By ANGIE M. VENERACION

The province of Nueva Vizcaya is bounded by three mountain ranges: Sierra Madre on the east, the Cordillera on the west, and the Caraballo on the south. Nueva Vizcaya offers a lot of historical and eco-tourism destinations that will definitely interest local travelers and adventure seekers.

We had a chance to go to Bayombong, provincial capital of Nueva Vizcaya, to attend the induction ceremonies of the Association of Rabbit Meat Producers Inc (ARaMP) – Province of Nueva Vizcaya Chapter. It was also the birthday of ARaMP Vice-president, Engr. Vicente Galvez, who is the chapter adviser.

Thankfully, travel to Nueva Vizcaya was “unrestricted” on the appointed date. Our strong desire to break the monotony of quarantine restrictions and staying at home for the longest time emboldened us to go ahead with the trip. We were also equipped with a newfound sense of security after getting our 2nd dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The trip gave us a chance to get in touch with Neddy Estabillo Bacud, a member of the Association of Rabbit Meat Producers since 2016, who hails from Bayombong. She was among the first ARaMP members who embraced the advocacy of raising rabbits for nutrition and livelihood. It turned out she is a friend of the Galvez family and she was so happy to meet with us at Tatin’s Resort, owned by the Galvez family where we stayed.

Courage Integrated Farm’s Neddy Estabillo Bacud poses with some newly harvested duhat.

Neddy was a “classmate” at a seminar on Farm Tourism that my husband Art and I attended in 2016. During that time, she and her husband Andrew, who is a seafarer, were developing a four-hectare property they purchased in 2003 at Andrew’s hometown.

They purchased the land for the sentimental value because young Andrew used to frequent said mountainous place to get firewood. She also recalled that Andrew would bring canned sardines during those firewood gathering trips and would trade them for native chicken with the indigenous people in the area.

They first planted pines and forest trees like mahogany and gmelina, and then they interspersed a variety of fruit trees that can supply family consumption needs. When some of the trees started to bear fruit after five years, they found out that there was market demand for these fruits and their produce did not have the commercial volume needed. That time they have already purchased the vicinity lots and have increased their property size to 16 hectares.

Neddy then decided to take charge and plan the development of the area. First to be developed was the orchard that they divided into sections and planted to different fruit trees per area, approximating enough harvest volume to supply the demand.

Husband and wife Andrew and Neddy purchased the land Courage Integrated Farm is on because Andrew has fond memories of growing up in the area.

As of date, the farm is already planted with around 300 guyabano trees, 250 rambutans, 90 mangosteens and a variety of fruit trees including lychee, avocado, langka, lanzones, marang, chico, durian, tamarind, santol, and a variety of citrus like pomelo, calamansi, lime, etc. They also have an area planted with dragon fruit. With the majority of the trees already fruiting, income is already being generated from the orchard, which is cycled back to the development of the place. During fruiting season, a pick and pay tourism activity will be undertaken as an added attraction to generate farm tours.

The livestock projects that Andrew planned to be integrated to the farm had to be put on hold, since Andrew, now a full-fledged ship captain, can only stay at the farm on short durations whenever he is on vacation.

Courage Integrated Farm is located at Purok 2, Brgy. Bansing, Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya. Literally located on top of a mountain, it will really take courage to reach the farm, since the route is still in process of development and not yet friendly to travelers, especially senior citizens. But as Neddy would say and we agreed a hundred percent, “the best view is found after the hardest climb.”

The beauty of the view on top must be shared, but the challenge to go to the place needs to be overcome. There must be an overwhelming reason for people to visit the place, despite the hurdles and difficult climb.

The focal point and center of attraction of the farm is the Hobbit House.

Neddy decided to develop “a place where one can walk with nature, de-stress and receive more than what one seeks.” Managing a travel agency that she named after her daughter Aiesha, Neddy had visited places, some of which remain in her memories since these gave her peace and relaxation. She then decided to replicate these places in miniature versions at Courage (Mountain) Integrated Farm to provide a place of peace and tranquility to the visitors.

She envisioned transforming the farm into an agritourism site, as well as an ATI accredited learning site. She also sees the place to be a learning activity center for schoolchildren where they can actually touch trees and taste their fruits. Andrew is more than supportive to the idea.

The husband and wife team will share the duties to the farm development; Neddy will be in charge of the documentation and registration requirements, as well as the planning, development and management of the farm, while Andrew will provide the financial support.

Art and Angie Veneracion inside one of the hobbit houses on Courage Integrated Farm.

The pandemic was not a hindrance to the plans. It even gave Neddy the time to engage full time in the development of the place. She engaged the services of carpenters and farm workers to help her implement her vision. Her architectural and landscaping skills were brought to the fore and the farm was magically transformed.

The ARaMP group visited the place, the day following the Chapter induction. Neddy and her very supportive mother-in-law, Mama Ching prepared a very delicious breakfast for the group, complete with dragon fruit, freshly harvested from the farm.

After the sumptuous meal, we immediately toured the place guided by Neddy herself, who also served as official photographer. We marveled at the highlights and interesting features that Neddy and her team managed to build on the site. She made use of the natural earth and stone formations and built structures around them, integrating greens and flowering plants. The introduced structures, coupled with words of wisdom written in strategically located points of interests, managed to be in harmony with the surroundings and provided resting areas for the weary mind and body.

ARaMP members (l-r) Gari, Vic, Razel, PA and Art after a sumptuous meal.

We could have stayed there the whole day, but we were reminded that we are around 300 kilometers away from our residences. We had to leave but we promised to return with a bigger group of ARaMP members, who will certainly benefit from the peace and tranquility the place exudes.

Neddy was quick to remind the group that the place transformation is still in process and we can look forward to a much better developed place when we return.

As per Neddy and her family, the place is an oasis of peace, love, and happiness. Seeing Andrew’s joy every time he is in town on vacation is reward enough for all the hard work they have contributed. Courage Integrated Farm is indeed a product of courage, passion, and dedication. Never mind the ROI, it will come in due time. As of now, it is enough that the family is happy and fulfilled each time they are together partaking of their harvests and enjoying nature’s bounty.

Photos courtesy of Neddy Estabillo Bacud