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From Bukidon With Love: How Maria Perrine Successfully, And Happily, Embraced Life On A Farm

This former chocolatier and pastry chef learned that sometimes, the sweetest things in life require no sugar at all


"My family and friends thought I lost my marbles," Maria laughs.


"It was the scariest, yet best decision I ever made," she continues as she talks about the biggest leap of faith she's ever had to take. Eventually, it was one that allowed her to feel most at home with herself and become most aligned with her purpose. 


That was eight years ago, she recalls with a brightness in her tone and no hint of regret whatsoever.


Eight years ago was when Maria Perrine made the life-changing decision to leave her career as an actress and pastry chef in Manila in exchange of a homestead life in Bukidnon where she and her husband, Paul Perrine and her young daughter, Inara, live full-time, tending to and thriving in their fully-functioning farm called Tuminugan Farm.


They have goats, horses, and chickens all around, the view from their bedroom is of lush and verdant flora, and their backyard is Bahay Kubo in the flesh. Within this home, Maria learned about healing salves and all-natural edible remedies, how to prune and how to harvest, how to use her bare hands to create and nurture life, and how people, even in this modern age, can re-integrate into nature yet still enjoy a life of comfort and luxury.  


It's a life of riches, that's for sure, but of riches redefined; Maria quickly learned that the best shade of green isn't the dull and muted kind of countless bills stacked one on top of the other, but the kind of a young bud that's just emerged from soil, the kind that a fresh bowl of homemade pesto has, the kind that emanates life in all its many forms. 


In an exclusive interview, Maria talks to us about how she made the big shift from city to homestead living and the beauty and blessings of farm life in the time of COVID. 

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Former actress and pastry chef, Maria Perinne, embracing the farm life in Bukidnon. | Courtesy of Maria Perrine
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Remember what it was like last summer when city folks moaned and groaned about months and months of indoor isolation? For Maria and her family, there was no such thing. Out in their Bukidnon property, they were free to take stretch their legs on long walks any time of the day and free to breathe in fresh air. Practically everything that Metro Manila residents longed for and still are longing for at this time, Maria has at her disposal.


"I can’t imagine having gone through 2020 elsewhere," she says.


"I’m certainly grateful to have already been living on a farm, where we had access to homegrown food and walks in the outdoors. Before COVID made provincial living 'trendy' so to speak, I already felt it was important for the youth to know that opportunity does not lie solely within the metro," she continues.


See, not so long ago, Maria herself was the shining example of a city girl with an urban lifestyle; she was an actress for some time before she made the shift to food and beverage as a pastry chef, but even then, there was something about wanting a more up close and personal relationship with the outdoors that city life just couldn't satisfy.


All she knew was that she wanted to use her hands for "real" work—work that would bring her under the sun, allow her to enjoy being wrist-deep in soil, and cultivate a much more intimate relationship with nature. 

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Maria Perinne in her Tuminugan Farm, Bukidnon | Courtesy of Maria Perrine
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The desire to make yet another career shift grew and grew, but so did a dilemma that came with it. Paul, a third generation Bukidnon farmer born and raised in the province, had his life set within the acres of his farm and had no plans of moving to the city to shift career gears. Maria had to choose. 


"I was only starting my life as a chef, so I took the plunge and decided to let go of my own career in Manila and start from scratch. I knew it would take a few years to adapt, learn a great deal of new things in an entirely new and isolated environment, and one day find my way again," Maria recalls. 


Little did she know that it would be just the convergence of paths that she needed; she and Paul did end up as husband and wife, whereas her big leap of faith that introduced her to farming life in Bukidnon was exactly what she was looking for, whether she realized it or not. 


"Choosing a slower, more intentional lifestyle has led to more grounding for me. I find city life too chaotic, too fast paced, too competitive, and too polluted nowadays. And during a pandemic, I find comfort knowing that we will know how to feed ourselves should all the stores dry out," Maria reflects.


"I find comfort knowing that if we needed to, we could grow a field full of tomatoes and I’m ready to preserve them in multiple ways to feed us for months. My husband has been working on a DIY off-grid system for us. Every day we move small steps towards a more self-sustainable life, like slow-paced doomsday preppers!" Maria teases. 


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But in all seriousness, Maria's homestead lifestyle has become all the more enviable as of late.


Even before COVID entered our collective consciousness, people from overpacked cities have gobbled up opportunities to get away from it all, willingly traveling miles and miles and paying a pretty penny for just a couple of days out in nature. And with the arrival of the pandemic, what with travel restrictions and work/study/live from home setups the current norm, Maria's life, in an unforeseen plot twist, has become the ultimate embodiment of luxury and privilege.


With the COVID crisis came a shift in values and habits more geared towards self-sustenance, community, and a simplified lifestyle—things that guide and drive life on a farm—and with fingers crossed, these changes will remain long after the pandemic has come and gone.


She hopes that this experience encourages more people, young and old, to change their perspective of farm life. Yes, farm living means getting dirt under your nails from time to time and learning how to do things from step zero and from scratch, but these so-called inconveniences exercise mental, emotional, and even spiritual muscles that can atrophy if left unused. With a life like Maria's, you learn patience, you become more caring, you learn the role you play in the cycle of life, and you feel a deeper sense of gratefulness for all things big and small that come your way.


"2020 came with a great deal of loss and harsh transitions for most of the world... I do hope more people find inspiration to pack up their laptops and move closer to nature, and learn to feed themselves from scratch, from homemade food to homegrown vegetables. It’s all possible," Maria advises. 


After almost a decade of life in Bukidnon, she hasn't looked back. Trips to Manila are few and far in between, and her daughter Inara has similarly spent much of her young life on the farm. 


Currently, Maria's backyard is bursting with pechay, arugula, lettuce, talinum, kangkong, alugbati, squash, okra, carrots, pako, and gai lan (her favorite), dill, chives, parsley, tarragon, basil, oregano, pandan, tanglad, pukinggan, and siling labuyo. Passionfruit and jackfruit are in the mix too, but more often than not, a quick walk around the forest surrounding their home yields even more fruit freshly picked from a branch or a shrub. 


Maria's forest foraging doesn't stop at edible goodies, either. Medicinal plants are also within an arm's reach, many of which can be blended into healing teas and salves.


In fact, the process of looking for and growing greens, flowers, herbs, and fruit is a reward in itself; using her hands to create life has always been therapeutic and meditative, to Maria. She assures those that want to experience the same that all they need is a pot, some soil, the perfect spot for sunlight, and a preferred plant, and they're good to go. 


All in all, Maria's favorite thing to do on the farm has to be getting her hands on delicious, fresh, organic ingredients and transforming them into delectable treats, thanks to her training as a pastry chef.


She says, "My stepmother-in-law is a very passionate farmer, and she has every native vegetable growing under the sun out in the veggie gardens, as well as many other harder to grow crops. I love it when they send me produce, because I get to channel my creativity in the kitchen and feed everyone wholesome food or delectable sweets out of all the organic goodies that were grown right here where we live."


Scroll through her Instagram feed and you'll see all the yummy things she and her family get to enjoy on a regular basis. They've feasted on things like chicken fried adlai, sourdough bread formed as a pumpkin for Halloween, vegan ice cream with vegan salted caramel sauce, smoothie bowls with every fruit and nut combo your imagination can whip up, baked kale chips, the most fragrant pesto pasta you ever did smell, and even soft pretzels and Napoli-style pizza. 


Yum.

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But more than enjoying the personal benefits that farm life has afforded her and her family, Maria has risen up to the challenge of being an advocate of fair and sustainable agricultural practices that benefit entire communities. After all, she firmly believes that the farmers are the backbone of a society like ours, the unsung heroes of a stable future, which makes them all the more deserving of respect and protection. 


"Beyond the basic practices of growing a kitchen garden patch over the past few years, I developed a deep appreciation and understanding for responsible agricultural practices," she tells us.


"I live amongst a family deeply passionate about topics ranging from regenerative agriculture, reforestation, wildlife conservation, water preservation, health, nutrition, to community development. Through the years, I’ve learned of the many ways that modern agriculture has been destroying the earth and human health, and the alternative solutions already present to mend the mistakes made and encourage sustainable practices for a better future," Maria says with pride.


At long last, Maria has found her purpose that she searched for. 


The answer, as it seems, was never up in the sky or far away beyond the horizon, but right under her feet—right on the soil she stood on, and in the life that sprung forth from it. 


Gallery images courtesy of Maria Perrine / Additional images from @maria.perrine