“It started with a dream.”
Victoria Sandidge vividly recalls how it all began as she looks back with fondness on how a budding business she started about 15 years ago has since turned into a thriving entrepreneurial venture it is today.
She owns and manages the Bohol Bee Farm Resort, a booming eco-tourist destination ensconced in a wooded coastal enclave that not only offers idyllic look and feel of tropical countryside living but also provides a kind of service that lends itself to organic, sustainable lifestyle and work environment.
Located on Panglao Island, Bohol, the six-hectare or so nature-inspired hideaway takes pride in its rural charm accented by tree-covered landscape; nipa-roofed, wood-and-concrete-walled chalets, and a majestic seaside cliff along the south periphery of the resort premises. Down the rugged perch of the cliff sits a rustic restaurant beckoning visitors and guests to indulge in the unique taste of its healthy green cuisine against the backdrop of breathtaking vista of Panglao’s pristine waters.
Sandidge is a nurse who made good money in the United States. But long before the lure of American dream came about, she also once was a little girl who had always dreamed about the joys of living a bucolic life in her sleepy village in Panglao. It was a dream she nurtured 40 years ago, soon half-buried in oblivion as she would later immerse herself in what she thought was grander pursuits in life.
Realizing, however, that material fortune was not all there was to life, she decided to return to the Philippines. She made her choice; she left the U.S. against all odds, against the “better” judgment of her parents who seemed to have lost faith in their own country, perhaps for good reason.
“I came back because I still believe that, in our own country, we can still do something. We have to start believing. This is the way to go”, says Sandidge who took her two kids, 12 and 10 years old, with her when she flew back to the country.
She started small at the farm in 2002 with a restaurant in a canopied cottage and a modest two-room vacation inn manned by only four workers. An organic gardening hobbyist, she used the eatery to showcase the recipes for her organic spreads, pastries, delicacies and other food items she made from the produce of her organic garden.
As the business grew through the years, numerous new organic food stuffs along with other home-made commodities were produced to give customers a wider array of products to choose from. The growing consumer demand saw the need to increase the production volume of goods as well as to ensure proper preservation and packaging of food products to extend their shelf-life.
The need to upgrade the Bohol Bee Farm’s production quality and efficiency prompted Sandidge to seek assistance from DOST VII. Having seen the huge potentials of the Bohol Bee Farm’s business, the Bohol Provincial Science and Technology Center (PSTC) extended its helping hand to Sandidge, providing her the much-needed funding and technical assistance in a partnership deal under the Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SETUP).
Boosted by the agency’s invaluable support, the Bohol Bee Farm was able to improve its business in terms of production efficiency and product quality. The assistance included, among others, training on basic food sanitation, hygiene and current good operation and manufacturing practices, as well as consultancy on food safety and manufacturing productivity.
The agency likewise provided technical assistance in product packaging and labeling, provision of food safety and good manufacturing practices (GMP)-compliant plant layout, and product development to address the shelf-life issues of the goods.
Years later, the Bohol Bee Farm introduced yet another tasty home-made dessert product. The manually-produced organic ice cream product, which contains natural ingredients extracted from fruits, vegetables, and herbs produced in the farm, had soon gained popularity on the local market. Using manual juice squeezing method, however, Sandidge’s factory barely managed to produce a maximum of 40 gallons of ice cream in a day of 14-hour, two-shift work.
With the market for the Bohol Bee Farm’s frozen specialty steadily expanding, manual production volume had become inadequate to cope with market demand. Sandidge saw the dire need to boost production in order to meet the demand for said dessert product. And she found it no wiser to buy a second-hand ice cream machine from an Italian guy who had offered to sell it at a marked down price of P650 thousand cash.
Then again came the DOST intervention to save the day. Through the Bohol PSTC, the DOST helped the Bohol Bee Farm factory in the acquisition of a brand new modern ice cream machine and a blast freezer.
The partnership has yielded fruit that is simply great. Production technology and the technical skills of the workers have been upgraded with the acquisition of the new equipment, enabling the Bohol Bee Farm to increase its ice cream production rate by 70 percent.
“Whereas before we can only produce only around 40 gallons a day, now we can produce 200 to 250 gallons a day. And now we have seven branches”, Sandidge proudly proclaims. The factory was able to develop new product lines and penetrated new markets in Bohol province and Cebu City.
The Bohol Bee Farm Resort has since enormously grown to become one of the most lucrative ecotourism businesses in Bohol today, offering quality services and more diverse products made from organic materials sourced from within the farm. Highlighting the resort’s attraction are no less than the delectable organic ice cream, spreads, pastries, delicacies, and other interesting products whose qualities the DOST has helped raise to excellent standards.
But what makes the eco-resort cum factory stands above the rest is the nobility of Sandige’s intentions, that rare sense of humanity that seems lost on many. To her, it was about the primacy of value the Bohol Bee Farm places on social responsibility and ecological sustainability over and above profit.
Organic food production not only promotes nutritious diets and healthy ecosystem, it also provides jobs to village folk who are hired as farm workers, production crew and service staff at the village resort. Even if the factory uses high-powered machinery, Sandidge sees to it that she employs more villagers and their dependents as her way of giving back her blessings to the community.
“It’s not all about money. You realize you are not here just for yourself. You are here to serve. Success is not all about material things you have. Success is deeper than that. Success is about helping others”, she says.
Because of its success, the Bohol Bee Farm became a recipient of numerous prestigious awards attesting to how it has lived up to its commitment to value environment and humanity more than profitability in its business.
Witnessing the remarkable growth of her once fledgling enterprise, Sandidge recalls that poignant moment when she decided to come back to her old hometown – for good – to live her dream. She remembers the wonderful journey and partnership she has had with her men who stand by her and the agency that believes in her through challenging times.
“What you see here (in Bohol Bee Farm) is my dream when I was small. When my teacher asked me to draw something, I drew a small nipa house in a farm, with the river, with the tree…And my God, 40 years later, God gave you more than what you expected. And I couldn’t have done this alone. I have my people. And an agency that really believes in me”, she enthuses.
Sandidge has kept faith in herself, in her country, even in those crucial times when her parents, for lack of faith, tried to dissuade her from going home. “Even my own parents did not believe in my own country. . .“But as long as you believe, that thing you believe in can grow. With just four workers before, now we have 423 people working with us”.
It is said that a dream does not become reality through magic. But a dream could weave magic that turns it into reality, if that dream is buttressed by determination and hardwork born of faith and courage.
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”, Eleanor Roosevelt once said.
The woman behind the Bohol Bee Farm has continued believing. She believes in our country. She believes in DOST. And DOST believes in her — and stands by her through thick and thin.
They both believe in the beauty of her dreams. And the rest is history.
by L.F. Gingoyon