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Down on The Farm

By: Scott & Therese Garceau Posted: July-05-2009 in
Scott & Therese Garceau

MANILA, Philippines – Forget any preconceptions you might have about The Farm, the health resort set amid San Benito’s lush forests in Batangas. It’s not what you think.

“We’ve heard it all,” says Mary-Anne Elgar, The Farm’s general manager for operations, shaking her head. “That it’s The Fat Farm, or The Veggie Farm, or The Enema Farm, or even The Expensive Farm.” For the record: “It’s a health farm.”

“We want to break down the perception that it’s fanatical or extremist,” adds her husband, The Farm’s general manager David Elgar. “We’re not. We’re just presenting life in a different way.”

For years, clients from the upper brackets have taken the 80-kilometer drive from Manila to this lush getaway. They’ve come here to cleanse themselves, to seek medical guidance on a variety of conditions — from obesity and stress to serious addictions.

But now that’s about to change — or the “upper brackets” part is, anyway. “We want to recreate The Farm as a health resort destination, a getaway place near the city for rest and relaxation,” explains David. “It’s not limited to a detox place, it’s not expensive or elitist.”

Toward that end, The Farm is doing something completely different: it’s promoting short-term getaway packages aimed at couples, corporate groups and day visitors; and it’s reaching out to the local market — which has long perceived The Farm to be staffed by white-robed gurus promoting rigid treatments — with a price structure favorable to Filipinos. Foreigners will still pay the regular rates, something they can well afford to do. “It’s really a spa paradise,” David notes. “In the entire world, The Farm is one of only a handful of resorts like this.”

It’s the kind of place rock stars might come to chill — or dry — out. In fact, we are told that Guy Berryman, bass player from Coldplay, was a weeklong visitor last year. He had read about The Farm while leafing through a magazine in Sydney; he apparently told his family and mates, “You can stay and keep partying; I’m going to The Farm to detox.”

“He came here for a week, slept most of the time,” according to David. “Said it changed his life. He was so stressed and exhausted from touring and the rock-star lifestyle. Now he says, ‘I know when to stop.’”

Of course, plenty of celebrities pop in to The Farm; understandably, for the most part, the Elgars keep mum about their identities.

We experienced one of The Farm’s latest promotions, “A Night at The Farm,” which involves a whole-day sampling of the resort’s many treats and an overnight stay in a villa or suite.

Walk among the eight-hectare grounds used by The Farm and you’ll notice lots of beautiful nooks and crannies where you can read a book or contemplate the beauty of nature. All the pavilions and cottages seem to be surrounded by water, with waterfall pools and natural lagoons. Surrounding the lush, landscaped facility are some 32 additional hectares of undeveloped land; in the distance you’ll spot Mt. Malarayat. Coconut trees are everywhere, harvested for juice, food, milk, butter, jam, and Oil of Life — a cold-pressed pharmaceutical-quality virgin coconut oil that has become a mini-livelihood program employing 12 people from the local community.

Though German expat Eckard Rempe and his Filipino wife, Perla, first opened The Farm some eight years back, it was health problems some 20 years before that led him to experiment with his diet, switching to raw foods, mostly vegetables. The Farm came about from trying to offer this diet to his friends and guests.

“The Farm was built for one primary reason — to help individuals maintain or regain their birthright of good health through a proactive approach, something alarmingly absent in many Asians and individuals worldwide,” writes Rempe.

There’s a “back to nature” impulse still driving The Farm’s philosophy. Peacocks and ducks casually waddle across the green lawns, for aesthetic reasons mainly. The landscaping (apparently guided by Rempe’s wife) has Bali touches: enormous wooden doors and gates, overwhelming ceramic vases perched along pebble-pattern walkways. The scale outdoes most spas in the Philippines, or perhaps elsewhere in Asia. With its swaying trees and landscaped lawns, it reminded us of the Hundred Acre Wood from A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. “Silence Please” signs advise guests of meditation areas nearby.

We took to the yoga mats at around 10 a.m., led by instructor Fe Narciso, who gave us an hour-long session that left many of us snoring on our backs. After all, The Farm is meant to encourage relaxation. The outdoor Amphitheater is an ideal spot for stretching, breathing and observing the gentle play of light from surrounding lagoons. If you can’t find peace here, you’re just not trying hard enough.

For lunch, we headed under a 200-year-old mango tree where Chef Lucrecia Buking, a native Igorot, prepared a five-course gourmet meal. The food is definitely one of the selling points at this spa, winning awards (the AsiaSpa Baccarat and SpaAsia Crystal in 2007) for its tasty and innovative vegan cuisine. At Alive! — The Farm’s restaurant — the menu is 85 percent raw, 15 percent cooked, and 100 percent organic, like the pumpkin cannelloni we later had for dinner. Since meat, fish and dairy are a no-no, Alive! has become almost molecular in its resourcefulness: for “Bleu cheese,” for instance, they process cashew nuts, bind it with agar then season with spices and smoked salt to come up with a convincing simulation. They also make ukoy-like chips and crackers from dehydrated coconut.

During our outdoor lunch, showbiz legend Boots Anson-Roa passed by. There on a day trip, she had been invited by the Mayor of Lipa City to crown Binibining Lipa and was herself taking a detox treatment. “The Farm is such a jewel for Lipa,” she gushed.

For dessert, we had coconut cream pie filled with a spiced tropical fruit salad, and — a pleasant surprise — local organic coffee with coconut milk and muscovado sugar. Apparently, caffeine is not a no-no at The Farm.

Next up for our day trip was a visit to Salus Per Aqua, The Farm’s gorgeously designed spa. There, we enjoyed a truly relaxing 30 minutes of reflexology (head, foot and hand massage) that — alas — was much too short. The spa offers a complete menu of massages (more exotic items include Balinese Boreh, reiki and ventosa), therapies (everything from body salt baths to wheatgrass infusion), and fitness training (belly dancing, Qi Gong, tai chi, Callanetics and many more).

Guests undergoing detox are first advised to get a Live Blood Analysis (LBA) with one of The Farm’s three clinicians, who draw blood from a finger prick and place it on a glass slide under a microscope. After a consultation in which they take your medical history, treatments are then tailored to a client’s needs — these can run from simple relaxation and vegan meals to 10-day coffee colonics. If you’re simply looking to relax, however, you can choose to ignore the more medical aspects of The Farm and just enjoy it as a resort destination, as we did.

By 3 p.m., it was “teatime” at The Farm. Guests here are encouraged to harvest their own tealeaves from the organic garden in the afternoon, and sample brews made from fresh mint, peppermint, tarragon, lemongrass, pandan and basil. Refreshing and rich in antioxidants, the tea also came with a talk about The Farm’s health benefits by resident clinicians Dr. Ron Bardonado and Dr. Jeanette Rosales. “When you’re younger, you can have a lot of toxins accumulating in your system and still function, but as you get older — in your 40s and 50s — it becomes more of a problem,” noted Bardonado. “We want to tell people, it’s your choice: you are the author of your own wellness.”

Despite its image as an ascetic retreat, the Elgars were eager to show us that The Farm can actually be fun. They served sangria (made with local fruit) and coconut wine that tasted a little like tuba — along with vegetarian hors d’oeuvres — to show that you can still unwind here, even if there is no karaoke. “People start to swing into the quietness of this place after a few days,” notes David. “With corporate guests, we don’t show them James Bond movies at night; instead we might talk to them about their lifestyles, and what they might want to change. Even the jet-set or corporate executive types get the same ‘programming,’ if you will.”

At night, we enjoyed a “barbecue” dinner (mostly vegetables, of course) by a roaring campfire, then took a quiet, romantic stroll through The Farm’s winding roads, serenaded by crickets. Who says peace and quiet can’t be fun?

“In the past, the local market might have thought we were a bunch of gurus dressed in white,” explains Elgar. “But we’re clear about what we offer and we have a process that can be very beneficial.”

So maybe now more Filipinos will leave their preconceived notions at the door and visit The Farm.

Says director of sales and marketing Cita Villanueva: “We want to allow the average, hard-working family to be able to say, ‘I want to get away to The Farm.’” With its “Full Seven-Day Promo,” The Farm hopes to entice haggard Manilans who might want to book a getaway anytime during the week. The packages — available at special local rates valid until Sept. 30 — include:

• Rooms only are available at a 50-percent discount, starting at P3,500 single/P2,100 double (per person).

• A Day At The Farm: Guests can spend five to six hours to chill out, relax, learn about health, have a five-course meal and spa treatment. (P4,800/person)

• A Night at The Farm: Guests can enjoy a stress-free day, relax in a villa or suite and leave the next morning, starting at P10,050 single/P8,650 double (per person).

• Midweek at The Farm: This lower-priced promo runs from Monday to Thursday, with two nights at a better rate, spa treatments or room and breakfast and a custom-made two-day stay, starting at P15,150 single/P12,350 double (per person).

• Weekend Wellness: A three-day/two-night stay including breakfast at The Farm with a more enhanced program and deeper medical consultation at P20,150 single/P17,350 double (per person).



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