Young farmers unite

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Chit U. Juan - The Philippine Star

I was so elated to listen to a young farmer named Gio Espital who took up the cudgels for farming in Mount Banahaw. He relayed his story of how he is now encouraging young people to try growing their own food. It was part a series of talks from the millennial and Zillenials at the Taste of Terra Madre workshop last week. What a good way to reward the young, rather than for them to see farming as punishment.

Gio shared that in the past, maybe 20 years back, a public school teacher would scare her students who did not do their homework. How? By sending them to the school garden to plant or to farm. What a way to inspire kids. Farm equals punishment? No wonder no one wanted to farm! It had such a negative meme or psychological traumatic experience for children.

That seems to be changing, if you hear from young men like Gio.

The other young man who shared his story as a “Pooranthropist” talked about pagpag (shaken) food which is a new micro economy for the poorest. Food discards from fast food chains are gathered, sorted, boiled and then refried to be sold at P20 per bag. This is, of course, unsafe food and could cause diseases like hepatitis, yet many families can only afford such horrid food choices.

Clarence Bulanadi saw this happening and wanted to change this with his advocacy on “avoiding food waste” on the consumer side to stop the unsanitary trade. He also explained that on the production side, 33 percent of food is wasted, amounting to trillions of dollars globally because of inefficient supply chains and people’s preference for pretty, clean and unblemished produce. So all told, from production to consumption, food that takes months to produce could be wasted in minutes.

But that seems to be changing too, with men like Clarence Bulanadi who is advocating for less food waste.

And lastly, we heard from an educator, chef Rhea SyCip, who shared her experience in farming while in school. More like a science experiment, one had to sow seeds of pechay and made sure it sprouted for a student to get a good grade in class. If your pechay died you had to sow again until you get it right.

That is another experience in grade school that gives a negative feeling or a disincentive to go into farming. But Chef Rhea got out of it alive, got into business and education and supports young and local farmers in Cavite who are her neighbors.

We hope to change children’s ideas about farming and food production while they are in school, and we hope this can bring positive change to our whole food system.

Yes, the youth are woke and want to change the world. But they need our help because we are the buyers and consumers of their produce. How do we go about helping to change the food system so instead of the pagpag system, the poorest can grow food instead?

We can start school gardens where children can harvest and make the farm experience positive at an early age.

We can ask fast food chains and restaurants to stop overfeeding people with “eat all you can” offers that diners never finish anyway.

We can start choosing ugly vegetables and those with insect holes (that means they are organic) so no fresh produce will go to waste.

We can be mindful of what we buy and make sure we support our local farmers first so they can be sustainable.

Prices of produce are high because of these reasons. Food waste at production level, inefficient distribution and consumer choices for beautiful produce (that is quite unnatural if you ask me). Natural products have all the gifts and features from Nature – they can be imperfect but completely tasty and edible.

We need to change the mindset of a whole generation and the future generations to come. From fast food to slow, natural food. From a consumer perspective of “getting more for less” (like eat all you can) to getting the right quality for the right and fair price. In other words, food that is good, clean and fair. Fair to consumers and fair to producers.

And for the secret sauce that makes one Filipino, or proud of his or her country, savor local culture along with food. Learn about gastronomic developments. Take food not just as sustenance but as an experience. And one need not spend much to enjoy food and culture. It can be as simple as knowing your local produce, your traditional ways of cooking and trying recipes handed down from our forefathers.

These experiences can be about how they used an animal from nose to tail as there was no refrigeration then. Thus we have recipes using every part of an animal’s carcass. This is why we have tokwa’t baboy, karekare using oxtail, tapa to dry the beef, kini-ing to smoke pork and longganisa to use meat with only salt and/or sugar as preservatives. There are more ways to skin a cow or pig, and that is our food tradition.

For vegetables we have preservation techniques like buro or atchara, candied yams, jellies and other ways to use excess produce or to enjoy them out of season. As most fruits are seasonal, we extend our enjoyment by turning them into sweets or vinegared treats. Excess vegetables become pickles and are not thrown away.

We must be like these young farmers who are approaching the future with bright eyes of hope.

Now, that could be a solution to our agriculture challenges.


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