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Canaan Hill Farms and Honey Garden: An agri-tourism destination in Biliran

Parents mold their children to become a better version of themselves. It is common among farmer parents to advice their children: “Mag-aral kang mabuti, para hindi ka magsaka ng bukid.” This holds true to most of our farmers in the country. As much as they can, they do not want their children to experience the hardship and struggles cultivating land for a living.
 
For a family in Brgy. Uson, Caibiran, Biliran, parents Eduardo and Priscilla Espinazo are grateful that their children helped realize their dream to have a farm of their own. They sent their children to school; Jeruel and Jeffrey are now faculty members at Naval State University; Lemuel is a Veterinarian; Jemmel stopped being a seaman to help in fishing and farming, while Sandro, Samuel, Sandra, Jemima and Jacamia returned home to cultivate the land their parents were able to acquire –all nine helps at the farm in their own ways. They manage Canaan Hills Farm and Honey Garden, an agritourism destination in Caibiran, Biliran.
 
It is almost a 6-ha uphill lot overlooking the east coast of Biliran province. The farm is named after the biblical term Canaan or promise land. Espinazo matriarch, Priscilla, shares “Gisaad na sa Ginoo nga ang iyang mga tawo magmtinud-anon sa pagsunod ug pag-alagad kaniya. Iyang gisugo ang mga katawhan niya nga pangadto kamo niini nga yuta nga akong gisaad kaninyo, diin adtua nagapagaay sa gatas ug dugos.” In the bible, this can be seen on Leveticus 20:24 which states, “You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey."
 

No lot, no problem

The family’s main source of livelihood is fishing and farming. Eduardo started farming on borrowed vacant lots, where he would plant banana, or rootcrops. Often, when the owner will eventually need the land, he is left with nothing but the drive to look for another vacant lot. He did this while raising their children, until the couple were able to save up, and invest on fishing gears then started to save again from both means.
 
In October 2011, a land owner was willing to sell her unproductive property to the Espinazo family. They didn’t have the required amount back then, and both parties agreed on a payment term: The family will pay in full by December 2013, and if they can’t, the land will be returned along with another prospective buyer.
 
Even while they were still in the process of paying it in full, the sons already started cultivating the land. On December 2013, the family was able to pay the full amount. Priscilla relates that her children are the main workers in the farm.
 
They started cultivating the land portion by portion, or as they call it –strips. One strip will be cleaned, cultivated and planted with fruit trees, until they reached the topmost part of the area. This grew until they started to put in ornamentals and landscaping.
 
The family did not a have specific farm plan. Rather, they planted fruit trees and followed the appropriate distance for each kind. They intentionally planted vegetables so they can be sure on the safety of the food that they consume. As such, they only use organic practices and their main source of fertilizer comes from sheep, where the shed is purposely constructed to separate the urine and manure. Sheep urine flows into a drum, while the manure is manually collected.
 
 
Family comes out for each other

Indeed, maintenance use up most of their time. With limited resources for farm development, they could not hire laborers since a large part of the income will go to daily wages. This made the Espinazo children decide to devote their time in the farm. As further developments took place, family members who had other jobs outside the farm would pledge to sustain on farm expenses.
 
As the family advocates natural farming technologies, they cleaned the whole area by hand and not kaingin. Hence, the farm mainly involves family members including the grandchildren. They are molding the kids at an early age on the positive effects of farming and eating their own produce.
 
When the two consecutive supertyphoons visited Region 8 in 2013 and 2014, Canaan had less damages. Fruit trees were then small during the former and they were able to put wood braces for the trunks a week before the latter made a landfall. There weren’t much effect on the coconut trees at the farm, since it has been eliminated to give way for the vast landscaping.
 
The farm has a 10 x 10 meters cylindrical water reservoir, connected by a hose from a nearby spring that is used for all the activities especially at the topmost part. At one point, the water reservoir dried up due to El Niño. Thus, they had to manually water the plants until 11 PM using the water source at the entrance.  This meant carrying the barrel with water uphill, and rolling it downhill. Sandro, the eldest son, relates that it was one of the biggest challenge they faced at the farm by far.
 
They opened the farm to the public in 2014 and promoted it over social media. All of a sudden, more and more people came to visit Canaan for its farming techniques and breathtaking view.
 
 
Mixing to get the balance

The farm gets an average of 200 visitors per month, although there are times when visitors can go as high as 200 persons a day, especially on holidays. However, they emphasized that they close the farm on Sundays for worship. Visitors can tour the farm the whole day for a twenty-peso (Php20.00) entrance fee.
 
Samuel notes on people’s comments, “Maupay an iyo farm, makarefresh iton amon huna-huna kun nasulod kami tungod han iyo way of farming nga dili la basta, iyo gin-arrange an iyo pagtanom.” (Your farm is a good site, as it refreshes our thoughts because of your farming strategy. You did not just planted; the plants are well arranged.)
 
Until such time that they needed more people for farming and entertaining visitors. So the family decided to temporarily close it for walk-in guests. They felt the need to study on controlling the flow of visitors without neglecting their farming activities.
 
Samuel shares, “An tawo man gud, makuri pagmanage, so nagdecide kami nga i-close anay temporarily para an masakob, diri masamukan kay an mga tanom nadestroso na liwat. Nangalimtan na usahay an pag-uma kay nahingadi na an focus sa mga bisita.” (People tend to be unmanageable especially with the large area, and very limited personnel. The plants were also destroyed in the long run. Sometimes, the family’s focus is already diverted to entertaining the visitors rather than farming.)
 
Little by little, with the pledges from family members and farm income, Canaan now has a function hall, stop-over cottages, vegetable structures, vermicomposting facility and a tractor service for guests. The farm now feature strips of land with Jackfruit, Lemonsito, Cacao, Rambutan, Mango, Papaya, Coconut, , Miracle fruit and ornamentals to name a few. It has a total of twenty-three kinds of fruit bearing trees.
 
On their part, the family was firm that they are not after the income that visitors put in, but on the true meaning of sharing their farming strategies to the public.
 
 
When it rains, it pours

The family’s matriarch received the UGMAD award on August 11, 2015 as Outstanding Farmer-Entrepreneur presented by Visayas State University during its founding anniversary.
 
On the last quarter of 2015, ATI RTC 8 identified Canaan Hills Farm and Honey Garden as a learning site for the farmers in the region. The farm, represented by Samuel Espinazo, received One hundred Thousand Pesos (Php100,000.00) to fund their proposal on a protected structure facility that will be used for cauliflower production.
 
Samuel shared that their dream is to make Canaan a model farm and encourage others to go into farming. They hope to re-open again soon, with a better strategy for a balanced farming and tourism. Consequently, they wanted to get their vermicomposting facility to be fully operational and implement technologies from successful farms they visited.
 
With only four years of farming and cultivating the land, they have done so much. None of the family members claim owning the land. Instead, they claim as caretakers and acknowledges God as the sole owner.  Thus, they emphasized the need to take care of it.
 
When the former owner knew that the farm has become what it is now, she regained her interest on the land and proposed a buy back. Apparently, there was nobody she can trust to maintain the farm as an agritourism destination.