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Experience The Philippines “Organically” At Happy House Farm

TM: What is Happy House Farm’s purpose?

David: The purpose of the Happy House is to act as an education center focused on enhancing human potential, as well as a special home for ourselves.

Right now we are in the early stages of development. We are creating all the infrastructure, so not a lot can be seen apart from two buildings—the Little Happy House (our home plus a self-contained guest house attached) and the Happy House (self-contained guest space). There is also a ‘Big’ Happy House on the property plans!

Creating all the infrastructure from nothing, in an environment with limited water resources is challenging. Even after four years of hard work, we still do not have tap water, but we now have more than sufficient water, which is a huge blessing.

By early 2017, we will have the final pieces of our water infrastructure in place and will have abundant running water to all parts of the property, in an area that, on average, goes seven months without rainfall each year.

How did it get started?

It started with the focus of being our private home, but little did we know at the time that it would evolve into something much bigger.

When we purchased the property four years ago, we were looking to create a “getaway” space for ourselves. At the time, we were focused on running a busy SME business with a staff of 40 employees out of Singapore, Manila, and Baguio City.

Two years ago, our previously successful business ran into massive challenges and we were finally forced to close it down, which left us with “nothing” to do! The challenge was that we had lost our major cash flow. We were left with very little except the land, a Mac computer, and our very simple home (the Little Happy House) that was built in two weeks when we were soon to be homeless.

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Our ‘loss’ was the start of something so new, that for a while we did not know where we could take it. For a year we just focused on survival, with little or no income to expand the farm.

After a year, a close friend offered to ‘give us a hand-up’ (in their words) with a loan. They told us to put together a proposal, and they would see how they could help. I created a ‘big brush stroke’ proposal that would need two million Pesos to implement—not a massive amount in Western terms, but still over 44,000 USD.

Our friend was so polite, and said they were looking at something that we could easily afford to repay! It was then that we got a lot more focused and looked at what we already had and what we could easily create.

We already had the foundations for the Happy House, so we ran with a proposal to create a temporary building for those foundations that could accommodate eight people with lots of space.

Our friend confirmed our focus by giving us 300,000 pesos in cash the very next day to do the upgrade. We were ‘off and running’. Six weeks later, we had the Happy House all ready to receive guests. Since then, it has accommodated over 200 special people from all over the world.

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What kinds of travelers normally stay at Happy House Farm? What types of programs do you offer to people?

Most of our early guests were overseas travelers who were looking for a different experience. They came and helped on projects. Our initial guests did not pay anything and contributed on a 100 percent work-exchange basis, but this was not sustainable for us because we needed cash to expand the project and to survive.

We implemented a nominal contribution to cover food and accommodation, and it worked as a win-win for everyone. At times we would have seven or more people staying and helping out.

At the beginning we tried to run workshops and training courses, but with our location being a little out of the way, we were not successful in attracting local Filipinos. We let things go for a while until we could expand our infrastructure. Right now, we are in ‘trial-and-error’ mode, trying out different ideas to see what creates attraction.

The long-term vision is to become an international destination for people who want to focus on enhancing their human potential, but right now we do not have all the pieces of the puzzle in place to allow for this to happen.

For the time being, we are building our overseas network of teachers, who in the future will be excited to come here when the time is right. We continue to focus on infrastructure, beautification, and local integration (with local support projects like Billy and Be Proud).

The majority of our visitors are still travelers that come from Europe and North America. On average, around 40 percent come from North America, 20 percent from France, and the rest from other European countries and Australiasia. We receive most of our guests from online websites like Workaway, HelpX, and WWOOF.

We recently joined AirBNB, and have received quite a few local Filipino people as guests for the weekend who want to experience something very different.

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Why is organic farming important, specifically in the Philippines?

To be honest, Organic Farming is a secondary focus, but nonetheless a ‘nose-to-the-ground’ focus. Our focus is on eating healthy and natural foods instead of polluted foods. Organic is really a given. It’s not something special for us. It’s all about choosing what feels right, and at the end of the day, why someone would choose unhealthy farming practices over healthy ones.

For overseas visitors, though, organics are VERY important. Here in the Philippines, there is a low understanding on the real benefits of organic agriculture. Overseas, people know the benefits and are attracted to the fact that we’re an organic farm.

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What is most rewarding about Happy House Farm and organic farming?

Watching the bamboo sway in the cool evening breeze after a full day’s work and drinking a cold beer that costs much less than 1 USD!

Life is very simple here in the Philippines. Being a Western person, I find it VERY quiet here at times. And yet I feel deeply nourished as I learn to let go more and more, and deeply enjoy simple things and simple living.

As each day passes, we focus on improving what we have on the farm and bringing the long-term vision more into focus.

 

About David and Carol

d77646_a8ce733ad8884111bff84a75f2a78992David was born in the UK, and has lived in Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, and now the Philippines. He has traveled to Germany, Scotland, England, Ireland, India, Nepal, Australia, Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. He has created and co-created eight companies in five countries over 20 years, and is most proud of Buy1Give1.com. He is now a ‘trainee’ organic rice farmer in the Philippines with Happy House Farm.

Carol was born in the Philippines. She has lived over 15 years in Singapore, and is now back in the Philippines. Her passion is people. She wanted to be a nurse and started the training, but didn’t have enough money to continue her studies. Instead she cared for her six siblings, paying their way through school by working as a domestic support person in Singapore. These days, she is a mother to Kyra, who is still only three years old but loves cooking and caring for our guests.

March 31, 2016
One With Nature: Exploring Madagascar’s Unique Landscape

TM: What makes Madagascar’s nature so special?

Margherita: Madagascar is sometimes called ‘the eighth continent’ because its nature is so unique. The island separated from mainland Africa millions of years ago and nature has since evolved in total isolation. In Madagascar, you’ll find native animals and plants that cannot be found anywhere else, like lemurs, the fossa, lots of geckos, chameleons, and birds.

The country also offers a variety of natural landscapes in a reasonably small area. For instance, following RN 7 between the center and the southwest of the country you’ll cross mountain ranges, rainforests, spiny forests, and even canyons before reaching the stunning tropical beaches near Tulear.

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What is your favorite thing about being among nature in Madagascar?

One of the best things about nature in Madagascar is that you’ll often be alone. The country still sees relatively few tourists and national parks are usually quite big. Most tourists on organized tours only spend a few hours in the morning in national parks, so if you stay the whole day you’ll have the place to yourself!

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What is “ecotourism”? How do you practice it when you travel?

Ecotourism, in my opinion, means paying respect to nature and the communities you visit. Madagascar has a serious garbage problem, so we made sure we didn’t add to it, and even cleaned up a little when we could.

We also decided to travel by public transport to minimize our carbon footprint and stay in close contact with locals. However, public transport is only recommended for experienced travelers, as it’s very uncomfortable and difficult to navigate.

Using a local guide is another way to get in touch with local culture, and learning a little bit of French will definitely help you if you head off on your own.

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How much of a threat is there to Madagascar’s forests? What is being done to help?

The situation of Madagascar’s forests has definitely improved since the 20th century, when it was estimated that over half of the country’s forests had been lost to illegal logging. The country has established a network of national parks. Access is only allowed with a local guide, and rangers patrol the protected areas. Some instances of logging still occur. The system is far from perfect, but at least the first steps are being made.

How does local life and nature intertwine in Madagascar?

The most locals in Madagascar still live in rural areas. Farming is a lot more common than hunting and gathering, although the latter still happens in remote communities. Malagasy (people from Madagascar) believe in spirits, and have fascinating tales and legends to explain the origin of the world and of nature.

They are at ease around nature, and our local guides knew nature in a way that we as Western city dwellers cannot imagine. They knew the name of every animal, every tree, and every shrub. They were able to identify even those that looked identical to us.

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What has been the most profound impact Madagascar has had on you?

Madagascar is a very poor country. Witnessing how corrupt politics halted the development of the country really broke my heart.

Since 2009 there have been a series of coups d’etat in the country and as a result, foreign investment has stopped, tourism has dried out, and the conditions of the local population worsened. Several people rely on tourism to support themselves, and for this reason I recommend either traveling independently or with an operator that gives back to local communities.

Madagascar is a fascinating country with a huge potential in terms of ecotourism. Personally, I hope conditions for locals will improve with the arrival of more tourists.

Picture Credits: The Crowded Planet

About Margherita

d77646_48a0c21a29904be3a4f0f06d83df1a42Margherita is a cat lover and mountain junkie, and the creator of The Crowded Planet, a nature and adventure travel blog. Coffee, sleeping in and eating are some of the things she loves.

March 24, 2016