How an agritourism spot empowers Palawan farmers through art

Keith Anthony S. Fabro

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How an agritourism spot empowers Palawan farmers through art
For the resident artists in Yamang Bukid in Puerto Princesa, guiding farmers to find their creative genius is a way of empowering marginalized workers

PALAWAN, Philippines – In an agritourism destination in Puerto Princesa, farmers take a break from the grueling heat of the sun to create art.

Ronnel Espino, 36, discovered his love for the arts when he created a mural painting in elementary school. But life at the farm had been difficult, that he was pushed to put his interest on the backburner.

“You have to choose between working on the farm and doing art. If you choose art, you need to focus there and that leaves you not being able to concentrate on farming that financially sustains you,” Espino said, recounting his dilemma as a youth.

NEW LOVE. Ex-illegal logger Ronnel Espino rediscovered his love for visual arts when he joined Yamang Bukid as a farmer. Photo courtesy of JM Zapanta

“Even if you have spare time to do art, you can’t still pursue it because you don’t have the money to buy paint, watercolor and other art materials,” he added.

Espino is now a farmer at Yamang Bukid, the agritourism spot 30 minutes away from the city proper. At Yamang Bukid, young resident artists give agricultural workers the opportunity to make art pieces as they take a break from the backbreaking work in the field.

Now, he no longer has to choose one from the other. Creating art had given him an extra income source.

Espino’s paintings depict environmental conservation, hoping to inspire people to practice a sustainable lifestyle. Three of his paintings were bought by visitors months ago.

“Farmers are less appreciated, so having other people appreciating you and your artworks is a heartwarming experience,” Espino said.

‘Not just a farmer’

Known for its sprawling sunflower plantation, turmeric, and other organic produce, Yamang Bukid Farm is an emerging art haven tucked away between the rolling verdant mountains of Sitio Candis III in Bacungan village.

Now oozing vitality, no one would think that the 20.2-hectare land was once a denuded lowland forest void of life. At every turn in Yamang Bukid, there are different art pieces – from paintings, terracotta sculptures, bamboo chimes, dream catchers, lanterns, to upcycled crafts and dish gardens – all created with the farmers’ help.

At Yamang Bukid, some resident artist are relatives of farmers. Senior resident artist Julius Opiala, whose grandfather is a farmer, said that art has become a refuge from the everyday work at the field.

“As farmers, their daily routine is toiling at the farm and much of their life just revolve there,” said the 34-year-old Opiala.

“When they’re free, we hand over the paintbrush to them. After they had tried out painting for the first time, we saw their eyes glowing. They looked refreshed. In a way, art has become their stress-reliever, their respite from the laborious work in the field,” Opiala added.

HANDPAINTED. Some of the native crafts designed by Yamang Bukid farmers. Photo courtesy of JM Zapanta

 

For Opiala, guiding farmers to find their creative genius is also a way of empowering these marginalized workers to become self-determined individuals.

“Art shouldn’t just be done only for aesthetic purposes. It must carry an advocacy. As for us, we want to show that art should not be elitist but rather inclusive, as we bring it to this less-privileged rural community. We want to boost the self-esteem of farmers, and at the same time promote the value of farming and farmers to our society,” Opiala said. 

Since the farm opened in August 2017, it has been providing informal art workshops to farmers, the majority of whom are former illegal loggers.

ART WORK. Some of the art work and products on sale. Photo courtesy of JM Zapanta

“Just by observing us and trying it out for themselves, we have seen how their artistic skill has evolved. They have now become more imaginative as most of the art ideas are coming from them,” said Joy Jane Umambong, a resident artist who is a granddaughter of a farmer.

“And whatever art resources we have here, we allow them to use it because here at Yamang Bukid, if you’re a farmer, you’re not restricted to just doing farm chores,” added the 22-year-old Umambong.

‘Living a life for others’

Aside from farmers, Yamang Bukid also gives out workshops to farmers’ children.

“Artistry could be innate, but it’s a learned skill as well. We teach both farmers and their children the basic art principles. Through the basics, we encourage them to enhance their skill, to innovate using their imagination,” said another resident artist John Mark Lopez, 26, a farmer’s son.

ART WORKSHOPS. Yamang Bukid resident artists Joy Jane Umambong and Julius Opiala give out free art workshops to farmers' children. Photo courtesy of JM Zapanta

Observing Yamang Bukid’s mantra “living a life for others,” the farm’s vice president for community relations George Maria said that past artworks created by resident artists and farmers had been sold to extend medical assistance to the sick and provide scholarship to farmers’ kids.

Their earnings were also used to help other farming communities in Palawan, as part of their outreach program.

“Ordinary people can do extraordinary things if given equal opportunities. The artists share their talent with the farmers and inspire the farmers to express the beauty from their hearts and minds. Many people get interested in farmers’ works because of the very deep expression of their way of life and dreams through their artworks,” Maria said. – Rappler.com

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