Sunday, November 27, 2016

Canaan Hill Farms and Honey Garden: Biliran's Promised Land

Every successful venture is earned through determination and hard work. In Eastern Visayas, there used to be a place overgrown with cogon grass that now attracts visitors from all over the country. 

breathtaking view from the top of the hill
Canaan Hill Farms and Honey Garden started as a dream. Eduardo Espinazo, a fisherman married to homemaker Priscilla, raised nine children -- six boys and three girls. According to their eldest son, Sandro, they grew up trying to make ends meet. "We'd eat cassava for breakfast and lunch, and corn for dinner. My siblings and I would also walk five kilometers to and from school."

OA Bloggers with some of the Espinazo siblings
As the Espinazo children finished their studies one by one, the husband and wife were finally able to "breathe" from the heavy financial obligations of putting the kids through school. In 2011, the family bought six hectares of land in Caibiran, Biliran to finally help realize Eduardo's dream to become a farmer.

an indian mango tree laden with fruits
According to Sandro, they cleared the land manually using bolo knives to chop out the cogon grass from the soil because they didn't have grass cutters. The original plan was just to cultivate bananas but the Espinazo children were able to convince their father to do contour farming instead.

a variety of cacti planted under a big tree house
Slowly Canaan Hill Farms took shape as the family painstakingly developed the land into the amazing tourist destination it has now become. Our group of Organic Agriculture Bloggers enjoyed touring the place because there are so many spots there that are perfect for photo ops!  

a calamansi tree with lots of ripened fruits
Planted all over the farm are more than 30 varieties of fruit trees including 1000 calamansi trees with ripened fruits falling on the ground and naturally being recycled as organic fertilizer because the family is unable to pick all of them. You see, the only farm employees they have are each other! Even the grandchildren help out by taking care of the sheep. The farm likewise raises chicken and shelters a lot of doves, which we often saw flying overhead. 

the doves of Canaan Hill
Sam, one of the Espinazo children, humorously described their farm to be "organic by neglect" as they admittedly have a hard time keeping up with all the tasks that need to be done, especially since they recently acquired another hectare of land to add to the existing six.

very friendly lambs!
The brothers, who expressed gratitude for the assistance of the Agricultural Training Institute, also explained that they advocate for tranquility tourism and practice ideological strategizing. "We do business according to our faith. We don't compromise." 

this particular spot reminded me of my cross stitch projects
Now, guests not only could enjoy the beautiful views of and from Canaan Hill, they can also take home some of the farms' bestselling products such as powdered ginger called A-YUL (that makes a soothing cup of tea), peanut butter, guava jelly, and fresh fruits. Entrance fee is P50 per pax but it will be waived if you order food. Snacks are priced at P100 while heavy meals, already good for four people, cost P1,000 and up. They are open from 8AM to 5PM.  

Jeruel holding the freshly harvested vegetables
that were cooked for our breakfast 
According to the Espinazos, out of 100 visitors, about two usually become interested to likewise take up farming. However, whatever they have achieved came from a lot of willpower and dedication. The four brothers we talked to, including Lemuel and Jeruel, recalled taking on challenges such as a bad drought during one particularly dry season where they had to water all their plants and vegetables until midnight just to keep them from dying. 

who'd have thought this used to be teeming with cogon grass?!
Their family relied on rainwater stored in big drums which they had to manually roll up the hill. The thing is, the distance they had to conquer was one kilometer long! To think I was already out of breath trekking up with just my backpack and stroller bag in tow!

saving the vacant space for hubby who I missed so much while I was away 
Two years after that dry spell, the farm was hit by Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 and left more than 50 percent devastation. A year later, the Espinazos prepared for the worst when Typhoon Ruby was also projected to pass through the Visayas region. "We placed braces on our mangoes, rambutan, and santol trees to keep them upright. Thankfully, many of them held," said the brothers who affirmed that farmers should have patience, love, and passion for what they do in order for them to succeed.

morning view all the way to Samar Sea
Waking up every morning with such beautiful surroundings and spending each day at such a place that inspires tranquility, I'd say naming the place after the Bible's promised land is very apt, indeed!

* Read about other inspiring farms and the farmers we met in Eastern Visayas, here

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