Pampanga's Prado Farm Finds New Life and Purpose
Day breaks softly over the green canopy that shelters Prado Farm. A collection of buildings stands in unfathomable relationships, dominated by a squat and solid manor that could have been a shogun’s hunting lodge. Beyond, rice and cornfields shimmer with the rising sun, and vegetable beds teem with lettuce, arugula, alugbati, mustasa, lemongrass, basil and tarragon. Cacao, guyabano, guava, chico, duhat, banana, santol and mango trees seem to have sprouted wherever they pleased.
What wonderland have we stumbled upon in these dusty outskirts of Lubao, Pampanga?
The trellised path to the farm
It is an extraordinary family lair, designed to nurture its inhabitants before sending them forth into the world to do their bit. Purchased in the 1970s by Victor Gutierrez, an architectural engineer with a vision, and his enterprising wife, Amada Ocampo, the five-hectare sugarcane field at the end of the national highway to Bataan and Zambales lay in nowhere land. Gutierrez planted every tree on the property until it became an oasis.
There, with distinctively Kapampangan “eat-pray-work-love,” the couple raised a brood that imbibed the influences of town and country. The sprawling house that Gutierrez built with piedra china from the Gil hacienda in Porac, bricks from an old ice plant in Intramuros, and antique wood from Laguna gave them a sense of definition. At the same time, living on the fringe made them open, unpretentious and practical.
Daybeds for relaxed reading on a terrace of the Mana library
The library with busts of Rizal and Juan Luna by Caedo
Agnes, the seventh of eight siblings who is now in charge of logistics on the farm, recalls: “Our nearest neighbor was one kilometer away and we had no telephone. Electricity was erratic. It took us an hour to get to school every day so we had to wake up earlier than our classmates who lived in town. But we grew up close to one another and to nature. Father taught us to ride bikes. We pretended to be vendors, and later mother made us work in the family businesses so we had early practice in entrepreneurship.”
The lively family and gracious country home attracted such cultural creatives as Ofie Gelvezon-Tequi, Neal Oshima, Wig Tysmans, Abe Cruz, Claude Tayag, and Gaita Forés. Then one by one the siblings went their own way, and for many years the semi-abandoned place became a repository of the family flotsam and jetsam.
That Prado Farm is today a center for social transformation hosting music and food festivals, biodynamic agriculture training, early child education, religious retreats and art workshops is due to the revival begun by the fourth child, Reimon, in the late 1990s. A multidisciplinary design consultant who had done work for the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Fair Trade group, Reimon closed his design office at the height of the Asian crisis. He found himself back in his childhood home confronting the incredible piles of leavings from every family transition.
Reimon with the Prado Farm mascot Phumba
Into a “found-art” sculptural collage went his mother’s hospital bed, bicycle handlebars and wheels, window grills, bedsprings and other discarded objects; it now stands as a kooky gate to the main house. “Surely it comes from having an architect father and a hoarder mother,” he says, laughing. “Why waste good junk?”
But on a serious note, he points out that the “basura” told the family’s life story (which includes several house moves and two fires). “Sorting it out was a painful emotional experience. Reliving memories made me physically ill. I realized that the cleansing process was both inner and outer, and it was not just my process but the whole family’s.” And the process is never-ending, Reimon hastens to add. “There is more ‘basura’ where that came from.”
A cross made of wooden posts from an old house—a gift from Reimon’s friend Claude Tayag— stands outside the glass wall of Salba, the Church of the Holy Family.
Seeing how beauty and functionality have been coaxed out of chaos perhaps accounts for the sense of magic that one feels at Prado Farm. The first thing that greets a visitor is the unique gate made of LPG tanks left over from the family business. Welded together in seeming helter-skelter fashion, they appear to be defying the law of gravity—steel balloons that have transcended their weight and now float freely. The old LPG refilling plant has been retrofitted as a community theater. On the Gutierrez couple’s 50th wedding anniversary, their love story was staged there as a zarzuela written and directed by Arti Sta. Rita founder Andy Alviz.
A unique gate made of rusty LPG tanks that seem to defy gravity
If old and tired architecture can get a lift, why not our wornout bodies and souls? This explains the therapeutic effect of art from recycled materials. The comfort of an old shoe, combined with the wit and freshness of design, engenders well-being. Handrails wearing wooden bangles that can be moved like prayer beads; a soaring installation of giant bamboo from Maguindanao rescued from a CITEM fair; a cross of old wooden posts (from Claude Tayag) standing among the trees outside the chapel, evoking Christ in nature; an Impy Pilapil assemblage of shapes in bright colors—all surprise the senses and speak to the spirit.
City kids from the Manila Waldorf School plant rice at Prado Farm every year to experience connecting with the life forces in nature. Urban guests are thrilled to breakfast on fresh carabao milk and eggs with brilliant yolks, laid just a few minutes earlier. Most special is a treat of lechon from the farm’s arugula-fed pigs that multiply happily in an amazingly odorless swinery.
Kids during morning break at Sese; empty classrooms of the Waldorf School in the summer.
The Piglet That Ate a Chicken
Lechon may never make it to the list of top ten superfoods, but some lechon are healthier than others. So asserts Reimon Gutierrez with a puckish grin. These are not your commercial piggery variety, but pigs fed with biodynamically grown arugula mixed with other fresh greens and fermented according to a Korean natural farming formula Why throw arugula before swine? The result is lean, juicy and pristine-tasting meat that can be picked off with a fork—or even chopsticks! Prado Farm serves it four ways.
1. For a beautiful lechon de leche, the piglet is stuffed with a whole chicken on a bed of tamarind leaves. “The purpose is simple,” explains Reimon. “It is to keep the piglet’s delicate ribcage from collapsing as it cooks.” The chicken absorbs the drippings so you get a bonus lechon manok. Serve with liver sauce.
2. For a side dish, dinuguan (Kapampangan tidtad) is prepared from the internal organs, and served with steamed white puto.
3. While the lechon is being consumed, the bony parts are dropped into a simmering pot of sinigang (broth soured with green tamarind pulp) filled with lots of backyard vegetables. The veggie-soup dish can be a palate-cleanser, or served for lunch the next day.
4. But before that, at breakfast, everybody’s mouth is watering for a taste of the paksiw na lechon (leftover morsels simmered almost to a mush in vinegar, garlic, and a pinch of sugar) served with fried garlic rice and perchance a cup of hot native chocolate.
For inquiries, contact ISIP Philippines, 899.4675; 0920.9831329; [email protected]