The problem in developing countries (as well as in developed ones) is that the educated youths would rather work in the city than go back to the farm. This is as much a problem in the Philippines. Enrollees in agriculture courses are getting smaller. And even those who took up agriculture in college actually look for work in the urban areas and not in the farms.
This is also very true in Taiwan where we visited recently upon the invitation of the Taiwan Leisure Farms Development Association. Many young Taiwanese also prefer looking for jobs in the city. But the government and the private sector are doing something to lure the young, especially those who have studied in college to go back to the farm.
What’s the strategy? They are promoting the setting up of the so-called leisure farms in the countryside. In these leisure farms, agricultural production is just one aspect. A leisure farm is an honest-to-goodness business operation that includes innovative entrepreneurship that rewards the entrepreneurs in a number of ways.
Leisure farms attract the young generation not only because of the monetary rewards but also because of the increasing popularity of organic farming, the growing consciousness about preserving the environment as well as cultural traditions. There’s a perception of more dignity than plain farming. So they become proud to be leisure farmers.
One young fellow who studied languages who could have landed a job in the city but went back to his parents’ tea farm is Liu Ching Yuan of the Xing-Yuan Tea Garden, a leisure farm in Zhong Shan Village in Dong Shan district in Yilan County in the north.
Liu, who is in his early 30s, is one example of an innovative young college graduate who has built a profitable family business in the countryside, based on the family’s traditional tea plantation.
The tea plantation is run the organic way. No chemical pesticides are sprayed on the plants. This attracts health-conscious customers who don’t mind paying a higher price for products that are pesticide free. He has developed different kinds of oolong tea, including what he calls Jin-Suan, Tsuei-Yu, Siji-Chuen tea, green tea, black tea, charcoal-Pei old tea. They also have ku-cha oil and tea peanuts.
HAND-MADE TEA-FLAVORED ICE CREAM – Liu has also come up with do-it-yourself (DIY) activities for both the young and not-so-young. One of them is making tea-flavored ice cream. It is really fun and one can easily adopt the idea in the Philippines. Instead of tea-flavored ice cream one can make durian or avocado-flavored ice cream by hand, for instance. No special machine is needed.
Making the hand-made ice cream is fun because you keep on shaking the container while dancing to the tune of fast-moving music like rock ‘n roll and the like. After shaking and dancing for 15 to 20 minutes, voila! Your ice cream is ready for eating.
This is how the ice cream is done. The materials used at the Xing-Yuan Tea Garden include fresh milk, cream, tea powder and tube ice or cracked ice. The fresh milk and cream are placed in a plastic cup about three inches tall and about three inches in diameter. The cup is well sealed, using tape to make sure the cover is secure. Cracked ice is placed in a double polyethylene plastic bag. One bag is first filled with cracked ice half way. Then the cup containing the ice cream material is set on the ice. The top half of the plastic bag is then filled with ice. The top of the bag is sealed tightly with rubber band. This plastic bag is inserted in a similar plastic bag, also sealed with rubber band at the top.
The bag is then placed in a cylindrical container that is made of hard plastic that is firmly sealed at the top. Finally, the container is placed in a cloth bag to make it comfortable for handling. To the tune of rock ‘n roll music or something similar, the one making the ice cream dances while vigorously shaking the bagged material.
After about 20 minutes, the ice shall have melted and the yummy ice cream in the cup is ready for eating. Other DIYs include hands-on training on how to process different kinds of tea. A lot of visitors go to leisure farms for both the DIYs as well as the different products available. There’s usually an entrance fee ranging from NT$100 to NT$300 but these can be charged to items bought from the farm.
The farmers in the village also benefit from the establishment of leisure farms. The farmers’ produce are sold at the leisure farms. Some fruits, like kumquat (a variety of small citrus), are made into preserves and sold in the leisure farms’ store.
In other leisure farms, they generate income from various offerings. Aside from the DIYs, one big attraction to visitors is excellent food. In one leisure farm, for instance, four different types of restaurant are available One is a fast-food type where families with children may go for fried chicken, pasta, sandwiches and the like. Another is a restaurant offering authentic Chinese food. Then there is a steakhouse for more upscale clientele. Another is a hotpot that uses milk rather than water for cooking the vegetables, meat and seafoods.
Souvenir items are also a good money maker for leisure farms in Taiwan. These could include T-shirts with beautiful prints, tea cups, key chains, caps and hats, jackets and a lot more.
Then there are lodging facilities for overnight visitors. These are usually well equipped with comfortable amenities.
Leo Fang, the manager for international marketing of the Leisure Farms Development Association, says that the leisure farms idea is also a means for the small farmers in Taiwan to be more competitive with the big and developed nations which could produce agricultural products in big scale at lower cost.
The idea is for the small-scale farmers to produce products that the big players cannot efficiently produce, or undertake activities that are uniquely part of their traditions and culture.
The Taiwanese government has been constructing roads to the countryside to make the remote areas accessible. On the part of TLFDA, they help the leisure farmers in several ways, including documentary requirements, human resource training, marketing promotions and more.