how she compare probing the fertile soil of her farm to her career as a maverick journalist examining issues of national concern. 
“It is so fulfilling in other ways. I love the idea of putting things together---much like putting a story together. There are so many elements that come into play in both careers...For Lotus Pod, which means deciding where to plant trees, shrubs, flowering plants.  What veggies to grow, where and how to get better yields. It was a big challenge when we were deciding to open Lotus Pod as an event place.  It took some time to get to that point.  When we did decide to give it a try, we then had to think about how to make it more "friendly" for events.  We had to design bathrooms, decide on the style, and what kind of events we would be available for“

In the words of one of organic farming’s leading influencer; Masanobu Fukuoka “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” Indeed, because as we discover the many great benefits of farming, we also progress as human beings in making good use of tapping the wealth of our natural environment. As CheChe Lazaro retains wearing her journalistic hat, she switches on to a burgeoning passion, that presents us this time, a story worthy of replication—so it can help us achieve our own ‘Bahay Kubo na ang tanim ay sari sari’ right in our own backyards. 

Contact details:
Lotus Pod at Bay, Laguna
Please call or text 0917 878 9103 to ask for the specific address and direction.
Website:  https://www.facebook.com/lotuspodph / http://www.lotuspodph.com/

*This article appeared in the April 3, 2016 issue of Manila Bulletin's Lifetyle pages* 

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