Young and hopeful

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

I recently learned about the Young Farmers Challenge, a project of the Department of Agriculture to encourage youth 18-30 years old to think about “farm to table.” I asked the young farmers present at a recent food show what they meant by the now common term “farm to table” and their reply was: to think of the whole journey of their produce  from farm to processing various crops into vinegar, pickles, taro chips, crab meat, turmeric tea, soy coffee and more. I met a farm owner who is now contract growing with other farmers to satisfy demand from his customers. All is good for these youth who have won cash prizes ranging from P80,000 to P300,000 for their value-added products.

The other good idea is that they formed associations of young agri-preneurs, young farmers’ groups who now use social media to sell to other markets. They know of Shopee and Lazada and how to “onboard” these e-commerce platforms. They are the new generation of farmers, indeed.

They are driven and their sales pitch included how they will ship their products to you and how they have sold out in the first two days of the five-day food show. I was so elated as I got their business cards, albeit made from thin sheets or photo paper, and some of them just asked me to scan their QR codes.

They are hopeful because not one stated an issue, a challenge or a roadblock. Their mindset, a positive attitude towards agriculture, keeps them on their feet, unlike old stories of hopelessness from farmers of yore who mostly talked about problems and did not wish their children to take up the same path.

I was so energized just talking to them – everyone a sales person aside from being a farmer. Truly, age and technology can do wonders to better people’s lives and make them the farmers of tomorrow. A big round of applause to Department of Agriculture’s AMAS, or the marketing service group, for introducing these youth to the public at Manila Food and Beverage Show or MAFBEX.

Another good idea which was started by the group of Joel Pascual of WOFEX, a show coming up in August, is connecting farmers to chefs. Joel brought several known chefs to Baguio and outskirts to visit farms and see how vegetables are grown. The farmers and chefs formed a connection that will make them talk to each other and do direct trade. This is another example of challenging norms like scale and supply chains done the old way. Today, a restaurant chain can visit a farm and make a contract to buy vegetables directly from a farm in Benguet. Yes, it can happen, is already happening as we write this.

This is why I am saddened when economists and academics always throw us the book on scaling up every endeavor or business idea they see. Sometimes, it is not scale alone that is the solution. Creative ideas like Joel’s outreach can break the long supply chain the vegetable farmer has always been part of. The chefs now talk directly to the guy whose feet are on the ground and can answer him about particular specs his recipe needs – a potato that has a certain moisture, for example. When you scale up, the Benguet potatoes are all mixed up, too, frustrating chefs and making them order Australian potatoes instead. Imported potatoes, for the price you pay, can be sorted well into one variety to make a chef’s recipe consistent. By going direct to farmers, chefs can “order to spec” and sustain a farm-chef relationship.

I can go on about the frustration of chefs and cooks as we ask them why they do not buy local produce. It is because the farmer is invisible to them. They only have to rely on what their purchaser finds in the market, which are green tomatoes waiting to ripen, potatoes of all sizes and varieties and a mishmash of greens from God knows where. Direct trade may be the solution to these challenges.

Another issue this direct trade solves is seasonality. Chefs and cooks can ask the farmer what grows best in each season. We can stop forcing farmers to grow vegetables all year round when they may have seasons. This way, menus of restaurants must respect seasonality and offer only what is due for harvest.

The young and hopeful farmers meet young and hopeful chefs as I have observed many young chefs using local ingredients and getting to know their farmer supplier. The trend now is for these chefs to tell you the story of every vegetable that they serve, honoring the producer who used to be invisible. I like that the farmer now takes center stage along with the creative chef who creates recipes as the harvests come. And these young star chefs already have a following among the young professionals who have opened their minds (and wallets) to farm-to-table and traceability. I heard my age group is not their target market as our kind does not go out everyday. It is good though that they are catering to the young spenders who will boost and sustain such noble endeavors.

To promote these restaurants and chefs, even the e-magazines and the few real paper magazines are now handled by younger writers and reviewers who will help sustain the whole industry, putting focus on local ingredients and sustaining the young farmers we first mentioned above.

So all is not lost in agriculture and lifestyle trends in consumption. There is an ecosystem created by people like Joel and his colleagues, by private-public efforts (like the DA) and our young consumers willing to give local produce a leg up. Instead of complaining about inconsistency of potatoes and lettuce and even coffee, the young have instead turned to creativity to help young farmers feed their generation and beyond.

Hopeful, I am truly hopeful.

vuukle comment


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with