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Ces Drilon and Ricky Carandang’s dream (organic farm) come true

By MONIQUE TODA, The Philippine STAR Published Apr 11, 2021 5:00 am

"Bawal ma-stress Drilon.” I couldn’t get this popular and humorous hashtag or phrase out of my mind while writing this piece. With its message setting the tone, I immersed myself into this relaxing story of nature and its byproducts — stress-free.

Ces Drilon and Ricky Carandang are household names in the country due to their media omnipresence covering major happenings and issues in the country for decades. Though they are still busy with their commitments and responsibilities in the city, they have ventured into a gentler and purposeful existence focusing on farming in the countryside. 

Ricky is a believer in all organic products 'because it’s important to be kind to the planet and to our customers. I try to stay away from over-processed food and practices that harm the environment and I don’t want to sell people things that I wouldn’t use myself.'

According to Ces, “I have always dreamt of having a farm. Even before Vagabond Farms, I was always on the lookout for a farming opportunity and even considered leasing idle government land in Pangasinan at one point.

"I think my father, whose parents were farmers, inspired me. When I was growing up, my dad planted vegetables in a vacant lot across our house. My mom is also an influence because she would always be on the lookout for fresh produce in the market. And I was always tagging along with her.

 Ricky Carandang and Ces Drilon at Vagabond Farms

"She also loved to garden. Before plantitas were a thing, my mom would have scissors with her all the time and make her kids get cuttings everywhere we'd go, to our great embarrassment and consternation sometimes.”

On the other hand, according to Ricky, “We never imagined being farmers. I bought the land because it was beside my parent’s property and they didn’t want ‘outsiders’ to acquire it. Having bought the land, I didn’t want it to just sit there so I looked for things that I could do with the land. 

"Building a house was one thing, and farming became another thing. But neither of us knew anything about farming and the fantasy that urbanites have about farming turned out to be far from the reality.”

With this land purchased, Ricky and Ces set up a secondary residence, which was their first idea.

  An outdoor shower in nature

Ricky’s family has roots in Tanauan, Batangas and his dad is very connected to the town. He wanted to have that same connection to his heritage. The Carandangs have been in Tanauan for generations and Ricky didn’t want to be the generation that lost that connection.

What followed was the establishment of the fully organic Vagabond Farms. It is certified organic by Control Union, an independent certification body that carries out inspections and issues highly respected certificates across the globe.

Ricky is a believer in all organic products “because it’s important to be kind to the planet and to our customers. I try to stay away from over-processed food and practices that harm the environment and I don’t want to sell people things that I wouldn’t use myself.”

  Vagabond Farms in Tanauan, Batangas

The couple’s first farming venture was the planting of moringa, a.k.a. malunggay, a superfood containing vitamins and minerals.

Ces adds, “Having zero knowledge about farming, and because we were both busy with work, I suggested planting malunggay. Malunggay is easy to grow. I was also inspired by Genara Matsuoka’s JPM Farm which exports malunggay powder all over the globe.” Their malunggay was processed into different products. Have you tried their moringa pesto and pasta?

Inspired by these two journalists, I did my own deep investigative research and analysis… and took a bath.

It’s rejuvenating to be so close to nature. Just hearing the birds and the leaves of the trees rustle is so healing..

Armed with a soap bar from Vagabond Farms made from cocoa butter, virgin coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, scented with elemi (that’s the sap of the pili tree), black pepper, calamansi  and enriched with pili oil, I lathered away.

I emerged from the shower like a forest goddess with smooth, moisturized skin perfumed with the scent of leaves. It felt luxurious but in a natural way.

A favorite of mine is their herb-infused, plant-based ethyl alcohol hand sanitizer. The herbs used are eucalyptus and coriander with coconut-derived moisturizer. The fragrance is heavenly and is cool on the skin. I find myself constantly sniffing my hands and the smell makes me feel energized and refreshed. Most important, of course, is that my hands are bacteria-free.

 Ces Drilon with four of her five Shiba Inus at the farm

Vagabond Farms also wins my heart, and that of all dog lovers, with their line of dog soaps.

Ces narrates, “I took a soap-making class after ABS-CBN lost its franchise and I got retrenched. I was inspired to create a soap for dogs. One of my Shiba Inus suffers from itchy skin and bald spots, so I created a soap for her with all-natural products.

"Besides, madre de cacao and neem are plentiful on the farm. The leaves of these trees have bioactive compounds that fight off fungus and bacteria that cause mange in dogs. This later led us to selling the Dymka soap for dogs named after my pet. Also, I have infused malunggay, which is plentiful on the farm, to add to the dog soap.”

 Vagabond soaps in environmental friendly packaging

The soap-making lessons led Ces to take a natural perfumery class, which helped her create a bug spray and insect repellent oil. These products are perfect for the current dengue season.

Continuing with my investigative research, I protected myself by spraying bug repellant on my arms and legs then ventured into the garden right before the sunset. They say that this is when mosquitoes bite most. I didn’t get any bites and its fresh fragrance impressed me. I wonder if I can I use this bug spray as my cologne?

Ces now makes hand-poured beeswax candles under the Cecilia brand. I tried the Ylang Ylang Dreams with ylang ylang and dalandan scents.

What I have discovered and love about all the scents is that they smell natural and feel like they’re subtly bringing the outdoors directly to you. It doesn’t smell like fake nature. You know what I mean?

  This bug spray smells so good, I want to use it as cologne.

Vagabond Farms also have a lineup of liquid organic fertilizers specifically for seedlings, leafy vegetables and ornamental plants. For plantita wannabes, there is a potting mix in a portioned sackcloth. These products enable and encourage individuals to plant and maybe inspire them to start a farm of their own.

 For aspiring plantitas, the farm offers organic fertilizers

As you can see, the farm offers an extensive lineup of products and plans to add more. It is a prolific plantation that just expands and expands, spreading their philosophy of organic supremacy.

The couple head to the farm at least once a week but would love to stay longer, and someday live in the farm. The city will then be a secondary destination for them.

“It’s rejuvenating to be so close to nature,” says Cess. “Just hearing the birds and the leaves of the trees rustle is so healing. I find so much joy in seeing plants grow; seeing a shoot coming out of a plant is always reason to rejoice! You marvel at the miracle of life.”

Ricky envisions eventually opening the farm to small groups who want a place where people can take a short drive out of the city for some peace and quiet with nature. A place where people can chill for the weekend and eat good local food and get closer to nature without sacrificing their comfort.

As the self-appointed product development person of the farm, Ces sees herself continuing to work with herbs and plants that are indigenous to the country.

“I hope in five years I will have expanded my knowledge experience and can share this with other farmers to be able to improve their income and uplift their lives. There is so much potential, for instance in essential oils, and farmers can have products that have more value added while sticking to natural and organic farming practices. I am so enthused and motivated about the future.” 

In a nutshell, she concludes. “It’s about time we all went back to nature.”