Situated in Eastern Pangasinan, the Municipality of Tayug is too far from the province’s bountiful shorelines and abundant seas. But this seemingly unfavorable geographical location did not stop Tayug’s residents from utilizing their 5,130 hectares of fertile land.
For centuries, the third class municipality has been relying on agriculture, particularly rice and corn plantations, as its main source of income.
Through the years, local farmers learned to master the craft of ploughing the crust, enriching the soil and planting the seeds.
AN ALLY CAME
In 1996, Filipino seed company Allied Botanical Corporation (ABC) decided to build their main research station in Tayug with a vision to create a “pinakbet line of tropical oriental vegetable varieties,” from ampalaya (bitter gourd) to kalabasa (squash), sibuyas (onions) to sili (chili), and many more.
As they penetrated the local farming industry, ABC and Tayug farmers underwent a series of training programs and exchange of technology.
Eventually, the farmers learned to embrace new crops and ways of growing them. From just rice and corn, they learned to plant watermelons, tomatoes, and even ornamental plants.
“May mga programs kasi ang municipality ngayon in partnership with Allied [Botanical Corporation]. Magkakaroon kami ng seed grower livelihood program, wherein bibigyan ng seeds 'yong mga farmers na gustong magtanim ng corn, vegetables and even flowers. Ipo-produce nila ang seeds, tapos bibilhin ng Allied sa kanila," Tayug town mayor Tyrone Agabas told ABS-CBN News.
He added that this 2017, ABC will be partnering with TESDA to launch a short course about seed production.
On February 15, a month before the town holds its annual fiesta, Tayug farmers in partnership with ABC, the local government, and the Department of Tourism built the so-called “A-Maze-Ing Sunflowers,” featuring different varieties of colorful flowers that surround a life-size sunflower maze.
With its stunning landscape architecture and bright kaleidoscope of colors, the A-Maze-Ing Sunflowers immediately became the talk of the town. Photos and videos of the ornamental plant expo have been repeatedly posted and shared on social media, reaching Pinoys in and out of the country.
Averaging at 1,500 visitors per day, the A-Maze-Ing Sunflowers expo generates extra income to local farmers, workers, and even tricycle drivers roaming in the area.
Aida Molina, 39, a native of Tayug and one of the workers in the expo, said she is glad that is now finally home to take care of her two children after years of working in a canning factory in Metro Manila. Kagawad Tina, meanwhile, said she has been able to send all her children to school with her job.
Visitors from different age brackets did not mind the scorching heat of the sun just to take the perfect shot of the sunflowers.
Annie Evangelista of Gapan City, Nueva Ecija said she is having the time of her life in the expo. As a decorative plant enthusiast, she said a visit to the sunflower maze is a dream come true.
Silva Ogoy of San Jacinto, Pangasinan, meanwhile, said she is proud that something as beautiful as this man-made landscape is finally available in the province.
A REAL-LIFE 'BAHAY KUBO'
Apart from the selfie-perfect landscapes, the expo also features a real-life “bahay kubo,” where the ingredients of an authentic Ilokano pinakbet can be picked fresh.
Hybrid varieties of highland vegetables, like broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, and cauliflower, have also been added to different local crops. They also have purple and sweet corn varieties that you can harvest straight from the plant. You may also have them boiled for a healthy snack.
Perhaps this modern day “bahay kubo” is the retirement goal of many. Jun Sandiego of Paniqui, Tarlac said he felt the urge to buy a piece of land in his hometown and transform it into an organic farm.
Sandiego, a public school teacher, believes it’s a good investment to those who want a quiet, healthy life after years of hard work. And this is the very same thing that happened to Tayug residents who are now making the most out of the sunshine that sunflowers are bringing to her town.