March 7, 2007

The Salad Bowl of the Philippines

The 'main' greenhouse

The mere mention of Baguio triggers my sensory memory. Somehow during my past trips to Baguio since my childhood, my brain had subconsciously programmed into my memory every thing about this city that toyed with all my senses. The beautiful pine trees and their distinctive fragrance, the gorgeous mountain-top views, the taste of sweet fresh strawberries mashed with cream/milk and sugar (my favorite way to eat strawberries as a child), the sound of horses hooves and my the happy squeals of children astride them, and of course the feel of the crisp cool mountain air that lowlanders like us are deprived of.

what's left of the sweet strawberries after picking

It was nice to come back to all that after so much time away and be able to top-up those memories for later enjoyment. If you can look past the newly-opened SM mall, you'll see that not much has really changed. All the elements that make it the summer capital of the Philippines are still there.

And whenever I come to Baguio, I am a woman on a mission. That is, to bring home the best lettuce, broccoli and strawberries, among other things. Benguet, the province that surrounds Baguio and La Trinidad, is after all the Salad Bowl of the Philippines. It is also called Strawberry Country as this is the only place in the entire country where strawberries thrive.

look at all that lettuce! Can you guess what I'll be taking to the office for lunch everyday this week?

I was quite happy to make my purchases at the well-stocked city market but I was beyond delighted when we were invited to pick our produce from an organic farm in La Trinidad! My friend's lovely aunt arranged it all for us.

So midday on Saturday, we were accompanied by Sister Josephine from St. Louis University to the Benguet State University organic farm, just about 2-3 kms. away in La Trinidad. She regularly takes her students on field trips there so she was our 'ticket' to this private farm. She explained that what makes this farm unique is that spring water is used for irrigation, and not recycled canal water as other farms purportedly use. Now, I don't know about you, but anything a nun tells me I am inclined to believe.

curly leaf parsley

Fifteen minutes later, we turned into an unmarked dirt road and we passed several greenhouses to our left. She explained that inside those greenhouses was where experimental farming was being conducted. We arrived at what looked like the main greenhouse as it appeared to be the biggest of them all. Johnny, the resident farmhand, was expecting us. With knife in hand, ready to hack away, he led us into the greenhouse where row upon row of the most vivid shades of green greeted us.

Top row: broccoli and red beets
Bottom: cherry tomatoes and bell peppers

I ogled the broccoli plants, I had never seen a broccoli plant before. At first I didn't know what they were, these huge blue-green leaves. It was only when I bent and peered into the center did I see the familiar little head hidden among the leaves. Such a big plant that takes up so much precious fertile space, for such a small harvest. I asked if the leaves were edible. Nope, Johnny shook his head, they're used for compost. Interesting. No wonder they command quite a hefty price.

There were cherry tomatoes on the vine, gorgeous beds of parsley, red and green bell peppers hanging from their stems like shiny ornaments on a short and wide christmas tree, various lettuce varieties such as leaf and romaine, and of course the strawberries. Those elusive (to us lowlanders) little red gems that cost an eye once transported to Manila. We each bought 5 kgs of strawberries (P60/kg), 2 kgs of broccoli and about 8 kgs total of the other vegetables (all for P50/$1 per kg each) to be divided among ourselves. Now that's what I call a sweet deal.

5 kgs of strawberries for only P 300 ($6)!

Before we headed back though, we made a quick detour to the La Trinidad strawberry fields (pictures below) to have a look-see. This is obviously a popular tourist attraction because we were barely out of the car when we were hounded by peddlers. It was a beautiful day for picking strawberries, and if we didn't have to go back to meet the guys for lunch I would have loved to go out there and get my hands dirty.

for sale: strawberry wine & strawberry jam
the ubiquitous walis (grass broom)


Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Such gorgeous lettuces, and in such a beautiful location. How lucky you were to be able to pick at the organic farm! Now you must tell us what you're doing with all of these wonderful greens!

SeƱor Enrique said...

Lettuce, broccoli and strawberries -- I love them all!

Great pics!

christine said...

Hi Lydia, I've already used up most of the harvest (had to , especially the lettuce, because they barely made the trip down back to Manila). The next few posts will be short accounts of how I used them. :)

Hi Eric, thanks! I love them too. Strawberries are my 2nd favorite fruit in the world (after mangoes) and broccoli is right up there with sweet potato as my fave. :)

Pille said...

These are some wonderful lettuces & vegetables indeed! I've just ordered a huge parcel of various seeds (vegetables, lettuces, herbs), so I'll be trying my hand in gardening this summer:)

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous is all I can say. Seeing all that is making me even more excited to begin planting a garden this year. With any luck I'll have something other than recipes to post in the future.

AJEYA RAO said...

Too good....Never seen a strawbeerry before its plucked.

christine said...

Pille, that's wonderful! You're going to be living my dream. :) I look forward to summer postings about your garden.

Rowena, you too?! You're all making me jealous. :) How I wish that was my backyard I was walking around in hehe. A girl can dream, someday someday. :)

Hi Ajeya! That was a first for me. I learned quite a bit during the trip out to the farm like why it's covered in plastic, and how they used to use straw in the past. Hmm maybe that's why they're called such? Now there's a thought. :)