POLOMOLOK, South Cotabato (MindaNews / 31 July) – As the tourism industry continued to suffer from the debilitating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Lumad (Indigenous Peoples) family in a remote village here slaughtered a pig weighing over 100 kilos and roasted it to mark the soft opening of the Moso Strawberry Agritourism Park on March 20, 2021.
Visitors, including officials from the local and national government agencies, and members of the the Blaan community came and were treated to a live band music in a party mood that lasted until the wee hours of the morning, strictly observing health protocols.
The husband-and-wife tandem of Romeo and Joan Moso defied the odds, optimistic that tourism activities will rebound and those “itchy feet,” deprived of their freedom to travel for pleasure and relaxation for a year, will find their way to their strawberry fields.
Located in Sitio Amgu-o, Barangay Landan, some 30 minutes away from the national highway, Moso Strawberry Agritourism Park is the first strawberry farm in Polomolok but second in South Cotabato.
Nestled at the foothills of the majestic Mt. Matutum, South Cotabato’s landmark peak towering at 2,286 meters, the strawberry park is surrounded by greenery and has a cool climate, especially towards dawn, all-year round.
“If you want to escape the urban lifestyle and relax for a while, we can offer you a tranquil place to unwind and commune with nature,” Romeo told MindaNews.
The Moso Strawberry Park has a vantage view of Mt. Matutum and the rolling hills surrounding the mountain, declared by then President Fidel Ramos in 1995 as a protected landscape due to its diverse flora and fauna as well as rare wildlife species.
Since it opened in March, thousands have already visited the farm during weekends, including bicycle and motorcycle group riders from different places in South Cotabato and surrounding areas.
Besides the enchanting view of Mt. Matutum, the four-hectare Moso Strawberry Park’s main attraction is allowing visitors to experience strawberry picking in their property where fruit trees such as durian, banana, lanzones and rambutan are also grown.
The strawberry park has become part of the tourism circuit of the village, which also hosts the Our Lady of Mt. Matutum Trappistine Monastery managed by nuns belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, a Roman Catholic contemplative religious order that originated in France.
For over two decades, the monastery has been drawing local tourists, and with the strawberry farm now in operation, some of those who attend Sunday mass would drop by the park to cap the day in the village.
Joan said they have been slowly developing the property, which is now connected to the electric grid, has a toilet and water supply.
“We are glad that local tourists are coming in and enjoying their visit,” she said.
Daytime entrance fee at the Moso Strawberry Park is only 40 pesos each for those nine years old and above. For overnight stay, the charge is 100 pesos.
It is best to wear thick clothes and bring your own jackets, and yes, tents for protection against the cold night. The park has no accommodation facilities for now so visitors can bring their own tents or rent from them.
Romeo said the temperature usually drops to shivering levels after midnight.
Native chicken dishes such as tinola and adobo are the park’s main food offering plus native coffee grown in the area. If cassava is available, they boil it and pair it with native coffee.
In the last few weeks, the park’s income was affected by COVID-19 movement restrictions, especially after neighboring General Santos City imposed a “No Movement Sunday” due to the rising infections in the city. Romeo said they would consider themselves lucky if they earn1,000 pesos a day during difficult days.
Before the restrictions, he said, they were already earning about 20,000 pesos in one weekend as tourists flocked to the farm, some of them from as far as Agusan.
The Moso couple expressed hope that the COVID-19 travel restrictions, which vary among local government units, would ease to help the tourism industry recover from their losses.
In this time of pandemic, Romeo stressed the need to follow health protocols for COVID-19 imposed by the government to help fight the spread of the virus.
For souvenir, the park sells strawberry seedlings at 60 pesos each, with Joan advising they should be grown in shaded areas in the lowlands. Visitors can also bring home the strawberries they picked, the amount depending on the number of grams.
“We’re doing it one small step at a time. We started this venture and we hope to sustain it,” she said, expressing optimism the strawberry park can attract more visitors on better days. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)