Plant kindness & harvest growth

Now is the time to be more connected to where the food that nourishes the country is coming from — our soil and waters, our hardworking Filipino farmers and fisherfolk.

Food is life. But for us working in the farming and fishing sector, food is our life’s work. 

My food journey started when I was young. I remember what my father said: the life of a farmer is a series of periods and commas, and a semicolon. Farmers can pause for a while to rest, but our life’s work of growing food for everyone continues. I learned life the hard way since I was young. I grew up on a sugarcane farm in Negros. My father passed away when I was three years old, so I was raised by the strongest woman I know — my mother.

I started teaching farmers at the age of 12. I once read from a book that when you are poor, 100 percent of your income goes to food — 70 percent goes to rice and 30 percent goes to viand or ulam. But when you plant vegetables around your house, you will save 30 percent of your money that you can use for other things like the education of your children. That inspired me because I knew this could help many families in our community if we helped them get access to food, save money, and send their children to school. 

I can also remember asking the oldest person in an agricultural conference to take me with them as their apo (grandchild) so that I could learn about agriculture. In the old days, only rich people could afford to participate in agriculture conferences. 

These childhood experiences morphed me into becoming an enabler in the agriculture sector for 21 years. These experiences also shaped my perspective that the agriculture sector is about spreading growth and kindness. 

With the challenge of coronavirus disease 2019( COVID-19), now is the time to be more connected to where the food that nourishes us is coming from — the country’s soil and waters, and our hardworking Filipino farmers and fisherfolk. 

Let your next meal come from your home. Starting with ourselves, have courage, be committed, and change. With our new normal, starting to grow our own food is a must. 

Let your next meal come from your home. Starting with ourselves, have courage, be committed, and change. With our new normal, starting to grow our own food is a must.

Here are some of the in-betweens we have been doing in AGREA to move forward. 

Start with ourselves. We cannot give what we don’t have. But agriculture and the people working in it are a giving sector. Food and other basic commodities are becoming scarce nowadays. That is why I encourage everyone to grow their own food — and be food security frontliners of our own homes.

We in AGREA have two initiatives to inspire this change: 

Grow food initiative — A garden contest to showcase the ability of individuals, families, and communities to grow their own food in a sustainable and healthy way. This initiative has been rolled out in Marinduque and Bohol. 

Grow kits — In partnership with Bukid Amara, we aim to give livelihood to coconut farmers in Quezon Province. By purchasing a grow kit, people can start growing their own food.  We have complete sets of FunnyGang (sinigang mix), Pinaka-Bet (pinakbet mix), Sup-Herb (gourmet herbs), Flower Power (edible flowers) and Leafy La Vida Local (leafy vegetables and salad greens). These sets have seedlings, soilless potting mix, seedling tray, wooden germination tray, natural-based fertilizer, and a growing manual. 

Let your next meal come from your home. Starting with ourselves, have courage, be committed, and change. With our new normal, starting to grow our own food is a must. 

On second chances

We in AGREA are strong believers of zero-waste and closed-loop systems in our operations. That’s why we introduce value-addition to fruits and vegetables that may likely fill landfills instead of filling stomachs. 

We do a lot of food rescue and food repurposing to fruits and vegetables that are in season. Farmers have an overflowing harvest of fruits and vegetables that have a short shelf life like tomatoes, mangoes and “ugly” fruits and vegetables that are not to customers’ liking. We give these a second chance. 

These ugly fruits and vegetables are turned into healthy fruits juices, pasta sauces, pumpkin soups, avocado burgers, fruit “funwiches,” and a lot more. These are all done by our innovative chefs and kitchen staff at AGREA Café. Our theme is seasonal, artisanal, intentional limited (SAIL).

Working with faith and trust

One of our partner farmers has been able to pay his loan in a bank and pay his child’s school fees. Other farming associations were grateful for the help of the Move Food Initiative in moving their harvest to the market. Our partner farmers in Mindanao were able to provide good food for their families in spite of the lockdown. These are some of the experiences of farmers we have assisted. We were able to help and assist them through our fair-trade approach of moving their harvest to the market and providing logistical support.  

AGREA started the Move Food Initiative with faith and trust. A few days into the lockdown, I received a call for help from a group of Agrarian Reform farmers. These farmers need to sell 15,000 pineapples. Due to the limitations imposed by the enhanced community quarantine, they couldn’t move or sell their produce, and worse — all of it would be thrown away and wasted.  

They were not the only ones facing this challenge. Upland and lowland vegetable farmers in Luzon tapped us for the same reason — to move and sell their produce to the consumers. 

At the same time, consumers were also challenged to ensure food supply for their families. Food shelves in supermarkets and stalls in wet markets were scarce to empty as people were buying more than enough to ensure food on their tables. 

Our online fresh food ordering platform and physical store (located at Relish at Ponte, Makati) moved food at both producers and consumers’ end. This initiative helped both farmers and consumers. 

As of June 14, we have moved 164,007 kilos of fruits and vegetables; delivered these to 68,427 Filipino families; helped 8,331 Filipino smallholder farmers, partnered with and donated 4,594 kilos of food to 10 kitchens feeding frontliners. 

Resilience is good but our actions will make the difference.

You cannot spread growth and kindness when you are alone. We in AGREA are supporting our fellow SMSEs by making them a part of our Move Food Initiative store in Relish at Ponte. We have products from local entrepreneurs and artisans from Meaningful Travels Ph, Querica, Echostore, Kajuayan, and Commune. Supporting local is key to moving forward in the new normal. 

We also do Food Hero Drives to help farmers sell their produce fast, and help consumers access good food. So far our tomato, pineapple, and pomelo drives have saved thousands of food from going to waste, and bayanihan is still alive in the Philippines. 

I have been working in the agriculture sector for the past 22 years, I can affirm how the sector saves Filipinos every day. I have high hopes and confidence that the sector can help us rise up from this health crisis. 

A lesson I learned from my mother was that “the shortest distance in life is the distance between your brain and your heart. If you do not know how to connect this distance, you haven’t truly lived.” 

Let’s spread growth and kindness every day.


Edited by Tanya T. Lara

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