“I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.”
- Song of Solomon 2:1
The One who died for us also walks with us. That is the belief of former OFW nurse Elisa Laruan, who is thankful for all the blessings her family is enjoying when they opened to the public their organic farm and homestay. Their place has been gaining popularity as a less mainstream, tourist spot in La Trinidad, Benguet, a neighboring town of Baguio famed for its strawberry farms. She said that God owns everything, including the land that was passed on to them by their ancestors, and they are simply His caretakers. They even named their place Lily of the Valley, a beautiful white flower symbolically referred to Jesus Christ, to show their gratefulness. No such flower though grow in this part of the valley.
Marl wanted to test drive his Red Hyundai Eon from Manila to Baguio. When I found out that he wants to stay at Lily, I said yes to his invitation; and so did Jen and Mia. The last summer I was in Baguio, I really wanted to stay at Lily’s; unfortunately it was fully booked. Thankfully this time when we inquired, we were able to reserve a room.
Lily of the Valley is a two-hectare organic farm, café and homestay of retiree couple Elisa and Jeff Laruan. It is the first organic farm in the Cordillera Region to be accredited as an agro-tourist destination by the Philippine Department of Tourism. Jeff, who has been a farmer all his life, has been growing highland vegetables the conventional way. But it was only in in 2005 when he shifted to organic farming after an accident that almost claimed his life. He was exposed to the hazards of chemical pesticides while spraying them to his vegetables one day. It resulted to his collapse and being unconscious that lasted until the next morning. After his recovery, he vowed never to use synthetic chemicals in farming. After years of researching and undergoing trainings, he sought for ways (with the support of Elisa) to return to the basics of farming. It was also his way of helping the community, especially now that health is a major issue, with processed food as a main contributor to various illnesses and health-related problems. And that started the birth of the Lily – a showcase of hard work, dedication and love towards innovative and sustainable farming.
The couple also decided to convert their two-storey house into a café and homestay, since their three children are already grown-up and working elsewhere. According to Elisa, their guests are either agriculturists (and those undertaking agriculture-related trainings) or staycationers (and glampers) who want a peace and quite time away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Their home is cosy and homey, filled with wooden furniture and colourful couches and draperies; bookstalls are almost everywhere; walls are adorned with family photos and some celebrities who have been at Lily’s like Kris Aquino and Drew Arellano. Several plaques of recognition given to Jeff by Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), local government and other organizations are also proudly displayed at the café.
There are three common areas inside the house – the TV area; the living room which has a fireplace to warm the guests especially on a cold night; and the terrace, a play area with several board games and stuffed toys.
Lily could accommodate a maximum of 60 persons. The rooms are good for couple, family and barkada. They also have dormitory rooms for bigger groups. Rooms have no air-conditioning but who needs an aircon when you’re in the highlands?
Most of the meals prepared at Lily’s are sourced from their farm. Set meal costs P150-300 per person depending on the viands. We relished the healthy and organic meals and drinks they served from the mountain rice, kale omelette, squash soup, sautéed spinach and watercress, pan grilled chicken and pork, to Arabica coffee and kale smoothies.
In 2011, Lily was chosen as one of the pioneer learning site centers of ATI-CAR. Lately, it was elevated as Organic Agriculture School for Practical Agriculture. They regularly hold trainings and seminars for organic agricultural enthusiasts and farmers, both from local and international.
We didn’t miss the chance to visit the farms located at their backyard and the lower grounds, which is a short walking distance from their house. They grow high-value vegetables and fruits like green and purple cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, New Zealand spinach, French beans, tomatoes, kale, carrots, strawberries, and other crops.
The secret to a healthy organic farming is composting. Jeff makes their own organic fertilizer from decomposed grasses, leaves, branches and plants. He also uses mokusaku (wood vinegar), a technology developed in Japan, and very helpful in growing flowering and fruit-bearing plants. Remarkably, he also developed his own shredder in processing raw materials for composting.
They also maintain a small-scale piggery and rabbitry. These animals also eat organic feeds and food.
What makes Lily a stand-out is its location. It overlooks a verdant green valley abundant with pine trees. The view is stress-melting and feels like a corridor to another lifetime. I can almost hear Him saying “If it opens, it’s your door.”
After two days of doing nothing but enjoying the food, the scenery, and the bounties of mother nature, we left rejuvenated, more relaxed, and healthier. And who knows, a second chance might be just right ahead.
From Manila, take a Baguio-bound bus (Victory bus station in Cubao). After arriving in Baguio, proceed to Baguio Center Mall jeepney station. Take a jeepney bound for Puguis-Ampasit. From the main road of Ampasit, it will take 15-20 minutes by walking to reach Lily. The most convenient way though of going to Lily is to just take a taxi from Baguio.
Lily of the Valley Organic Farms and Homestay
MC-075 Puguis, La Trinidad, Benguet
Tel. No.: 0949-3397126