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From the Sunday Inquirer
Philippine Daily Inquirer
November 13, 2005
The Buzz. How Busy-as-bees Couple Finds Health and Happiness
By Eric S. Caruncho

Some 30 years ago, Sixties Child Joel Magsaysay shunned corporate life to become a beach bum.  Instead, he found a job that has literally become an extended honeymoon: making healthy products from bees.

JOEL and Violaine Magsaysay are just mad about bees. This middle-aged, happily-married couple with four kids has a bee in the bonnet about anything to do with bees, bee keeping, and the wondrous organic health products that can be had from them: virgin honey, honey cider vinegar, bee propolis, bee pollen, royal jelly—even the venom found in the bee's sting, which has been found to be effective in treating a wide range of ailments from gout and arthritis to multiple sclerosis.

For the past three decades, the couple has been busy as bees, pouring heart and soul into Ilogmaria Honeybee Farms, their 10-hectare Arcadia in the highlands of  Silang, Cavite, about an hour's (traffic-free) drive from Manila. Their dedication is beginning to pay off. A buzz has begun to build around Ilogmaria's products, which also include scented candles from beeswax, various soaps, oils, bath salts, and other cosmetics incorporating bee products.   So much so that loyal customers are willing to make the drive to Cavite to get their products, or pay shipping costs to have them FedExed.

If conventional business wisdom were to be followed, Ilogmaria would be ripe for expansion, but the Magsaysays say that's not what Ilogmaria is all about.   "Small is beautiful," says the 50-year-old Magsaysay.  "It's better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in the ocean.   That's why we're very careful not to go too fast."

This seems to be the key to Ilogmaria's "success": it's not so much a business as a livelihood. For the Magsaysays, keeping bees is not a job, it's a way of life. That's why the couple prefers to do everything by hand, from harvesting honey from their 800 bee colonies to making soap and candles,

 

with a little help from their four children and some neighbors who pitch in from time to time.   And that's why they've been able to resist having their products distributed in Manila, despite daily calls from interested merchants.  Having distributors would mean having to meet production quotas, which would mean having to mechanize and hire regular workers, and therefore more work and more stress.

Thirty years ago, Joel Magsaysay was on the fast track to what most people think of as success: the son of Philippine marketing guru Joe Magsaysay, he held double engineering majors from De La Salle University, and a succession of high-paying jobs in the corporate world.   But success, he found out, wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

"After a series of hot-shot jobs, I resigned from the last one and became a beach bum," he says.   "Why? I was happy on the beach, I wasn't at work."

It might have had something to do with the times.  Like many children of the Sixties, Magsaysay thought life had something better to offer than the whole dreary round of birth, school, work, death.   He had in fact taken part in student rallies in Mendiola, but unlike his more radical friends, he believed in Gandhi's dictum: if you want to change the world, first change yourself.

While windsurfing one day, he and a friend were carried well away from shore, and fearing he wouldn't have the energy to make it back, he asked his friend what they could take to boost their reserves.

"Honey and royal jelly," his friend answered. 

"Where can I get them?" he asked.   He was told that another friend, Ian, kept a few bees in his backyard.   As it turned out, Ian was not only a neighbor, but one of his father's godchildren as well. Magsaysay was immediately bitten by the bee bug.  Within weeks, he had invested what money he had on his first bee colonies, which he housed in recycled ammunition crates from Clark.   

A couple of years later, Magsaysay met future wife Violaine Valera, whose interest in vegetarianism and natural health had also led her to bee-keeping. As a wedding gift, their friend Ian, who was set to

 

immigrate, gave them his bee colonies, and for their literal honeymoon, the newlyweds towed a trailer full of beehives around various flowering spots, harvesting the honey.

"Our problem was, there was no business model for what we were trying to do," he says.   "We had to invent our own."  With virtually no money to speak of, the couple embarked on their hit-and-miss journey of discovery.  Some years, their efforts were rewarded with a bumper crop.   On other years, they experienced a drought.  The low point came in 1999, when all the harvest yielded was 1/3 drum of honey, next to nothing.

Friends sent messages of encouragement, including a biblical passage from the Book of Jeremiah, which stuck: " 'F or I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'."  Magsaysay swears he couldn't explain what happened next, but when they looked at the drum again, he says, the amount of honey had doubled.   Someone up there was clearly looking out for them, he figured.  Rather than sell the honey, the couple decided to give it free to whoever came asking for it. "Our whole attitude changed," he recalls.   "Whatever was given to us, we gave freely to whoever needed it.  All of a sudden, things started happening in our lives that we can't explain."

During the lean years, Violaine had begun to make soap, vinegar, candles and other household needs from bee products—more as a cost-cutting measure than anything.   As it turned out, this proved to be valuable research and development for what would be Ilogmaria's future product catalog.

It hasn't always been smooth sailing, however.  In November last year, Magsaysay rose from his bed early one morning, and promptly keeled over.   He had had a stroke during the night, and the right side of his body was paralyzed.  He later found out that he had a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol, which had led to an occluded artery.   Despite an intensive course of medication and physical therapy, progress was excruciatingly slow.  When his doctor told him that a particularly expensive medicine which was supposed to repair the arterial damage wasn't working, Magsaysay

decided to put his faith in his own products.   He began to take larger amounts of bee propolis (a resinous substance with antibiotic properties collected by bees from plants), and royal jelly (a substance produced by worker bees to feed the queen bee, which is said to have several health benefits).   Almost immediately, he regained most of the functions of his right arm, he says.

The right leg was still a problem, however.  Magsaysay had been going to an acupuncturist for treatment.   One day, he decided to try api-puncture—applying bee-stings to the acupuncture points.  Apitherapy—the medicinal use of bee venom—had been touted by various schools of traditional medicine as a cure-all, although detractors warn that some people are allergic to bee venom, and that bee stings could prove fatal to sensitive individuals.   Though Magsaysay had applied bee stings to several people suffering from various complaints over the years, this was the first time he tried it himself.   To his amazement, he was able to drive his car the following day with no problem.  Today, just a year after his stroke, the only noticeable effect is a slight limp.   Magsaysay is quick to point out that he also underwent intensive physiotherapy, as well as conventional medical treatment, in addition to bee therapy.  But he is also convinced that bee sting therapy, which he says has been practiced by the Chinese for 5,000 years, works.

Today, Ilogmaria Honeybee Farm is a veritable beehive of activity.  There is a workshop where the various products are made by hand, and a shop where visitors can place orders.   Under construction is what will be the first bee museum in the country, perhaps in Asia, which the Magsaysays hope can help educate visitors on the various aspects of beekeeping when it is finished.

"We're doing something that nobody else is doing, maybe in the world," says Magsaysay. "So far, so good."

For more information, check www.ilogmaria.com .