an article in the Bicol Mail
BAAO, Camarines Sur is known for the folk rituals of the dotoc and the soledad, and for surnames starting with the letter B. It is the hometown of the first Filipino bishop Msgr. Jorge I. Barlin, constitutionalist and Jesuit Fr. Joaquin Bernas, Senator Joker Arroyo, poet and journalist Luis Dato, and by some accounts, Olympic skater Tai Babilonia’s grandparents.Bernadette de los Santos, Bidibidi to family and friends, promises to add to this list of Baao’s luminaries. Better yet, she is helping to turn this third class municipality into a culture and food destination.
Bidibidi had many opportunities in the big city. She has a business degree from the Ateneo de Manila, taught at Woodrose in Alabang, was head cashier for a shipping company in Singapore, and exhibited and sold her paintings in California. She however opted to return to her beloved hometown in 2004.
She is now an organic vegetable farmer, entrepreneur, visual artist, landscape expert, arts curator, award-winning craftsperson, restaurateur, community leader, and advocate of rural women’s concerns.
Her only training in art was in a summer arts class for children, where she was the only adult. Her talent was obvious though when she sold her flower paintings for P50 thousand in the US. She used this money as capital to set up the four-hectare family farm in Bgy. Sta. Teresita, La Huerta de Rosario, named after her mother.
Bidibidi’s career as vegetable farmer started with an offer from the Department of Agriculture (DA) to turn part of her land into a demo farm for off-season tomatoes. Now, she grows eggplant, ampalaya, string beans, okra, and squash, and occasionally sweet corn, bell pepper, snap beans, spring onions, ginger, lettuce and petchay. She also organized the local vegetable farmers into the Baao Vegetable Growers Association and became Vice-President of the Bicol Vegetable Board.
A model vegetable farm, La Huerta also showcases Bidibidi’s talent as a landscape artist. A nipa hut with an old-fashioned poso greets the guests. A plumeria-lined path of flat leaf-shaped stones and sheltered with trellises of flowering vines and fruit “hides what it seeks,” an open roomy hut. Comfortable seating areas of bamboo and wood, a fountain, colorful patchwork on tables, prettily mismatched plates, a platera like our lolas’, bulol, sundry baskets and other folk art, plus her farm produce adorn the area. Light bulbs encased in old Petromax provide another tastefully rustic touch.
La Huerta inevitably became a venue of choice for women farmers and employees, paving the way for Bidibidi, the restaurateur. She serves breakfast all-day and lunch, by appointment. Her vegetarian kare-kare features the sweetest and most succulent of vegetables, freshly picked and cooked to perfection. Lechon kawali is available to partner the dish for those who cannot forego meat.
Casita de Teresa, a farm B&B, is in the offing for back-to-basics tourists and those planning a longer stay.
Café des Artes
Bidibidi’s residence is also an art hub, a bahay-na-bato in the Baao town center. She named it Villa Esperanza for her maternal great grandmother Esperanza Botardo Esplana, its original owner. The house was passed down matrilineally to three sets of two daughters, and finally down to the sisters Bidibidi and Teresa. Bidibidi chose to live in this house, for the love of “the sound of my footsteps on wooden floors and the idea of being the fourth generation of matriarchs.”
She renovated Villa Esperanza to house Café des Artes, an art studio and gallery for her eclectic yet aesthetically coherent collection of books, art, and vintage finds, including her own paintings of flowers, patchwork quilts, button bracelets, and even old bottles and thermoses.
Her line of button bracelets is part of Bidibidi Enterprises’ F.A.R.M., or F.abulously & A.bsolutely R.ural – M.ade. She set this up in 2008, on the heels of an award from the DA as “Most Outstanding Rural Woman.” The bracelets made of recycled materials hit it big, so she had to train women and out-of-school youth to make them.
The ground floor of Villa Esperanza also houses a wifi-powered café which serves coffee and pastry by appointment. Since 2010, artists have held group exhibits, book launchings, poetry readings, and musical events here.
Serendipity and love
Baaoeños from all over the world on FB were inspired by Bidibidi’s environment-friendly approach of providing livelihood to local women and sending scholars to college. They sent buttons, cash, pledges, and events. Their support gave birth to her Buttons to Hope (BTH) project which sends eight scholars to an agricultural university.
Bidibidi had never planned to do these things, and attributes it all to serendipity. “Looking back now, it seemed like my path had already been made; I only had to take the first steps of my journey.”
How does she manage to keep things going, given the labor-intensive nature of her two enterprises, the cost of things, and the calamity-prone Bicol region?
For one, she loves her work, and desires “to give back to my community and to be outstanding in all my endeavors.”
Besides, she has no need for big capital, as she is part-owner of the land and house. “All I had to do was restore, re-invent and give them the new personalities that they have now. I am good at making do with very little.” Sales of her F.A.R.M. products help her maintain the farm, and events at La Huerta take care of payroll and bills.
As for calamities, she believes that with climate change, all places are now prone to calamity, not only the region. Twin typhoons Milenyo and Reming devastated her crops and farm in 2006. An innate spirituality and optimism and a loan from her sister helped her recover and start anew, after being down for seven months.
Bidibidi has a list of things she still wants to do, “Travel more, bake my own bread and open a bakeshop at La Huerta, finish 49 paintings by April 2012 to celebrate my 49th, finish 100 patchwork quilts from recycled fabrics before I turn 60, and figure out how I can sport my soon to be grey hair and still look beautiful.”
Next time you go to the Rinconada area of Camarines Sur, check out both farm and café, and meet its inspired and inspiring owner. You’ll surely go home not only with a full stomach but also with a full spirit.