Why Philippines is one of the Most Pleasant Place to stay in the World- Dr. Mina Gabor

On July 8, 2016 at the Presscon on Philippines’ 4th Farm Tourism Conference at Sofitel, Dr. Mina Gabor, the former Department of Tourism Secretary, now head of International School of Sustainable Tourism (ISST) said that the event is tied up with the UN’s theme this year as Year of the Pulses (Pulses, means dried grains). It aims to give information about farm tourism for all interested individuals to gain new insights on how to start a farm and make it attractive to tourists.

During the open forum, one question raised from the audience was about how much will it cost to start a farm. She said that you can start a simple farm tourism site for less than a million, or at least 500 thousand pesos. Then it’s up to the owner to add extra farm activities to make it sustainable as it drives more income to your farm.

Dr. Gabor also mentioned that the Philippines is the safest and the most pleasant place to stay for tourists. To find out why, here’s our quick interview with her.

Farmers Notebook: You have mentioned earlier that Philippines is the most pleasant place to stay, why is that?

Dr. Mina Gabor: Well, right now, credit to the last administration, we’re able to create an image of a good place for investment and a good place to do business. Business will not go to a place that is not pleasant. So either you have good tourism and business comes after, or good business and then tourism comes after. That means the place is conducive. Besides, there is no country right now in the world that is not menaced by anybody. Right now, you cannot say this country is secure, or this country is not secure. Even the most secure country, nagugulat na lang sila bigla (they were surprised all of a sudden) something happened.

Right now, I think tanggap ng mga tao (people now has accepted) that food security is not present in anyone – is not an inclusivity in any country. That means we have to be prepared. And as good travelers, we should know where to go and when to go. When you are there, you should know which places can you go, and that is basic travel planning.

What I am saying, is that the places you should avoid, you should not go. So Luzon and Visayas – they are all 90% secure and there’s no problem. So it’s very pleasant to go and is very interesting. Also, the development of farm tourism is very high in these areas right now.

FN: Are we competitive enough in terms of farm tourism and among Asian countries?
MG: A yeah yeah. Very much. O yes!

The most advance farm tourism site now is Taipei (Taiwan), Japan, a little bit of Australia, a lot of North America, a little bit of South America and as much as American Europe, because they were the first to develop farm tourism. Italy is the father of farm tourism in the real sense of the word.

FN: What then is our edge?
MN: Our edge is our natural way of hospitality. Very natural sa atin yon e (That”s very natural to us). While the others… well, I traveled ASEAN recently. Hospitable din naman sila (they are also hospitable). Kaya lang sa atin, ang hospitality natin is open arms, parang no limit (Thing is, our hospitality is open arms and almost without limits). Sa kanila ang hospitality ay di ka basta makakarating sa bahay nila (Hospitality for them means you can’t easily get access into their own homes). They are very good but not open to anybody. Sa atin kasi sa mga bahay, they really let us go in; so, all the way talaga (Its really an all the way thing, because to us, we really make our homes readily accessible to them).

Filipinos are known for being hospitable and that’s one sure advantage. Its also an assurance that anyone can visit the Philippines not only for its beautiful beaches but also its developing farm tourism sites including a number of organic farms around the country.

Health Benefits of Stevia and How to Grow this Herb

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) plant

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) plant (Photo: Dennis Rito)

Last Saturday, I encountered someone interested about stevia. He bought the growing kit with a stevia plant we are selling  at the 6th International Ayurveda Convention at Shaw Mall, Mandaluyong City. A number of questions from him challenged me. I grow stevia myself from cuttings and propagating them is also quite a challenge; and with that,  I felt the need to share these bits of information about stevia with the rest of you.

What is Stevia?

Stevia (Stevia Rebudiana) is a sweet-leaf, perennial herb that has originated in South America.

It is 40 times sweeter than artificial sweeteners.

Other common names:honey leaf plant, sweet chrysanthemum, sweetleaf stevia, sugarleaf…etc.

What makes Stevia sweet?

It contains several glycoside compounds. These are the stevioside, steviolbioside, rebaudiosides A-E, and dulcoside.

How the taste is like?

Stevia has a mild, bitter, licorice-flavored aftertaste.(Rodales Organic Life)

Is Stevia just a plain sweetener?

No, it has many health benefits too. While it contains no calories and carbohydrates, it also helps control blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure.

Stevia can also reduce the risk of Pancreatic cancer by 23% according to a study Source: American Journal of Epidemiology.

Stevia plant has also many sterols and antioxidant compounds like triterpenes, flavonoids, and tannins.

How Stevia is used?

You can sweeten your drinks by using fresh leaves, or dried leaves.

For fresh leaves, take a three to five leaves, wash them clean, and add them  to your morning hot drinks as your natural sweetener. While first taste test for some find it slightly different with a bitter after taste, for me I like its sweet taste blended with fresh tarragon leaves on my coffee.

With dried leaves, it should be crushed finely or blended. Steep them in your hot cup of drinks or on a tea pot. You may drain the leaves to enjoy your naturally-sweetened drinks.

It can also be used in the form of an extract. I have no experience doing this yet. Maybe I can share it with you in the future once I get my hands on it.

Growing Stevia

Where to grow Stevia?

Well-drained plots or pots will do.

What soil Stevia plant needs?

It needs sandy loam soil and grows best on soil that ranges from 6.7 to 7.2 pH.

What part of Stevia to grow and how?

Stevia is grown commonly from cuttings. It can also grow from seeds.

Stevia is quite challenging to grow compared to basil and other herbs. It needs extra effort and care to grow them and to last it longer.

Here are the things to consider when growing them through cuttings:

Select the right cuttings. Stem must not be too old nor too young. The color of the stem must not be brown; best is brownish green.

Cut that part of the stem and plant at least two of them in a pot with the soil and vermicast.

Place them in a shaded area when newly planted in pots. Avoid moving them from one place to another si as not to disturb them from rooting.

If indoor, you can position it near the window or any area where there is sunlight coming in. It is ok to expose them to moderate sun two weeks after when it has already rooted. During hot summer, it favors a shady area. Water it regularly, seeing it does not dry out of moisture.

If you need to grow from seeds, you have to sow them on any seed germinating soil medium. You can sow them on seed trays or if you want it cheaper, paper cups, or egg trays will do. Place them under the shady area. Use spray when watering them. After a week or two, seeds should spring to life. Fertilize them with vermicasts; or you can also use organic inputs like Fermented Fish Amino Acid once a week to aid their growth.

Once fully grown, stevia plant can reach 16 inches to 24 inches in height depending on the soil used, the climate, and how you take care of it. Just pay attention to the branches when moving them, they are surprisingly brittle! They can break easily leaving them with few leaves. That for sure you don’t want to happen to your stevia plant!

How many stevia should we plant for a year supply of dried leaves?

It depends on how much you use and how often you use it. But more or less, 3-5 garden pots of stevia is commonly recommended.

That’s all folks for now.

Happy planting!

On the uses of stevia, you can read it via a previous article “Vegetable Orange Salad: A Natural Medicine Recipe


Visiting the Demo Farm of Mr. Esemple in Zambales – the 66 year-old Organic Farming Specialist

It’s been a while since I left this blog on a hiatus that it needs a lift and so, here we are bouncing back again to life with our farm adventure.

Entrance to the Demo Farm

Entrance to the Demo Farm

It was already late in the afternoon when Dennis and I get into the Victory Liner bus bound to Iba, Zambales. It was a 4 – hour trip from Caloocan Bus Terminal and the moment we reached Castillejos Market, it was already dark. Kuya Mario, a therapist who was staying and learning from Mr. Esemple, fetched us.

At less than 30 minute-tricycle ride, we were already in the farm. Paving our way in the gleam of the farm house’ lights, farm dogs barked at us but stopped soon after Kuya Mario asked them to. So, we found ourselves inside the house shaking hands with Mario’s wife who would give me an excellent massage later, and Mr. Esemple’s nephew who was just a new trainee under his supervision. After our simple dinner of fried fish, they showed us the room where Dennis and I can have our night’s rest.

Related: Exploring Finca Verde: The Farm of Organic Greens and Herbs of Dos Mestizos

The next morning, Mr. Esemple who also came a night before and a few hours later than us, waste no time with his gardening routine and showed us around. As lively music filled the air around his farm and having traveled alone from Caloocan, he showed no signs of lethargy. At almost 67, Mr Esemple still tills the soil and hauls his crops. Whenever he is in the farm, he feels rejuvenated. For him, this place is a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city life.

The gate’s sign were unnoticed the night we arrived at the farm as it was just too dark to notice it. Finally, this is it…


Something peculiar about it because the Filipino word PERA means money but Mr. Esemple told us that PERA is like his hidden treasure and it’s not all about money. The primary purpose of his farm is for relaxation and rejuvenation as it provides him positive energy, thus the name PERA which obviously stands for Positive Energy Recharging Area – a genius idea.

Related: The Unlikely Educational Farm Tour

He would always give credit to his Creator for whatever he has in his farm and his family as he quipped, “Health is Wealth”; and when we also once asked him if he doesn’t grow tired every time he travels back and forth from Caloocan to Zambales, his quick answer was, “Ah kay God, hindi ka malo-lowbatt!” (“With God You can never be low batt’ or “With God, you won’t run out of energy”).

Around the Farm

Moving around the farm, Mr. Esemple showed us his herbal garden. He introduced to us his several medicinal plants and their health benefits. I saw cat’s whiskers, potted Gotu kola (Centella asiatica), and Serpentina among others.

I spotted a lush growing Holy Basil also flowering in his mini forest garden. This herb can cure many ailments and in India it is sacred and is considered as an elixir of life.

Holy Basil

Holy Basil

Mr. Esemple surprised me when he asked me to cook a veggie dish and he said that it’s really good if we can have at least ten varieties of vegetables picked right from his food farm. I said okay but was nervous. When was the last time I cooked veggies of several varieties? I couldn’t remember any. No choice but to try and off we go for a day’s harvest. He handed me a pair of scissors and a huge and round blue plastic food cover to place all our day’s pickings.

 With Mr. Esemple picking Jango chilies from his Forest Garden

With Mr. Esemple picking Jango chilies from his Forest Garden

I started my way with Jango and siling labuyo, picked some eggplants, chives, talinum, sweet potatoe tops, white corn, upland kangkong, ampalaya, malunggay, saluyot, and lemon grass.

Here’s some of our harvest tucked inside this deep stainless basin. I have had a picking spree of the veggies I could find around the farm and it totalled to more than ten varieties!

Veggies tucked into this deep basin

Veggies tucked into this deep basin

These veggies were to go with some mushrooms, and some fresh fish from a nearby market we went to that morning after the lecture with the man of the farm.


Here’s the final verdict. The vegetables and its soup tasted good without any seasonings of some sort. Mushrooms and glutinous corn kernels did the trick for this fresh and nutritious mixed veggie dish. This is commonly known as “Laswa” – a simple Visayan dish without the corn and lemon grass. Thanks to Mario’s wife who did most of the preparation and the cooking.


Learning More about Organic Farming with Mr. Esemple

We also have a quick overview of What Organic Agriculture is all about, the Organic farming practices, the components of an organic farm, and about the nature and varieties of seeds and how to sow them.



There’s one thing I am not sure of when he asked our opinion about peanuts whether it is a fruit or a root crop. Thinking that root crops are always an underground specie, I thought it as a root crop. I was wrong. It’s a fruit and I got to believe him, he is an Agronomist after all. Another new thing for me is about how the corn flowers pollinate the corn’s ears and how are they different from other flowers.

Related: 15 Things I learned from Organic and Natural Farming Seminar at Herbana Farm

Farming with Vermi

After a short lecture and some hands on demo about some plants, Mr. Esemple showed us his vermi plots and the lecture continued with some fun. We learned from him that he was the first to spearhead Negros Nine Foundation’s Farm on Vermiculture in year 80’s.

He showed us how to sieve the vermicastings once it’s ready. Another tip to start a vermiculture project is to get all your feeds or what we call substrates ready for composting, that way, you can ensure enough food for the worms otherwise, worms will escape leaving your vermi bed empty.

After spending a night and a day at Mr. Esemple’s farm, we felt like not leaving the place for its fresh air, the relaxing atmosphere and the refreshing scenery of the mountains seen not far from the farm’s back door. What also seemed not enough for me, as I considered him as a think-tank of farming info, was the knowledge that he would be more than willing to impart to us had we not need to go back to our own turf back in the city.

I said this because there’s a lot more to learn from him like how to plant crops like corn that would provide your family with food the whole year round. The actual exposure in doing the relay and staggering method in planting corn is what I’d been looking forward to try later on. I am grateful though we learned new things about farming practices and that inspired me again to grow my own food whenever and wherever possible.

We left the place in the afternoon and it seemed our stay was not enough to explore more around the farm with Mr. Esemple who never had a dull moment to be with and to learn from.

Related: Q&A with Gil Carandang

Let us feature your farm on Farmers Notebook Farm Visit Series! Do send us an email via farmersnotebook(at)gmail(dot)com or contact form and we hope our next post is all about your farm!

Get a chance to learn from Mr. Esemple during the Grow Your Own Food Seminar on December 5, 2015, Saturday. Please click the image below for details. We hope to see you there. Thank you!

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Dinimonyohang Santol: The Devilish Hot Santol Recipe

Dinimonyong Santol

Wondered why its called Dinimonyohang Santol?

Gigi Morris brought this spicy hot dish at the Chilli Heads Fest in Quezon City early this month. While Bobby, Gigi’s son, named it “Devil Santol” ( a mock of another family recipe called Deviled Egg); one of the member of the Chili Heads Philippines coined it “Dinimonyohang Santol”. It was just a part of the fun and sometimes, chili is also called “demonyo” by some of the chili lovers.

This recipe is famous in the Bicol region and chili is one of the ingredients which make the dish appetizing.

Gigi said: ”It was the “devilish hot” version of our otherwise zesty and spicy santol. That dish is so popular – last week alone, we served them at 4 different events and they are always the bestseller!

I am not a chef – my background is product development in fashion design. Now that I am a farm owner – that has been my approach in cooking. What is available? Then create something. The santol though has been a family recipe – being from Bicol, as long as there is coconut milk. It is so abundant at this time of the year – so why not use it up?”

In remembrance of her brother Vannie, who would cook this Bicolano dish for their family when he was still alive, she included the recipe in their cookbook, “What Happens When the Farmers Meet the Chefs.”

Here is the recipe:

Ginataang Santol (A.K.A. Devil Santol or Dinimonyohang Santol) with Pork


1 kilo santol
1/2 kilo pork; cut into small cubes
2 cups coconut milk ( second extract)
1 cup coconut milk (1st extract or kakang gata)
1 medium onion; peeled and sliced
1 cup green djanggo sili; sliced diagonally
Salt and pepper
1tbsp bagoong
3 cloves of garlic; minced


  1. Wash santol, peel and cut into halves, and remove seeds.
  2. Blanch santol in hot boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Plunge into iced water then drain.
  3. Grate santol using cheese grater or mandoline; squeeze the juice out, and set aside.
  4. In a deep pan, pour the second extract of coconut milk; add pork, onion, bagoong and garlic. Bring to boil, stir and cook for few minutes.
  5. Add the grated santol and green djanggo sili. Cook until done and once liquid has almost evaporated.
  6. Add the first extract of coconut milk, simmer for few minutes.
  7. Serve hot with steamed rice.

Food Finds: Hot Brands and Products at the Chilli Heads Philippines Fest 2015


The Chilliheads Philippines Fest’ second annual event was held last July 4-5, 2015 at Green Daisy Organic – a restaurant owned by Daisy Langenegger at #20 Maginhawa St., UP Village, Quezon City. 

This event showcased interesting products that also exhibited Filipino ingenuity and sense of humor. I could not help but smile as I find some hot brands interesting and amusing at the same time.

Here they are:

A Brief Journey to Uranus by Chillippines


Photo: Dennis dela Paz

“A Brief Journey to Uranus” could stir you to think harder and test your IQ. Dare to figure it out what that means. Clue? Just separate the word Uranus into two and read the label again:)

This super hot chilli sauce of Dennis dela Paz is a medley of ten chillies: Carolina Reapers, Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, Douglah 7 Pot, Chaguanas 7 Pot, Fatalii, Orange Habanero, Bishops Crown, Yellow/Red Congo, Yellow 7 Pot and Sweet Banana Peppers.

Fermented from a special vinegar and other spices, they’re good on anything grilled or fried; or anything you can spice up like pizza, salads, tacos, fajitas, hamburgers etc.

Bad Boy Tikboy Chili Sauce Products

Bad Boy Tikboy

Here are Bad Boy Tikboy’s products with names that were not bad at all.

  • Jamaican Me Crazy ingredients include fiery hot Scotch Bonnet chili peppers and fresh passion fruits for a sweet finish.
  • Yellow Bastard is a hot concoction of Yellow Habanero chili peppers, mustard & turmeric.
  • Garapal (Kape and Tsokolate)- the winner of the Labuyo category sauce competition.

Then here are the two brands that calls for a family: Hot Papa, and Hot Mama. I was thinking, what about Hot Baby or Hot Babe? But wait, there is one Spicy Honey too!

Hot Papa Chili Salsa

Hot Papa

The brand Hot Papa was coined by Tony Meloto as a tribute to the farmers. The chili salsa above is a delicious match for tortillas.

Hot Mama Hot Sauce

Hot Mama

Hot Momma Hot Sauce won 1st Prize – Single Variety Hot Sauce competition during the event.

Spicy Honey by Top Rack

Top Rack

A good pairing to almost anything, with vinegar and chilies it could be an immune boosting powerhouse.

I spotted some products that are worth posting here. This one has a humanitarian background.

Chili Pinoy’s Veggie Sauce and Chili Garlic Spread

Chili Pinoy

Veggi Sauce and Chili Garlic Spread are produced by a group of achievers with disabilities of “Mga May Kapansanang Kaagapay sa Pag-unlad (KAUNLAD) Inc. Of Caloocan-an NGO. Buying their products means helping them live better lives.

Contact KAUNLAD, Inc at 0929-8560811/ 0929-3796026

Chili Asylum

Chili Asylum

Chili Asylum’s wide selection of Homegrown & Homemade Chilis & Salsa on display during the event.

Jola Special Chili Sauce


Josefina C. Lacdao of Multi Cropping Agri Farm Bgy. San Isidro, Rosario Batangas

Dielle‘s Chilli Wines

Dielles Chili Wine

And if you need a pleasant whip for your throat, here are the Dielle’s Chili Wines.

Unique Seeds

Unique Seeds

Mr. Ponchit Enrile’s hot varieties of chili pods and seeds for sale was a crowd’s favorite. The seeds were hybrid but not GMOs.

So there! And before we finally left the place, we noticed a cupcake-like santol dish of Gigi Morris.

Fascinated with its dainty appearance, I asked her what it was. She turned to me chuckling: “Someone calls it Dinimonyohang Santol.

I have had some good laughs with them and that has made my day.