Is your food safe?

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A dish made from fresh and organic ingredients harvested at ECHOfarms

A dish made from fresh and organic ingredients harvested at ECHOfarms

I MET a health company executive at my doctor’s office who told me that he just saw Food Inc. Immediately, we shared our thoughts on this controversial and revealing documentary revealing where our food comes from. “How do we know our food is safe?” he asked me. “Grow your own food, sir,” I answered nonchalantly.

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Easier said than done. But that’s exactly what my family and business partners did some five years ago in 2010. We started a small farm called ECHOfarms as we opened our “farm to table” restaurant Le Bistro Vert. We also expanded the menu of our humble ECHOCafe.

“Use these eggplants,” I would ask our Chef Jam Melchor. I have so much eggplants one time, so much pineapples another time, and so much bokchoy or romaine lettuce. So Chef Jam would make an appetizer or include eggplants as a side dish.

Over at ECHOcafe, Reena Francisco would check what vegetables we had, which she could make as a salad, or as a side dish of our breakfast—we have tried pickled ampalaya, pickled cucumber and sometimes a salsa made with watermelon or whatever was in season.

It has been a hard climb growing the perfect combination of vegetables due to the harsh weather the past years have brought upon us. We already put up some greenhouses to protect our precious arugula and leafy salad varieties. It’s either too hot, too rainy or too wet at the farm save for about six months of perfect Upland Cavite weather. But we shall overcome. It’s the place where I can pick a leaf and put it straight into my mouth—that’s natural farming for you! Ready to eat from the soil, not hydroponics (with apologies to those who grow plants in solutions, no offense). Hydroponics gives you clean plants but it does not use soil as a medium that we organic and natural farmers prefer.

As far as meats are concerned, Chin Uy of Fresh Start tells me most of our cattle are grass-fed by default. So our grass-fed butter comes from these cows, too. Nicolo Aberasturi of Down to Earth farms also assures me he eats the same grass-fed tapa and burgers and its alkaline enough for his stomach. Dairy Farm supplies our grass-fed cow butter.

What about chickens? I will never go wrong with free-range which I first got from Agnes of Manuel Pedro (but she would always run out). Then I met Tina of Pamora farms in Abra who now has been supplying us with chicken burgers and whole chickens, too.  I feel safe eating her happy chickens. My niece and her son confirm that free range organic does not cause their skin to flare up or cause allergic reactions. You just have to try free-range from Pamora or from Agnes (when she has them). All our free-range eggs are from chickens I have met, too. They forage for what’s around them in the farm. Be sure where you buy “free range” as many commercial firms have capitalized on this food trend and loosely label their chicken “free range” even if they are given antibiotics while roaming for a few days. That doesn’t make them true “free range.” Pay a good price for the real thing. If you want safe chickens, that is.

For fish, I prefer the deep sea kind if I can get them. As we have overfished our waters, our tuna actually is now imported from Papua New Guinea or in Indonesian waters. I cannot wait to have tuna again that really swims in the General Santos waters. Watch the documentary End of the Line” to learn more about fish. And maybe you will rest from eating fish for a while.

Others may say, “There is nothing to eat anymore,” but that’s not true. We have many small farmers who grow vegetables that they do not spray and save them for family consumption. There are many orchards where we still can get heirloom papaya, guava, native oranges. And when in season, watermelon, cantaloupe and other hydrating fruits.

Where do we find these farmers? Drive over to the outskirts and they are still there. But they do not know the markets. They do not know who will buy.  One group we organized is the Amadeo Organic Farmers. Now, we share a weekend market in our driveway. Now I can get tomatoes, spinach and other vegetables and fruits from farmers I know. From farmers who share the same “small is beautiful” philosophy. I cannot grow all the kinds of vegetables I need. So we complement each other.

Find your own farmer group. Buy local. Avoid being just at the end of the supply chain. Be part of the supply chain.

Get to know a farmer today. Then you will know where your food comes from.

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Chit Juan is the founder and president of ECHOstore Sustainable Lifestyle located in Serendra , Podium,Centris, Davao City, Makati and Cebu .She is the president of Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and the Philippine Coffee Board Inc. She often speaks to corporates, academe and entrepreneurs about her advocacies: Social Enterprise, Women Empowerment and Coffee. You can reach her at puj@echostore.ph or find her on Twitter@Chitjuan, Instagram: CHITJUAN or Linked In: Pacita Juan.

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