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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
Lake Garda, The Dolomites, & Cinque Terre: A Personal Look At Northern Italy

I fell in love with Italy at first visit. I was with my family at 14 years young. It was my first time in Europe, as well as my first time meeting my extended Italian family.

Although it was a strange place, it immediately felt like home. My family and I went to Italy again four years later, this time choosing a more adventurous route: in 10 days, we traveled to Lake Garda, the Dolomites, Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, and Turin. The trip, though short, had its fair share of Italian adventures that stand out in my mind and might prepare you for magic you’ll experience should you decide to venture around Northern Italy yourself. 

Lake Garda

(Italy’s largest, lake located in the Veneto region of northern Italy)d77646_e4aa9045c58d4ff29e6585d38f6602a3

Upon arriving at Malpensa Airport in Milan, my dad was not thrilled to find that there were only manual cars left to rent. He tried his best, but the car jerked its way hazardously out of the airport and on to the autostrada towards Malcesine, a town on the eastern shore of Lake Garda.

Tourist mistake number one: trusting GPS.

We put our destination into the car’s built-in GPS so as to take the easiest and quickest route to Malcesine. Before long, we were winding around switchbacks in the mountains, with no idea where we were going.

“Turn around when possible,” the robotic GPS voice instructed us as we lurched down a narrow road with a mountain to our right and a cliff to our left.

We ended up turning down a steep side road that led us right to the edge of a cliff. There was no way to turn the car around, so my dad put it in reverse and backed all the way up the narrow dirt path back to the road we had been on before.

Back on the road, we were able to backtrack, get directions, and finally found our way to Malcesine.

The concierge at our hotel laughed when we told him our story, and advised us not to rely on the GPS. We didn’t get lost again for the rest of the trip.

The Dolomites

(A mountain range located in the South Tyrol region of Italy)

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When I was very young, I came across a puzzle in a toy store of an image of South Tyrol, Italy: a village nestled among lush, green fields and majestic mountains set against a piercingly blue sky. The picture was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and I begged my mom to buy it for me. She did, and I made it my goal to someday visit this magical place.

Sure enough, South Tyrol was on our itinerary in 2014. We stayed in a small town called Castelrotto, at the base of the Alpe di Siusi mountain range.

The day when we finally journeyed up to the mountain trails felt unreal. This was the moment I had been waiting for my entire life… but when we got up to the mountains, there was a terrible storm. I was heartbroken; up until then, we had had beautiful weather wherever we went. We were forced to wait inside with no idea of when, or if, the skies would clear up.

After an hour, the thunder had subsided, but it continued to rain. We decided to go out and bear the bad weather. My dad joked that as soon as we bought ponchos to wear, the rain would stop. Like a little miracle, as soon as we stepped outside geared up in our plastic ponchos, the rain stopped.

Slowly, the clouds parted. The sky brightened as we made our way along the trail, until we finally saw blue sky and felt the sun.

How surreal it felt when I looked at the jagged cliffs surrounding me is incomparable to anything I have ever experienced before. I stood in the place on my puzzle, the place I had been dreaming about for years. The view in reality took my breath away.

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I wanted to capture the moment in my mind forever. It seemed that no matter how long we stayed among the Dolomites, I couldn’t absorb their full effect. It was overwhelming, yet one of the most gripping moments of my life.

I left feeling a bit unfulfilled, and then disappointed that I felt that way. I wished that we had been able to stay longer and see more of the mountains. I later realized that the disappointment translated into an even greater desire to see more of the mountains, and I knew that I would go back someday.

Cinque Terre

(Five fishing villages located on the coast of the Italian Riviera)

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Before we left for Italy, we learned that a must-do in Cinque Terre is to hike through all five of the villages. We were also told to wear our bathing suits so that we could stop along the way for a dip in the ocean (and a good seafood dish, once our clothes were back on). Since we weren’t experienced hikers, we were happy to hear that it would be more of a leisurely stroll.

So we put on our best bikinis and swim trunks, slipped on sandals (and my mom her fanny pack in true tourist fashion), and started on the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza. About an hour later, we were barely inching along the narrow, rocky cliff side path, wondering when the leisure would start. (We learned later that this trail was the most difficult to hike.)

When we finally arrived in Vernazza two hours later and drenched in sweat, we debated whether to continue on our “hike” through the remaining three towns. We decided to relax for a bit on the beach before making our next move.

The water was a vibrant blue, glistening under the sun. I jumped in. The further I swam, the more at peace I felt. I listened to the waves crashing against the rocks, mingled with the faraway voices of beachgoers. Somewhere above, a bird called. I felt as if nothing could ever dull the blissful spirit that Vernazza had sparked in me.

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Just then, I felt a searing pain in my leg. I screamed.

I didn’t see the jellyfish. I could only focus on the immense pain that was shooting up and down my right leg as I swam away.

Panicking, I managed to get to shore where my parents and brother met me and walked with me to find a farmacia. My leg was still on fire, but I couldn’t help laughing about the situation. Much to all of our disappointment, we had to give up hiking the rest of the way.

A couple days later, when we met up with family in Turin, we told them the story. “Ah, medusa,” one of my cousins said. She laughed when I commented how ugly the remnant of the sting was. Smiling, she told me, “È il tuo segno di Italia.” It is your mark of Italy.

Each of these adventures have become special memories for me, and I look forward to the next time I explore and learn more of the country I love. I have been dreaming about seeing the world since I was a child, but this trip to Italy helped me see that I can change “dreaming” into “doing.”

 

About Alexandra

d77646_2359e37e471a4c00929ccb79668ef572Alex is a student of English, Journalism, and Italian at the University of Delaware, and is the Editorial Coordinator of The Traveler’s Mindset. She is a lover of books, food, and adventure, and thrives in environments that force her to journey out of her comfort zones. Ever since her first trip to Italy when she was 14, she has been set on exploring the world and (someday soon) living abroad. In her free time she enjoys playing the piano, meditating, and spending time with the people she loves.

January 30, 2016