LAST week, I just have to attend an exploratory meeting by Benguet State University (BSU) officials despite my sabbatical. This is because it concerns the land use plan of the number one tourist spot in La Trinidad: the Strawberry Farms.
Most people, including our tourists, are not aware that BSU owns most of the area in "swamp," Strawberry Farms, Betag which represents the country’s Strawberry Capital. Without that area, there is really no tourist spot to talk about (which adds unique value to the Baguio tourism circuit).
Dr. Lulu Fangasan, BSU’s planning director (and the aunt of my band mate), recognized the role of BSU as part of the community and its support to various local government endeavors which includes tourism. She further highlighted the need for finalizing the land use plan of all of BSU’s landholdings especially the Strawberry Farms area which is under BSU’s direct control and management. Both of us reminisce on that rare tourism council meeting with the late lawyer Damaso Bangaoet Jr. who avidly encouraged the partnership of BSU, the community, and the Local Government Unit in improving the current state of the Strawberry farms as a tourist spot.
Several related efforts started as early as 2003 with the Swamp Development Plan proposals, the La Trinidad tourism council development plan three years ago, and BSU’s recent Land Use planning and Business Affair’s suggestions to the BSU Admin. Council. The output envisions a "Strawberry Hub" – an area not only for strawberry picking and "pasalubong" shopping, but also for other more interesting activities related to "strawberry." Of course, this also embraces the dream of all i-La Trinidad for the improvement of the area’s facilities and structures.
In imagining the Strawberry hub, BSU plans to implement such agri-tourism project within its character as an educational institution (“student-centric”), interfacing instruction, research, and extension while taking advantage of the tourism identity of the area. This would hopefully pave way for agri-business strategies including display of food processing (from strawberry fruit to jam/wine/sweets) by its agriculture and marketing students, a great food center run by its award-winning home economic students, a strawberry and agriculture museum by its young Devcom practitioners, and other involvements which would train and improve the skills of students while operating a top-quality tourist spot. The potential is great. But just like many proposals in the government, these should be contained in a plan, prioritized, funded, and approved.
I look forward to the Strawberry Hub’s realization, though as a Gov’t employee for some time, I recognize the causes of project delay; from financial challenges, layers of bureaucracy, and perhaps, dissents to a collective dream. What is important, however, is that we take the first steps; acknowledging the problem, coming up with a proposal, drafting a plan, and intending to execute the same... hopefully, in the next five years.
They say that to be truly a man (or a woman), one should plant a tree, write a book, and have a child. Maybe I took all of these literally when I planted trees, completed my first book, and became a father – the quote only means that we should all strive for legacy, and I mean the good contributions we leave to those who will succeed us. The fruition of the Strawberry Hub will indeed be BSU’s and all i-La Trinidad’s legacy not only to our region, but also to the country.