A Trip to Bountiful Valley

The Bountiful Valley

“Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life” --- Wayne Dyer

In Pursuit of Passion

Nestled at the foot of Mount Banahaw is a place where one can unwind and leave the worries of the world behind. Upon arrival, it beckons weary souls in the workplace for rest and respite.

The Bangkong Kahoy Valley Nature Retreat & Field Study Center in Dolores, Quezon (2 hours travel time from Metro Manila) is a must travel destination for trekkers who seek to commune and be one with nature.

We were greeted by Mr. Dion Pullan, the amiable caretaker of the retreat center. Dion is quick to say that he is the “caretaker” because he likes to think of himself as an environmentalist---by going natural and all organic, he is taking care of the environment. Prior to his farming venture and the establishment of Bangkong Kahoy (or BK), Dion was an OFW for 21 years having worked and lived in Australia. He recalls being encouraged by his kids to go after what he is passionate about: Farming. He first started with 20 staff to help him tend and till his farmland to which have now grown to 300.

His sole purpose of putting up the retreat center boasting a 21 hectare farmland is to protect and nurture the environment and to generate income among the communities. He also aims for a pesticide-free farm in his neighboring community since he started by going organic and has so far gave him tremendous benefit. His fervent desire is to also make Mt. Banahaw (aka “Bulkan de Agua”) pesticide-free because it is the surrounding municipalities’ and nearby cities’ source of potable water.

Understandably, his aversion to the traditional way of farming is apparent because it is inclined to using pesticides and other chemical-based products. To date, Bangkong Kahoy organically grows upland vegetables like cabbage, lettuce, carrots, radish, and kale.

Dion relishes the idea of BK as a field study center because it is through immersion that visitors from all walks of life can learn how our ecosystem works. Dating back from the area’s humble beginnings, it started as a camping site then later on expanded with the inclusion of cottages and lodgings.

Meanwhile, his persistence paid off in jumpstarting his mushroom production with an ample P250,000 capital. His failed attempts did not deter him from going what he has in mind: to make mushrooms available and affordable to everybody. Dion’s oyster mushroom selling price ranges from P160-P200. He fervently recommends mushroom to be part of one’s diet since it has lots of vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants. (Fast Fact: 90% of the mushrooms we use in our restaurants and hotels are coming from outside of the country. The mushroom industry in the Philippines has lots of potential.) Replete with a laboratory to propagate mushroom seeds, Dion’s oyster mushroom venture is now at least helping 20 families.

He mulled over that Dolores, as a fourth class municipality does not need an industrial factory since the primary problem would be the disposal of waste materials thus would be a contributor to environmental pollution. Dolores in itself is perfect for organic farming. Dion highlights the fact that Dolores should be known for its promising agriculture and eco-tourism industry.

His future endeavor is to come up with an alternative means of living targeted to the youth in his area in addition to farming. He is about to establish a foundation named FRIEND: Foundation for Reliance, Integrity, Education, and the Nurture of Dolores. Dion also wants to put up BK forest for Farmer’s Organization.

Feed ‘em Weeds

Most of the local farmers and those who work for Dion did not know that the “noxious weed” they tried to get rid of shows strong promise as a cash crop. After realizing the potential of the perennial thorny plant on his farm location, he then decided to plant more wild raspberries which are endemic in the area. Ironically, raspberries are closely related to the rose plant family and not strawberries (think of how tomatoes are from the berry family and later on categorized as a fruit).

Upon first seeing it, I thought it was very small for a raspberry because the ones I enjoyed munching overseas were a bit bigger. The saving grace of the wild ones was that they tasted sweeter compared to their commercial counterparts. What was once labeled a problem plant has now seen its potential to be tapped with its bright prospect as a viable cash crop.

According to Wikipedia, there are at least three cultivars of wild raspberries; the yellow, the red and the purple variety. It is packed with rich antioxidant and phytochemicals which are widely known to ward off cancer cell growth and at the same time strengthen our immune system. Wild raspberries also contain anthocyanin, a water-soluble pigment reportedly known to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
The leaves are however not to be ignored since it has anti-inflammatory properties with which Dion liberally brews for a several helping of tea.

To date, Dion’s raspberry farm is close to 4 hectares which can yield 4 tons during its peak season (January to April) and fetches a farm gate price of P400 per kilo. There is however a drawback of the proverbial plant because its shelf life is short. Dion’s solution was involving the LGUs do an income-generating activity by processing his fresh produce into jam, jelly or vinaigrette. Problem averted.

Indeed, a rose (family plant) by any other name would smell (or tastes) as sweet!

Resident Foodie

An hour of casual conversation with Dion is never a bore because he has the gift of gab. Telling compelling stories seem to be part of his repertoire to satisfy inquiring minds and adventurous souls. His facial expressions genuine and the choice of word with which he says at the right time is as arresting and magnetic as his personality.

Surprisingly, there is more than meets the eye in Dion since he is also a foodie. The gastronomic delights we enjoyed during our stay were some of his concoctions after years of effort to keep himself and his family healthy.

Noteworthy treats include fried mushrooms (so tasty with special salt blends), radish salad with a bit mashed salted-eggs, raspberry tea with pandan, and the refreshing wild raspberry shake. I have to say that the latter treat is to die for! It is great for downing a heavy meal consisting meat and whatnot.

“The money is right here”, Dion enthused. He then prodded us to walk with him to show his farming ventures as well as enjoy the mountain view. I was mindfully aware that I was filling my lungs with clean air that moment because back in the city, it’s a different jungle out there.