The Teaching Farm


When the Roman goddess of agriculture, Ceres, blessed the land with abundance, it seemed that she spent a little more time on the island of Negros. Always renowned for its bountiful blooms and endless fields, much of the Negrense culture is rooted in its plentiful soil. But with development globally progressing at exponential rates, it was only a matter of time before big businesses started swooping in. Farms and pastures became the foundation for bigger highways and megalithic structures to cater to the influx of tourism. Anticipating that this rapid transition would soon be a problem, both Governors of Negros Occidental and Oriental signed a memorandum in 2005 to pursue the vision of being the "Organic Food Bowl of Asia" by empowering farmers with technology and information to meet the demand of this growing niche. This move sought to bring a compromise between progress and preservation, paving the way for the rise of the agri-tourism industry.

Extra care for sensitive plants is helped along by a greenhouse.

Agri-tourism is an industrial fusion between farming and leisurely travel. It establishes farms as tourist attractions with the aim to educate as they accommodate. Aside from providing farmers with a diversified revenue stream and an added platform for selling their produce, the industry also allows them to retain rural lands and preserve cultural traditions. Negros Occidental has been a trailblazer for Western Visayas in this field, with nearly half of the region's accredited agri-tourism sites found here. Among the list is the Twenty-Six Herb Garden and Store that sits right in the heart of the busy streets of Bacolod.

In 2012, Anabel Villanueva, who practiced Internal Medicine in the U.S., came home to the Philippines to care for her mother. As she was settling in, she took up gardening as a hobby to keep her occupied during her extended stay. Making use of their family's property on 6th Street, Anabel started planting different herbs, lettuce, spinach, and other local greens for her family's consumption. With her lush garden obscurely placed amidst the busy city traffic, passersby couldn't help but take notice. Long-time friends eventually started dropping by to admire and sample her produce, which then encouraged Anabel to officially open it up to the public. Word spread like wildfire as everybody was talking about the quaint little garden nestled between all the enormous fast-food joints. The store also then began supplying greens to many restaurants in Bacolod.

Paksiw na bangus (milkfish stewed in vinegar, soy sauce, and local spices), one of the “heritage dishes” served at Vientos de la Granja.

By 2015, Anabel teamed up with Chef Joeri Arro to launch their restaurant, which specializes in home-cooked meals that Chef Joeri refers to as "heritage dishes". Among these are dinuguan, ensalada, paksiw na bangus in batwan, chicken adobo, and ginisang monggo. Most of the ingredients used in these dishes come straight from the garden, giving customers a more direct farm-to-table experience. This concept appealed especially to health-conscious diners who were more than appreciative of the convenience the garden offered their chosen lifestyle. The next few years, though, started posing challenges as buildings invaded the area, blocking the natural path of sunlight. And along with the city's expanding population, demand for their products reached astronomical heights causing Anabel to re-strategize in order to cope with these changes.

In 2021, after the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Anabel decided to take the giant leap and relocate her garden to a four-hectare property in Murcia town, which they named Vientos de la Granja. In English, the name translates to "winds of the farm". Now afforded more space, she scaled up her operations and incorporated new techniques that were not feasible back in the city. Regardless of the progress, Anabel and Chef Joeri were keen on maintaining what they call "good agricultural practices" by growing the plants naturally without using artificial fertilizers and pesticides.

Jason Gepilgon, farm manager at Vientos de la Granja, gives a quick tour of the farm and its operations.

Jason Gepilgon, farm manager at Vientos de la Granja, gave us a quick tour of the farm and its operations. Aside from the rows of lettuce and the different varieties of edible herbs, which constitute the majority of their business demand, Jason showed us the area where they plant the more common household vegetables, which we usually find at the market. From eggplant, okra, tomatoes, chilies, nettle, and radishes, everything you need to make a hearty bowl of laswa (famous Negrense vegetable soup) could be found here. He also reiterated that everything here is grown chemical-free through in-house concoctions. "We don't use pesticides. But we make our own natural pesticide, what we call OHN (Oriental Herbal Nutrient.) It's a mixture of ginger and garlic, and that's what we spray as an insect repellent. We use chicken manure and vermicast as fertilizers. We don't use synthetic fertilizers because it is against our rules," he shares with us. And though the process is more tedious than conventional methods, this style of farming has been proven to be more sustainable for the environment and produces more nutritious food.

The far end of the farm was sectioned exclusively for citrus fruit plants like lemons, dalandan, and calamansi, which also act as natural pest repellents. And finally, to surround the property were hardwood trees that are endemic to the Philippines, like Narra, Bagtikan, and Talisay. Aside from providing future shade for the garden, they hope to propagate these kinds of trees to preserve the land’s heritage. This, Jason says, is one of Anabel's main advocacies.

For Chef Joeri, aside from the proven health benefits, supporting locally-grown natural produce also ensures the sustainability of our region's food basket. With the pandemic shaking up the world's supply chain, it became a wake-up call to everyone that investing in ways to ensure sustainability within our own areas should be a priority. "The ultimate goal is to make people see that we can grow our food," says Joeri, "Food that is healthier, and we are willing to teach people how to do that."

As an accredited agri-tourism site, Vientos de la Granja is continually trying to innovate ways for guests to maximize their farm experience so they can head home with new insights to go along with their bag full of fresh veggies. Aside from the regular farm tours they offer, Chef Joeri hosts a pop-up restaurant every Saturday from 7am to 2pm. Customers also get extra value as the farm is open for harvesting in their "pick and pay" program, which Jason and other farm staff facilitate. They also have scheduled workshops that teach participants basic life skills like growing lettuce in your own backyard, the different ways of preparing harvested crops, and even the identification of edible plants that can be found growing wildly around the city. As part of his vision, Chef Joeri aims to organize a cooking class exclusively for mothers and their children to impart the essence of traditional cuisine while strengthening the bonds within the household.

The stories of Vientos de la Granja and the people behind it prove that it is never too late to learn something new, as every day is a chance to improve upon the old. As Negros continues to pave the way in this booming agri-tourism industry, we can only hope that this trajectory carries on for future generations to improve upon.

Text By: Mayumi Espina
Photos By: Aries Cortez
Video By: Grilled Cheese Studios

Design and Architecture

Cultural Experience

Art and Craft