By Marie Tonette Marticio

TACLOBAN City – A farm school and budding tourist destination situated in an upstream village in Jaro, Leyte has proved that agriculture can help cope with the global crisis brought about by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

With barely a year after embarking on farm tourism, Villaconzoilo Farm School, a Healing and Wellness Farm has been closed since the lockdown was announced in March, but this did not stop Villacoinzoilo Community Association comprised of 38 families from earning.

Although they have felt the effect of the lockdown since they used to earn up to P60 thousand from tourists daily, excluding the funds they get from the Technical Education Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and Agricultural Training Institute, an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture for their agriculture courses, Alex Aborita, the farm manager, shared that they used the time to focus on their salad vegetable production to keep them afloat.

They have expanded their cultivation in their 16-hectare land that only started from a 1,000 sqm plot and P1,800 capital. They aim to accelerate transformations in the food and agriculture sector by building resilience in the face of the current challenges.

“I think we will survive even if this situation lasts up to three years as long as we keep on planting. People still come to buy our produce in bulk. Sometimes we deliver orders to the town proper,” he shared.

They also felt relieved that they were finally allowed to open their farm to tourists who wish to spend quiet time with their families. From 150 guests, they can only accept up to 50 percent of their carrying capacity through pre-bookings. Villaconzoilo farm has resumed its operations to provide a venue for educational and recreational agricultural and fishery-based activities that would encourage economic activity, augment the income of the farmers and the community, that was greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are slowly going back to normal despite the huge loss, but I think we will manage,” he said, citing that they have made some improvements in their facilities with the construction of a new building that has a function room, conference hall, and viewing deck.

Aborita said they also earn more from serving organic food to their guests in their farm-to-table restaurant such as free-range native chicken, eggs, fruit shakes, fish, roasted pork, and their signature wellness tea made from freshly-picked herbs in the farm. Villaconzoilo also offers purely organic honey from their bee colonies.

They also offer “Glamping” (glamorous camping). Those who want to escape the busy and exhausting life in the city, and spend a night on top of the mountains but still want to feel the comfort of their homes, may opt to rent one of their small huts instead of tents. However, they still have tents at an affordable price for a more authentic family getaway.

Visitors may take a dip in their swimming pool that uses spring water from Mt. Amandiwing “Alto Peak”, the highest peak in the region.

For only P100, guests may enjoy farm life with an educational tour around the farm and avail of few lectures in organic farming or pick vegetables and feed the animals. Plantitos and Plantitas may also opt to earn a certificate in landscaping on the farm.

The farm school that offers courses such as Organic Agriculture Production National Certificate II, Animal Production Poultry-Chicken NC II, Animal Production Swine NC II, and Produce Organic Fertilizers Leading to Organic Agriculture Production NC II. They have only resumed recently with a limited number of students coming from the second district of Leyte, following the safety protocol and guidelines.