A farm enchanted by the spirit of social enterprise

BENT ANTENNA - Audrey N. Carpio - The Philippine Star

Spending a weekend at a “farm” is a pretty vogue thing to do for urbanites needing a detox fix, organic vegan cuisine and esoteric spa therapies. But there’s another kind of farm that can be just as enlightening to visit. The GK Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan, is not luxurious in the normal sense of the word, but you will find locally grown ingredients made into meals that are just as rich. And you will meet the people who make them — they are the community members who live and work on the farm. They built the farm, and it is theirs.

 The farm also serves as an incubator for start-up social enterprises. The natural skincare and beauty brand Human Nature, the leading business that has grown out of the farm, is the brainchild of Anna Meloto-Wilk (the daughter of Gawad Kalinga founder Tony Meloto), her husband Dylan Wilk (who held the ninth place for Richest Bachelor in England but gave it all up to work for GK) and Anna’s sister Camille, who has a background in the cosmetics industry.

When the Wilks’ first child was born, the parents naturally wanted to create a non-toxic environment that was at the same time less wasteful. Ditching the disposable diaper, they started research into creating natural and organic products for the Philippine market that importantly were local, affordable, and community-oriented. Human Nature was officially launched in 2008, and since then they’ve been expanding their line of products that all contain natural ingredients which are themselves grown on the farm. You will see coconut oil, sunflower oil, avocado oil, lemongrass, rosemary and citronella listed as the main components in their moisturizers, bug repellents, and deodorants — no parabens and no phthalates and no DEET.

At a brunch hosted by Human Nature at the farm, we feasted on fresh produce, gourmet cheese and cured meats, prepared by the community members and a dozen or so French interns, while we learned about the company vision. “As we move toward sustainability and green living, we also want to provide livelihood for the poor. We want to make all these beautiful things accessible, not just exclusively to the rich,” said Anna Meloto-Wilk, who was carrying her fourth baby, only several weeks old. “Human Nature, with a team of 15 formulators, has come up with products that can compete with the best in the world. We believe every Filipino deserves the best, and our resources are for everyone to enjoy. You don’t need P5,000 to spend a weekend here.”

Scenes from a farm: (Clockwise) One of the guest villas; a sunflower used in Human Nature products; a French intern sports the Bambowtie; the community Bamboo Palace; a chili-citronella candle centerpiece for extra bug deflection.

A tour around the farm grounds will take you through a few budding social enterprises operated by members of the community. Golden Eggs takes the salted red duck egg concept to a much healthier level. Did you know textile paint is used to give those eggs that unnatural vermillion hue? This natural alternative uses the wonder herb turmeric to give the eggs its golden glow. Bayani Brew is another small endeavor that turned the farm’s practice of brewing lemongrass and sweet potato top tea into a bottled beverage business. Finally, we met Ate Maricel, the cheesemaking nanay who helped bring herself out of poverty working for Xilca Alvarez’s Gourmet Keso. In a previous life, she had to walk long distances in sweltering heat just to sell produce at the market. When she joined the community, her life was centered around the farm, where her kids go to school and where they receive healthcare. Gourmet Keso, which makes kesong puti, feta, ricotta, and flavored chevre, can be found at Mercato.

“These are real social enterprises, not just CSR. All profit goes to the farm and the community partners,” explained Bea Gomez, who heads the food services of the GK Center for Social Innovation. “Our aim is to grow businesses that have a real effect on people, to do it how Human Nature did it, grounded on values of really caring about people and how they live, and treating the business like a real business and not just a livelihood project.”

We put a lot of thought and care into what we put on our skin and into our bodies, buying imported products that are liberally labeled “natural” and “organic.” We can take it a step further, bring it closer to home, and think about the other people our purchases can help right here in our communities.

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