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Philippine Daily Inquirer
July 31, 2004
Success is Simplicity
…………says this farmer-sage, who left the city to live the way he wants, according to his dreams
By Marge C. Enriquez
FARMER-businessman-sage Joel Magsaysay likens the story of his life to a to a sci-fi movie: "I took the red pill and got our of The Matrix. When I left The Matrix, my Trinity was waiting for me."
That was an allusion to a downshift: he went back to the province to build his bee farm and meet his future wife after leaving his career in the corporate world.
The founder of Ilog Maria Honeybee Farm literally and figuratively took an off-the-beaten track in building his business, and enjoys dispensing profundity while the cash register flows. The nine-hectare farm in Alfonso, (sic. Silang) Cavite is just a couple of kilometers from the Tagaytay rotunda. Despite the single lane that leads to the farm, cars don't collide. Legions of Tourists keep coming to buy an assiortment of arguably the best bee products in the market. Ranging from Propolis to honey cider to personal care products and beeswax for cleaning leather.
FOLLOW THE DREAM
Ilog Maria started with a single colony of bees which now yields more than 64 products. Magsaysay's work, especially in the production of royal jelly and pollen, will soon be showcased in a two story Bee Museum.
The 49-year-old entrepreneur is evasive about his background. He told the Inquirer to visit the website www.ilogmaria.com. But when we checked, it was still being fixed. He has a double degree in engineering, and once worked as a management consultant. One of his jobs was to bring in semiconductor firms and help establish the export processing zones.
"Most of the time I was on my way to work," he recounts. "I was living a physical life and a dream life. I
just switched them." He quotes Henry David Thoreau as saying, "go confidently in the direction of your dream." A pioneer windsurfer in the country, he recalls a time when, sailing back to Anilao, he was totally enervated. A friend recommended honey to boost his energy. Magsaysay replied that most varieties he had tasted had no zing. The friend recommended a supplier who turned out to be Magsaysay's neighbor.
"Our life is filled with serendipity. If we recognized and heeded it, we could achieve all our dreams," he says.
Magsaysay became increasingly interested in bee culture. He knew instinctively that the quality of his life would improve if he downshifted to the province. "I had no money but I did not let that stop me," he says.
From Banahaw to Bukidnon, he searched for the ideal place that offered natural springs, coconut trees and proximity to market. He learned about the bee culture through observation, trial and error.
"The concept was not just new business, but new life," says Magsaysay. He discovered the forest in Alfonso (sic. Silang), Cavite. "I threw away the past and reassembled my life. I had just resigned from the best job I ever had. I was part of the doughnut wars of the 1980s. One day I found myself in an empty hut opening the windows. Then I heard a voice that said, "So what?"
During a trip to Manila, he bumped into a former date, Violaine Valera, who asked to be escorted to her family's 10-hectare fishpond in Quezon. He has found his dream woman. The courtship was basically living the farm life of chopping wood and drawing water from the well. After several months, They were married and resettled to Magsaysay's bee farm.
Asked if he had at least been backed by some inheritance, Magsaysay bellows, "is money your god?" Fact is, he seems to have access to a higher form of providence. For example, in 1987, a drought hit Cavite. During a phone conversation with his mother, she asked about his condition. He told her that
it hadn't rained in Cavite for five months. She asked to be fetched and brought over, so she could help him seek divine intervention. She prayed and it rained ice. As Magsaysay drove her back to Manila, he noticed that the road to the city was dry. It hadn't rained elsewhere. Years after that miracle, Magsaysay registered his business as Ilog Maria Honeybee Farm, as a tribute to the downpour brought about by the Holy Virgin's blessing, according to his mother.
Magsaysay started selling honey and its variants. By word of mouth, the farm became a tourist attraction, and went against the economic slump of the Asian crisis in 1997. The farm was producing honey by the ton., and some other crops like mangoes, were flourishing as well. A Japanese businessman who walked in and tried Magsaysay's propolis was amazed at its purity. The initial order of one kilo led to more orders, until the product became a steady export.
"We developed a production discipline," Magsaysay points out. "We were no longer just a mom & pop operation or a backyard business. Because of the export discipline, the quality of products improved. However, we did not want to up the prices as a strategy. Our packaging is adequate, but not for an upscale department store. I's really much rather cater to walk-ins. They come here, and that is big savongs in terms of warehousing and advertising. There is person-to-person contact. You explain the product and customers will experience your integrity."
Still Ilog Maria has a bigger domestic market. It supplies the massage oils and toiletries for some establishments, such as Sonya's Garden.
Magsaysay has received offers to set up shop in Metro Manila, but he is not interested.
He explains, "Ilog Maria will lose its novelty. Also, logically, the prices will go up. It will be like telling people not to go to the farm and, instead, go to the mall because it's more convenient even if it's more expensive? No way! For me, it's a matter of principle. Besides, its good for children to be brought to the farm so they see natural living."
Magsaysay notes that in the United States more than half of the exports are from companies that have 19 employees or less.
"I've managed big businesses. You report to the board of directors to say that gross sales have climbed eight percent since last year, an net profit has gone double digit, say from 9 to 11 percent. You'd be smug by then," he guffaws. "People pay you hundreds of thousands of pesos just to say that."
The advantages of running a small enterprise are countless, as far as he is concerned. "You control everything and the market does not dictate to you. With a big business you can get a heart attack or cancer," he says. "You're living in your head. We were meant to live in gardens. The most terrible punishment meted on man was being sent out of such a garden……guarded by a Jedi with a laser sword. Capitalism is good for most people but not for me."
In the farm, his "office" consists of plots of basil, mint, oregano, dill, tarragon, arugula, peppermint, lemon balm and pineapple – all using worm compost which, Magsaysay claims is more efficient than any machinery. In the city, he notes, people are routinely trapped in their cars during traffic jams, or stuck in from of their computers, whereas he wakes up every morning to the scent of rosal and champaca.
"I love the natural life, and its better with a small business run by the family," says Magsaysay. "I might sound quixotic, but hey, the world is filled with windmills – in your mind.
Indeed, he measures success not by materialistic standards of acquisition, title or paycheck, but by little, constant things, like getting up early for mass with his wife, and spending breakfast, while enjoying a view of Taal ridge: "Success is when you can live as simply as you want."
Ilog Maria Honeybee Farm is located at #7 Ilog Maria, Km. 47 Aguinaldo Highway, Lalaan 1, Silang 4118, Cavite. For details, contact 09175027538 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.