Sole Sisters on Assignment: Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm Philippines

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Traveling is my form of escape, from responsibilities, stresses, and routines. Having recently gotten back from my week-long trip in Seoul, I always found myself daydreaming of the simple and perfect life that I had there.

I’m 100% Filipino, born and raised in the Philippines, but I feel like I belong somewhere else.

Last May 17-18, I was invited to take part in the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm Bloggers Weekend at Angat, Bulacan. What used to be a quarried 34-hectare land in Brgy. Encanto is now the site for GK’s Farm Village University, Silicon Valley for Social Entrepreneurship, and Disneyland for Social Tourism.


The first thing that you will see when you enter the GK Enchanted Farm is the Hyundai Center for Green Innovation, which was donated by HARI Foundation, Inc., the corporate social responsibility partner of Hyundai Asia Resources, Inc. The Hyundai Center is made entirely from stone, glass, and bamboo. 

We turned Brgy. Encanto into ‘enchanted’ for us to discover the magic of our humanity.” -Tony Meloto, Gawad Kalinga founder

We were told that we will be learning about GK’s vision and efforts to alleviate poverty in the country by incubating social enterprises in the farm and provide a sustainable living for the communities that have been provided with housing. However in the two days that I was there, I discovered that what made the GK Enchanted Farm truly enchanting isn't the physical farm itself or the businesses that were given birth there — it’s the inspiring Filipinos and foreigners working in the farm who have so much love for the Philippines. 

Antonio “Tito Tony” Meloto, Gawad Kalinga founder
To kickoff the GK Enchanted Farm bloggers weekend, we were invited by Antonio “Tito Tony” Meloto, founder of Gawad Kalinga, with our French facilitator, Clementine Turgeon and the other foreign interns, to sit down with them under the shade of a duhat tree. 

Tito Tony then answered the burning question in everyone’s mind, “What are all these young foreigners doing in this farm?” He told us that they are working there as interns or volunteers because they love the Philippines, “We only choose the best and the brightest, the most beautiful from abroad because this country also deserves the best from other countries; because foreign countries always attract the best and the brightest Filipinos”. 

The GK Enchanted Farm bloggers weekend group, social business camp group, our foreigner facilitators, and Tito Tony after the inspiring discussion under the duhat tree. Photo from Gawad Kalinga

Every word that came out of Tito Tony’s mouth felt like a slap on my face. He talked about things that hit so close to home, especially for someone like me who who would choose to live in a foreign country over my own without thinking twice.

I could understand foreigners leaving their first-world countries for the Philippines, it is a tropical country with the most beautiful beaches after all, but smart and educated Filipinos from top universities choosing to come back or stay in this country to work in a farm? Nobody’s crazy enough to do that. Or so I thought.

President of social enterprise, Agricool, Cherrie Atilano. Photo from Gawad Kalinga
It was that weekend at GK Enchanted Farm where I met a woman that would become my personal hero, Cherrie Atilano. She is the founder and president of the social enterprise Agricool, which aims to make farming the new cool, smart, and sexy career option for the young, make farmers out of non-farmers, train old farmers for more sustainable ways in agriculture and send their children to school.

Cherrie didn’t just give up a high-paying job to work in a farm, she did something crazier that that. This magna cum laude graduate of BS Agriculture from Leyte State University and Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines Award (TOSP) recipient turned down a Fulbright Scholarship that would have been her ticket to go to an Ivy League school in the US.

Even before she hit puberty, Cherrie was already working with farmers. She spent her childhood at Bacolod with her father who fought for the rights of farmers when he worked as an encarregado, (overseer) in haciendas. At a young age, she already understood the plight of Filipino farmers, who despite being the biggest producers of food in the country, remain to be the poorest of the poor. When she was 11, she started teaching the farmers about farming technologies like biointensive agriculture, something that she just read about in a book from her school library.

“If the Americans are guilty of racial discrimination, the Filipinos are guilty of social discrimination.” -Tony Meloto

Cherrie left a high-paying job in the city to live and work as a farmer at the site of the GK farm, before she was scheduled to leave for the States for her Fulbright Scholarship. She took on the challenge of Tito Tony to build 1,000 Bayanihan farms (food sufficiency of Gawad Kalinga) in a year. She thought it was impossible but in a month’s time, they were able to build 50 farms. 



Her journey to build a thousand farms in a year in the community known to be a “Tondo” ng Bulacan wasn’t at all a smooth-sailing one. She recalled that there were times when she had to stand in between two fathers who were ready to kill each other, risking her own life just so they would stop fighting. Other nights she spent sleeping beside some of the women in the community because their husbands were beating them. 

There was one incident where she was appalled to discover that every watermelon that she planted in the farm was stolen by none other than the people/farmers that she lived with in the community. She came crying to Tito Tony, angry by the fact that she had been helping them yet this is what she gets after all her hard work. Tito Tony had nothing else to say to her but “love and trust them more”, because what else would she expect from the poor who are used to a life of stealing and breaking the law?

“We are poor as a country because we keep on leaving the poor behind. What we would like is for those rich with the privilege, with the best education, with access to capital, the market, the knowledge, the technology, to also bring their genius to unleash the genius of the poor.” - Tony Meloto

It was after her 3rd month in the farm when she realized that the community needed her more than she needed that Fulbright Scholarship. After a year, they didn’t just build 1,000 Bayanihan farms farms, they built 1,300.

With Cherrie Atilano at the GK animal farm

Frank Chiu

Every person who works in the farm has a similar story with Cherrie’s. Frank Chiu, who used to work for Citibank New York, is the Chief Operating Officer and co-founder of GK Enchanted Farm. He admitted that at first, they had no idea what they were doing and if they could really pull off their grand vision of ending poverty for 5 million Filipino families by 2024. They believe that to achieve their goal, they need to challenge the status quo, calling it “learning, unlearning, and relearning”. 

“Entrepreneurship is leadership. We [Filipinos] are raised to be followers, to be employees; to be consumers, not producers; to be job seekers, not job generators — and that’s what we want to change.” - Tony Meloto

Spotted this group of 9-12 year old kids in the community making their own stilts from scratch to play with. That’s not the only skill they have, they also know how to speak French, thanks to all the French interns in the farm.

Frank and the people behind the GK farm believe that to end poverty in the country, they can’t do it by themselves — everyone should be part of the solution. So how do you end poverty for 5 million families by 2024? Create 500,000 social entrepreneurs. Create more enterprises like Human Nature, Bayani Brew, Theo & Philo artisan chocolates, Gourmet Keso, and Plush and Play toys, all 100% Made in the Philippines. 

Philo Chua of Philo and Theo artisan chocolates showing us how chocolates are made from cacao beans. Philo came back to the Philippines from abroad to start the social enterprise of chocolates known for distinct Filipino flavors like labuyo, calamansi, adobo, green mango, and turon.



“We import 85% of chocolates from countries that don’t grow cacao. That’s really dumb.”-Tony Meloto
Addison Falcon, who came from the supply chain of a food and beverage company, took a sabbatical leave from his corporate job, and jumped into social entrepreneurship. He is now the lead entrepreneur for Gourmet Keso, a social enterprise that aims to strengthen the local dairy industry of the country.
Addison gave us a cheese making demo and even let some of the bloggers do it. Gourmet Keso’s cheese and dairy products are made from fresh carabao's milk.
“We import 98% of our dairy including 4% from countries like Singapore that does not have cows. Here, our goals is to really end our stupidity.” -Tony Meloto

Fabien Courteille

Fabien Courteille from France is the social entrepreneur behind Plush and Play toys. He started out as an intern in the GK farm and eventually decided to start his own social enterprise with the moms in the community, making quality and safe for kids stuffed toys. Here, he is showing their main line of toys inspired from very Pinoy vegetables named after Filipino celebrities: Anne Kamatis, Mais Ganda, and Manny Pakwan, to name a few. Their bestseller is Buko Martin, the coconut stuffed toy.

Tita Fe of Plush and Play toys assisting me in sewing my stuffed heart toy for the toy making demo.

“The Filipinos are all over the world, but we are nameless and faceless. It’s about time we really brand the Filipinos. That ‘Made in the Philippines’ should mean something to the world, whether it’s a product, its people, or its place.” -Tony Meloto

Raf Dionisio

Raf Dionisio, an Ateneo graduate, has been working for the social tourism of the GK farm for a year now. During our walking tour with him around the farm, he made mention of the unique sense of nationalism that South Koreans have. Because of their love for their own brands and products, they’ve put Samsung on the world map, becoming the biggest contender of Apple.

Suddenly I was back in the streets of Seoul in South Korea, looking around for a restaurant or fast food to get a quick bite. I realized that unlike the Philippines, there’s not much international choices, just Korean restaurants and fast food joints, and Koreans actually love them! Then I was inside the Seoul Metro, everyone was busy tapping away on their phones, their Samsung-made-in-Korea smartphones.

I found myself wondering, “Why aren’t Filipinos like Koreans? Why can’t we have the same positive mindset for ‘Made in the Philippines’ products?”


By the end of that weekend, it became clearer to me that the reason why I felt like I loved a foreign country more than my own home is because it had that one thing that I badly wanted my fellow countrymen (including myself) to have — a deep sense of nationalism.

Got a taste of the farming life during our visit at the GK animal farm. Harvesting azolla (water fern) to feed the livestock at the farm.

I do love my own country, I just felt hopeless about it. And here in GK Enchanted Farm is a bunch of young and intelligent Filipinos (and foreigners) who are insane enough to leave a comfortable financially secured life and bet on the genius and skills of the Filipino, with a vision so grand, so crazy that it might actually work, if we all become part of it. 

“People always complain about the things that are wrong, but they don’t have the courage to do the things that are right”. - Tony Meloto


Visitors of the farm who wish to start their own herb garden at home can purchase herbs like basil, peppermint, and chocolate mint to name a few, for only P50 per pot.

Visit the farm and see, hear, and experience it yourself. Whether you’re a student, professional, wannabe entrepreneur, family, barkada, or a whole company, the gates of GK Enchanted Farm offers an eye-opening trip for you.

If you have a business idea that will make use of raw materials that we already have in our own country, the GK Enchanted Farm can be your starting point. You can be one of those 500,000 social entrepreneurs that can help alleviate poverty in the Philippines by 2024. Learn more about their Social Business Camps here

The GK Enchanted Farm, located at California St., Pandi Angat Road, Angat, Bulacan, Philippines, is open every Tuesdays-Sundays, 8:30 AM - 4:30 PM. Learn more about the farm here.


Every centavo counts as it goes back to the community that farms our land, prepares the food we eat, and maintains the sustainable practices of the GK Enchanted Farm. The fees also support the education of the children in the community.

Gem is ½ of a travel blogger duo behind Travels with a Hobo who met and fell in love while traveling. Of the 6 billion people in the world, she had to fall in love with Beep, a cheapskate traveler who is proud of calling himself a hobo. Beep showed her that the best things in life, like traveling, don’t need to cost you an arm and a leg — all you need is a backpack and a sense of adventure.

About Sole Sisters on Assignment:

Interested in going on a trip for Sole Sisters? If you are travel-crazy just like us, please email us at solesisters(dot)weare(at)gmail(dot)com with the subject line: Sole Sisters On Assignment. We prefer that you have a blog or online writing samples as well as photos that we can review.

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