People often ask how the Layog Country Farm evolved from its early start into how it is today. “We want to know its history ,” they would say and that baffles me. No, it is not their interest in knowing more about the farm that confuses me but what it is really they want to know.
History is a cold chronological narrative of facts about how the past came to shape the present and why things happened as they did. History is not interested in how you feel. It is only interested in your critical and clinical understanding and interpretation of interaction of people places and events in the past. I asked a friend what he thought “Not history but farm story.” He answered “You are not writing for the Dead Historians Society, are you?” he asked laughing like I have just said something stupid. “Give your narrative a heart. I am sure that is what people interested in the farm would like to know.” I could nod my head in agreement.
Everything starts with an idea. Ideas are the seeds that give birth to dreams. Dreams are turned to goals to be achieved and to be made real. Often dreams do not run their full course. They can often be so intimidating, scary and unachievable. It would be an easier choice to just give up on them. But that was not the kind of dreamer our Dad was. He wanted to build a farm. He knew there were mountains to climb before the farm he dreamed of would ever see light but he thrived on challenges. He would always tell us “ If it is not worth sweating it out then it is not worth having. “
I do not know how nor when the farm got started. I did not even have a clue it existed until we moved to Kayan where the farm was located. I remember how I hated the move to change residence. I was used to the bustling ambiance of Mankayan, a mining town few hours ride away. Giving it all up including selling our big house and settling in a much smaller one in a sleepy town was just difficult for the kid that I was to comprehend. This was not for long. As soon as we were settled, our Dad started everyone in the family in trying to understand why he made the big decision that changed the course of our lives.
The young man who left to see what life got in store for him with only a shirt in his back thought it was time to go home. The farm boy in him never left. His love for the land was leading him home. The farm was to be the expression of that love.
Except for our mom, no one in the family shared that love. Tilling the land was what we wanted to escape from. To be able to one day live in the United States or Europe was what everyone was aiming for. It was supposed to be the big dream. Parents are the first to know what their children wanted to do with their lives. Mom and Dad never watered down those dreams. They encouraged us to do what makes us happy. Our Dad saw no conflict between our aspirations and being a farmer and was determined to show us. He was to turn the farm into our school of life.
I clearly recall our introduction to the farm. Together with our other siblings, our Dad toured us around the whole area. I remember him telling us about a road traversing the farm in the future. It was not just a road but a very important and busy road. I looked around and just wondered how that was possible. I see forests and a place so isolated away. I gazed at him and thought he must be dreaming.
The road did come into being. What looked impossible then has become a reality. It is just sad our dad did not live long to see it but I can hear him telling me, “I told you. Let not pessimism get hold of your lives. Just keep on believing in your dreams and just go for it.” was his often repeated advice. I call it now as the lesson of the road.
A walk around the farm with our Dad was always designed to instill something in you. He would pick some wild plants along the way which would end up in the pot for a great meal. He would never fail to ask us to savor the sweetness of the water from the spring thirsty or not. I vividly recall his most repeated lines after each of these experiences. “The land gives you what you need to survive. Take care of the land and it would take care of you.”
We were amazed at how much he knows about the fauna and flora in the area. He knows them by name. He knows which of them are edible, medicinal, poisonous, useful, harmful and pests that need to be ridden off. The way he talks about them is a lesson in co-existence. The earth has other inhabitants besides us and they have as much right to live as we do. We all need each other to survive. That was not lost on our Dad. He made sure the need to ensure ecological balance was the underlying principle in the farm’s operation.
The people working at the farm were at vibes with our Dad. They are farmers who truly understand and are attune to the demands of maintaining the ecological equilibrium. They were introduced to us during our farm visits.
Manong Gestama was the guy who was good at building stone walls and so was Uncle Sam-an whose built seemed to be meant for carrying those big stones. Uncle Qurino was the one who worked the farm. Uncle Keyda assisted on all the works. There were others like Amay Biyad and Amay Langpawen who work the farm on call.
Three people from the family had practically made the farm their life. Uncle Poklang, our Dad’s brother was the farm’s go to guy. He was the one to run to when you needed something done. He did not take orders though from anyone but our Dad. So to get our uncle’s help you got to talk to our Dad. He developed this weird personality after a tragic accident while serving as a soldier during the war. He instilled fear in those who do not know him. Sadly, tragedy followed him till the end. He died in an accident while doing work at the farm. But the farm is a kind of tribute to his life. You could see his handiwork at the farm wherever you turn your sight.
Grandma Dawani brought her indomitable spirit into the farm. She was the plant whisperer. She talked to plants like they understand. She apologizes to the weeds before pulling them out. As a kid, I thought that was crazy. I would learn years and years later it was supported by logic. Anyway, I remember her coming to visit the farm one time and decided to stay. I have never seen someone deal with work like it was an elixir for high-spirited life. It was hard to believe she was over eighty years old. I guess if one just gets himself lost in the job and the job becomes him, it ceases to be a chore but part of his being like breathing. This is true for everyone no matter what the age.
The farm was administered by a jester, our oldest brother Andres. He lived in the farm upon dropping out from school. He only left the farm when he got married. He was funny and fun. He did not take to work like our grandma did but he brought laughter and cheer in the farm. Whenever one hears people laughing in the farm, he could be sure our brother was around. He was an entertainer,!our brother. He could sing and had a soothing voice. He also played the guitar. The nights could be lonely in a farm which is miles away from the village. After a long day work, what the workers needed was someone to lift their spirit. Our brother the entertainer and funny man was that person.
My Mom deserves a special mention. She was the eagle on the watch. She always wanted to make sure that we are alright, that we are away from harm. She was also the determined caregiver. She made sure, we were properly feed and ready for the day’s demands. She was also the farm nurse. Whenever someone in the farm gets sick or gets hurt, she always knows what to do. She was also our farm mentor. She would always show us how thing are done and not only that she tells us why, whether that be planting corn and sweet potatoes, feeding the chicken and other farm cores. She made farm work fun.
Our parents brought us to the farm each weekend. It was also in the farm that we spent our summer vacations. The farm house was always packed to the brim whenever we were around. The workers lived with us except at times when they went home to their families. We were just one big family.
Our Dad loved to entertain his friends in the farm. One good friend Dr. Rosario Quitiquit, the Chief of what was then the Mountain Province General Hospital was a constant visitor. We loved having the doctor for a visit. He often brought his staff along with him each time he came. His visit often meant a big picnic in the farm. As kids, we loved picnics.
Our days in the farm were just like that – picnics. We just loved it. The experience was one for the books. It was wonderful waking up each morning to the songs of the birds, the crowing of the rooster, the mooing of the goats and all those wonderful sounds which one would only hear in a farm. Preparing our own breakfast was a welcome chore. It was a cooperative task. One of us would cook the rice and later fry the eggs. Someone would milk the goats for fresh milk. Another would gather eggs from the chicken coop after making sure the chicken were fed. Fruits, most often bananas, pineapples, papayas and oranges, were gathered the day before as part of our daily chore.
We were free to design our daily tasks. Sometimes we join our brother Andres go hunting birds. The wild pigeon, known locally as pagaw, was our favorite bird of prey. If we were lucky, we would be able to hunt enough for our lunch.
Often we would go gathering wild fruits. I remember the flavory sweet taste of the bassiwey, the pleasantly sour taste of a bukok, the luscious degdegway, the sweet taste of the ayyosip, the sweet and sour taste of the wild berry – known locally as pinit, the bugnay which tasted sour while still red and tasted pleasantly sweet when it turned deep purple, and of course the wild guavas.
Sometimes, we join the farm work. Planting was lots of fun. We would get our instructions on the basics of planting from our mom or our grandma. Planting corn was easy so that was where we were often allowed to help. The experience of watching the plant grow until harvested and finally be eating its fruits was truly exhilarating.
Sharing the fruits of our labor was something I hardly comprehend as a kid. Each Saturday afternoon while on vacation in the farm, the whole family including our younger siblings trek back home to the village with loads of fruits and vegetables on our back or for our younger sisters on their heads. It was not an easy hike. The walk takes almost two hours. We would be fully exhausted by the time we get home. So when told by our father to share what we have labored so hard for, whether with the nuns or the parish priest our family has developed close relations with or with people who drop us visit in the house, I was not thrilled. But maybe that is what sharing should be. Share that which you yourself would want not that which you do not need.
Of course, there were times our sisters would sell the fruits in the market. Getting cash for the fruits of your labor was gratifying.
There were lots of things one could do while on vacation at the farm. It was filled with excitement. We always looked forward to summer vacation with anticipation and the times we could spend at the farm. The farm was a great part of our lives for many years while growing up. The good times we had at the farm just rolled.
Some good times never lasts. Our Dad got seriously ill and got in and out of the hospital. When he died his dream farm died with him.
I was sure our Dad expected one of us to take over the reins and drive the farm to the direction he wanted it to go. Unfortunately, with our dad no longer around to stir things up, we lost interest. None of us were interested. For almost three decades, the farm was left to take its natural course. We, his children, on the other hand, went our different ways in pursuit of our own dreams. The farm was the least of our concern. We met as a family every after two years but even during those times, the farm was not in our agenda. That was how it was during all those years.
But do dreams really ever die or they simply lay in slumber just waiting for that destined moment to wake up? I remember my Mom saying ” Nothing nor no one ever dies if you keep them alive in your heart.” I believe that is how it was. Dad’s dream remained alive in our hearts it never left. It has only gone on a long sleep.
Today after over three decades of hibernation, the farm is finally awake. Thanks to our sister, Lina , the farm has come alive and is now as vibrant as ever. The awakening is another story worth telling.
Our Dad must be happy watching the turn of events and so are the former residents of the farm who are all long gone. Gone maybe but I am sure they have never left. Their spirits continue to roam around the farm they have spent a great deal of their lives building.
Sustainable agriculture continues to be at the core of the farm’s vision. The reborn farm will create its own story and one day someone is going to write about it. In the meantime, everyone is invited to just go enjoy it.