Saturday, February 20, 2010

Retired exec offers escape from the city

By Karen Lapitan
Inquirer Southern Luzon

Posted date: February 20, 2010

PAGSANJAN, Laguna – Far from the corporate world that he used to rule, Mars Aaron, 59, now enjoys sharing the joy of living a simple rural life through his agri-eco village and farm resort here.

Instead of a formal suit and black leather shoes, he now often wears plain shirts, jeans and boots while enjoying the serenity of the place.

Aaron is a retired chief executive officer of Unilever Philippines’ subsidiary Unilever Best Foods before he developed an 11-hectare land that he bought from his mother-in-law in 1997, which he later named Villa Socorro, after his wife.

“I was just seeking for a place where I would retire, a place where I would age,” he says.

Aaron adds that when he bought the land, he was thinking of some activities that would keep him busy after retirement.

The time he bought the 11-hectare land, he and his friends started planting a number of trees already, even the full-blast development had not started yet.

In 2004, he focused on developing the piece of land since that year signaled his retirement from work. At the age of 54, he became a budding entrepreneur.

Escape from the city

Villa Socorro agro-eco village and farm resort offers a relaxing escape from the busy metropolis.

Located at the foot of Sierra Madre and adjacent to Banalac River, Villa Socorro promises lush vegetation and ranch-style accommodation.

Guests are allowed to pick the fruits and vegetables in season, and have them for their meals, says Aaron.

The couple takes pride in the brand of hospitality they offer to their guests.

“This may not be the business I am familiar with when I was just starting, but rest assured that guests get the treatment they deserve. We consider each guest as a family guest.”

“When there are guests coming here, we personally entertain them as much as we can,” Aaron says, citing the same reason they do not accept walk-in clients.

They also encourage their children to meet the guests staying at Villa Socorro.

He says: “We want to give the best to our clients by preparing for their stay here.”

Villa Socorro has eight cottages and a pavilion, and eyes expansion in the coming years. Each of the cottage is named after local vegetables like “sitaw’’ (string beans) and “kalabasa’’ (squash).

The place is ideal for camping, team-building activities, trekking or any form of bonding.

“Our guests can have a different kind of bonding here. We want them to be closer with nature,” Aaron says.

Instead of the usual team-building activities, he suggests rafting and jungle survival training to their guests.

The agro-eco village and farm resort can accommodate up to 50 people at a time.

Aaron chose not to develop the other parts of the 11-hectare property. “I want nature to grow things on its own.”

Helping the community

When Typhoon “Milenyo” hit Laguna in 2006, the trees Aaron nurtured for almost a decade fell. Instead of wallowing in despair, he decided to turn the fallen trees into pieces of furniture.

He asked some residents in the village to help him transform the fallen trees into pieces of furniture, which he later used for his agri-eco village and farm resort.

In return, the residents living near his place had income.

“It’s interesting how this farm resort managed to help the residents here. From time to time, we provide the community some sources of income so they could do something worthwhile,” Aaron relates.

After the furniture venture, Aaron, with his wife, came up with another activity that engages some more residents living near their place.

“We have planted hundreds of banana trees here, so we thought of producing banana chips while employing some local residents,” he says.

Villa Socorro’s banana chips manufacturing venture is helping an average of 10 people, aside from the other workers that the couple hire from time to time.

“We also hire additional people if there are guests coming here. It’s our own way of helping the community,” Aaron says.

He considers this business venture as a rural immersion and corporate social responsibility program.

Villa Socorro is located in Barangay (village) Dingin, Pagsanjan, Laguna. Call 852-6484 and 0917-6282139 for inquiries.

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