Efrenia “Neng” Cantoneros Holt, founder and owner of Atbang Farm in Cabayugan, Calape, Bohol. A graduate of Bachelor of Science in Agriculture majoring in Entomology at Bohol Agricultural College, now called Bohol Island State University (BISU). Holt worked in the finance industry in the UK before moving back to the Philippines in 2004.
“It was a fulfilled wish. My Mama was dying of colon cancer and she asked me to look after the land when she’s gone. She sadly died early 2004. So, my husband and I moved back to live in Bohol from the UK late 2004 and I started farming while my husband volunteered to teach at a local high school in our village,” she said.
Atbang Farm is a permaculture farm and wildlife preserve that also calls itself a food forest. “We follow a simple, easy, scientific and effective way of farming. It regenerates life, both in our lands and within us so it heals us. We follow the path of ecological agriculture and live sustainably as farmers. We enjoy our farm to the fullest with a balanced healthy land vibrant with life and native biodiversity,” Holt says.
Before it became Atbang Farm, the area was used as pasture land for cattle, goats, and carabaos. Now it is a permaculture-inspired farm that produces a variety of crops, not to mention value-added products, all made with a philosophy of caring for oneself and one’s surroundings.
“‘Atbang’ is a Bisaya word for ‘opposite side.’ Our farm is located on a valley of opposite sloping farm fields with a stream at the bottom of the fields. Thus, we call our farm Atbang Farm based on its location and topography,” Holt explains.
Their farmhouse sits on four hectares of land, with 10 hectares nearby devoted to planting various crops. Half of their total land area is dedicated to wildlife preservation.
CULTIVATING A FOOD FOREST
When the Holts started Atbang Farm in 2004, turning it into a business was the last thing on their minds. But from the start, Holt knew that she wanted to farm in as sustainable a way as possible. “At first, all I wanted to do was just plant fruit trees that I love eating! I didn’t plan to make my farm into a business. I did some research about permaculture and, influenced by friends who are advocates in ecological and organic farming, I decided to transform our farm from a pasture land into a forest as a sanctuary for wildlife and grow our food too!” she said.
Atbang Farm gained its nickname as a food forest because of the variety of crops and livestock available on site.
“We mainly grow permanent crops of coconuts, fruit trees, various indigenous plants and forests. We grow vegetables and farm animals on clearings in between permanent forest crops where we sourced our food and fresh farm produce,” Holt said.
Because the farm spans a valley, it contains different types of soil. Some areas had naturally eroded, so the Holts used natural farming techniques to replenish the soil and its nutrients.
“The soil type of our farm varies depending on its location. Being in a valley, the higher portion of the land has less soil depth than the lower portion because of erosion over the year,” Holt explained.
“We constructed terracing and swales where possible to lessen the soil erosion of the land. We planted trees, especially the top and steep portion of the land to hold the land from degrading further.”
Terracing is the technique of cutting succeedingly receding flat areas that resemble steps on a mountainous or hilly slope for farming purposes. In the Philippines, the most popular example of this is the Banawe Rice Terraces. A swale, meanwhile, is a sunken area with sloped sides commonly used in permaculture to contain rainwater runoff by spreading it horizontally instead of vertically across the land.
Much of the farm’s water source comes from a stream that runs through it. “We also have spring water where we tapped into and rain water tanks to supply our farmhouse needs. We did suffer a shortage of water after the Earthquake in 2013 because the spring water source stopped flowing and the stream water flow became less than it used to be. Now, we found another spring water appearing in the land!” Holt shared.
The farm’s main product is cacao, but it also grows jackfruit, bananas, durian, coconut, mangosteen, rambutan, mangoes, various root crops and vegetables as well as native chickens and ducks. It also has a small fishpond for tilapia, as well as a few hives that house native stingless bees. The latter’s honey is harvested only for personal use, though the farm works with local honey gatherers and some of Atbang’s farmers who harvest seasonally from the nearby forest during the honey flow season.
“Our farm puts importance on caring, respecting and learning with nature. We keep our soil healthy because we believe it nurtures our food which in turn nurtures our health. We grow food using natural farming and ultra-low-cost organic agriculture,” Holt said.
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