BAGUIO

Olsim: Strawberry Farm: the Center of the 'Universe'

The Eternal Student

WITH the beauties visiting the Benguet Capital and the iconic Strawberry Farm at Benguet State University (BSU), La Trinidad, decades of concerns regarding our one-town-one-product was once again brought to the fore -- are the strawberries safe? Were they grown using clean waters?

Various consultations and plans for years have always pointed to the same pressing thing, and as stakeholders for this challenge--a town which prides itself as the strawberry capital, a province which puts agriculture on a pedestal, a State University which prides itself as the best agricultural state school, a Department of Agriculture that is aware of the circumstances for decades--why does this problem still haunt us to a point where the community accepts, albeit as an inside joke, the stereotype that the farmers use waters from the river Balili or the drainage for the berries?

I have to call out some members of the community for promoting a stereotype we all wish to change. Understandably, most of them only wanted to motivate the government to do something to our "pride of place." However, promoting the stereotype is unfair to other farmers and stakeholders who have already complied with Good Agricultural Practices and who use clean waters for their Strawberries. Understandably, the mounting frustration by the community amid years of lip services may blow out any second--the purpose of government is supposed to find solutions and not to accept the problem because "we cannot do anything" either due to complex funding process or lack of attention and prioritization.

But the issue is not only strawberries. As funny as it sounds, the turfgrass that was put in the farm pathway for photoshoot safety was attacked and ridiculed like a grave crime was committed. Although we did not initiate this activity, in the spirit of fairness, and for us to get the whole picture, I volunteered to explain this "issue" since everything is an issue today:

The La Trinidad LGU's participation in the Miss Universe PH photoshoot is mostly coordination and NO FUND was used from the LGU for the same. In the inspection at the BSU strawberry farm area, the pageant's working committee raised concerns on the muddy pathway going to the photoshoot area primarily on SAFETY measures, and for a very short time or a strict itinerary is being followed (only 4 hours in LT). In the town's tourism plan, improvement of the pathway has long been recommended due to the following issues: Recorded accidents and complaints by past visitors due to the slippery mud, crowding in the pathway due to submerged or stuck boots/shoes, etc. due to the deep mud, farmer’s plea for the area to be improved as it slows their movement and agricultural activities.

In other countries with strawberry farms, walkways were covered with straws, wooden planks and even concrete. That is why the committee proposed that dried soil or gravel will be placed to expedite the photoshoot. The problem is the person tasked to do it was not able to deliver on time. Hence, a friend of the Benguet Congressional Office, at the last minute, offered to temporarily put plywood and cover it with grass carpet (turf grass) for FREE out of concern for the event.

The point that the candidates must experience mud and farm life is well taken. I heard that they even hope to experience that in the future in better times, but the candidates came for a strict photoshoot only with limited time. If you are an event organizer, convenience and safety are paramount. Besides, the turfgrass was not intended to be showcased in the activity.

Although this is not our idea, I am posting this explanation out of defense to the people who just worked and are concerned without any ill intention. I don't think they deserve the harsh vitriol from some people on social media (although some humor reactions perhaps did not intend any harm). There is too much hatred in the world, and this issue is not worth the negativity.

***

The Office of the Benguet Caretaker Congressman Eric Yap, the organizer of this activity, committed an amount of P50 million for the improvement of the BSU Strawberry Farm area/facilities--something that may change the whole landscape of La Trinidad’s pride of place. The Strawberry Farm development/improvement is long overdue as discussed and recommended in hundreds of meetings. Now that concerns have again resurfaced to the fore, as the "center of the universe," the buck ends with all offices/agencies involved: the LGU, Benguet State University, Benguet-PGO, Department of Agriculture, Department of Tourism, all businesses and stakeholders.


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