Maybe there'll be roses again

- Dina Sta. Maria () - June 3, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Can an idea, no matter how good, stay fresh for 25 years? It can, if it grows as well as the produce and goodies that come out of its farm and kitchen.

Gourmet Farms recently marked its 25th anniversary, and it had good reason to celebrate. What started out as a coffee trading business and a weekend farming hobby have grown into one of the most recognizable brands in healthy eating, a pioneer of fresh greens that redefined salad beyond iceberg lettuce and gourmet-to-go that has spawned quite a hot trend.

When we visited Gourmet Farms many years ago – it wasn’t even Gourmet Farms then, but simply Ernest’s (Escaler, the indefatigable Mr. E) place along Aguinaldo Highway, and remember to take the road towards Silang not Tagaytay – it was a modest little kubo where you could have pasta and salad, then drive over to Ernest’s house overlooking Taal with a sloping garden where the roses tried to grow.

These days you can still have pasta and salad – and a whole lot more – in fancy surroundings that include a sanctuary to nourish the soul.

Ernest Escaler and Father Candy at the 25th anniversary party.

The farm has expanded to over 10 hectares, growing a variety of lettuce and other vegetables, plus a selection of herbs – parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, and others that might make a pretty nice song as well (quick: what rhymes with tarragon? or mint?).

There is a farm tour that visitors can sign up for, where you can walk among rows and rows of lush crops, and see the latest in farm technology – two carabaos that pull the old reliable araro (plows), and fat squiggly worms in the vermiculture shed that produces compost to fertilize the crops.

A recent addition is a 60-foot windmill that recycles water. “The water used in washing vegetables is collected in a catchment pond. The windmill, by gravity, brings the water to our fields which use drip irrigation systems,” Ernest the farmhand explains.

A visit to the coffee roasting plant and tea sorting facility is worth the effort. This FSSC 22000 certified (by the SGS for quality and safety) facility is where the coffee that started it all is sorted and roasted and blended and ground and packaged into the six varieties (barako, arabica, espresso, hazelnut, decaf and premium blend) that have become much sought after pasalubongs, as well as the seven variants of herbal teas (ampalaya, banaba, ginger, lagundi, malunggay, sambong and pito-pito) that Gourmet Farms have become famous for.

Reflection and peace at The Sanctuary.

The place smells so good you may not want to continue with the tour, but do go on to the last stop, which is the charming Country Store, a literal treasure trove of Gourmet Farms’ produce, from packaged greens (arugula, romaine, lolo rossa, green ice and more) to other vegetables, from dips, dressings and pasta sauces to the iconic teas and coffees.

Farmer Ernest and his farm elves claim “25 years and still growing,” which is a good thing, because I hear they’re planing to try and grow the roses again..... 

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