When Agnes Escalante started planting in her farm in Banay-Banay, Amadeo, Cavite in 2007, I was only too happy to see her growing organic vegetables and I would eat my share of the harvest at her famous restaurant, Antonio’s.
They were “farm to table” back when the term was not yet popular. Now, you hear of “farm to fork,” “farm to table,” and other permutations of terms for sustainable eating.
In 2010 I mustered enough guts to start our own ECHOfarms within a short distance from Agnes’ place. She helped me find the right seeds; she gave me my starter worms for our vermicompost pits; and to this day coaches me on how to care for our vegetarian pigs in the summer. “Bathe them often because they may get heatstroke,” she says.
Today we find more hotels looking for natural and organic vegetables, and I even brought the chef, the resident manager and the cost controller of one of Manila’s top hotels to Agnes’ farm so they can appreciate why organic vegetables have holes, are not perfect in shape, and why they are priced at a premium.
Guess what? Agnes just told me that Baguio vegetable dealers have started to bring down their prices and hotels have been asking her to match these lower prices for non-organic greens. “Thanks, but no thanks,” Agnes says.
Further, the hotel is asking for vegetables without holes or imperfections at the same lower price. No deal. Most, if not all, of our vegetables have holes and imperfections. Because that IS a sure sign of being organic and natural.
The demand for organic vegetables has risen in double-digit figures because consumers are now understanding the importance of eating organic and other foods not laden with harmful chemicals. Hotels and restaurants can feel the demand from consumers for healthier choices. Prices of organic and traditional vegetables are coming close to each other now. And that is good for consumers. Lettuce at P40 a kilo? Unbelieveable. I remember it climbing to P200 . . . And with holes of course.
While we grow our vegetables for our own markets and cafes, Agnes’ fearless forecast is that organic is starting to go mainstream. Every supermarket now has an organic section.
And that is good. How can you tell if what you are buying is the real thing? Or really organic? The test is in the eating.
Here is the test:
Buy some organic lettuce and organic pechay from trusted sources even if it is more expensive. Next, buy from your supermarket or grocery. Blindfold your family members and see . . . or rather let them taste the difference. Once you have tasted organic, there is no turning back.
And it is the same for organic farm fresh eggs. Since I shifted to eating eggs from Agnes’ free-range chickens, I can taste the difference when I eat regular poultry-laid eggs. And the same with fruits like banana, pineapple and papaya.
It is a movement and Agnes and I can feel it growing. Every hotel and restaurant that wants to remain in business must change, adapt and serve what the consumer is looking for. But they must also believe. That what is good for them, is also good for their customers.
Every supermarket or grocery now has an organic section. Even specialty stores who used to sell only imported dry goods and supplements have already started to sell local organic vegetables because their customers look for it.
Yes, we do not make much money growing and selling our organic vegetables. But we do it because our first customers are our families and our friends. We do it because our restaurants and cafes use it, too. And in the process, we are able to sustain our small business and enjoy life as well.
When we bumped into each other today at her restaurant we could not stop talking about organic stores the world such as those in Barcelona and Madrid because this is what we live for. To be able to farm, eat well, share our bounty and then travel. Because life is short and we all have to fulfill our mission while enjoying what we do.
For Agnes and me, life is simple. We do not need much. We plant vegetables and we serve some in our homes, restaurants and cafes. It is not about expansion or going public.
Because life is short and we all have to fulfill our mission while enjoying what we do.
And that is what we live for. To share what we know and make people live well. We also encourage people to start their own backyard farms, along with Paula and Nicolo Aberasturi of Down to Earth and Flower Depot who practice Biodynamic Farming and Chinchin and Francine Uy who run Fresh Start Organics. And Tom and Kariz Favis who raise grass-fed beef.
Why? Because life is short and we all have to fulfill our mission while enjoying what we do.
Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra , Podium and Centris QC malls. She also is President of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profits close to her heart. She often speaks to corporates, youth and NGOs on social entrepreneurship, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit”
Juan. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org