Good food can change the world
Ida Anita Q. Del Mundo (The Philippine Star) - April 16, 2016 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines -  Charlene Tan first heard about “community shared agriculture”  an alternative distribution model that supports organic agriculture  from foreign volunteers while working for a local NGO. “The point of it all is for people to be involved in farming – not just as a passive consumer but as someone with a stake, as someone who cares, as a member of a community.”

Tan explains further, “This is usually done by paying upfront for a share of the harvest, where one doesn’t choose in advance what one will get. This allows farmers to focus on cultivating produce seasonally and diversifying their gardens.”

Thus, the Good Food Community was born. The community shared agriculture project works like a subscription box. A relationship is created between the farmer and the consumer, who becomes a co-producer by pledging to support farmers for a fixed period. In return, the subscriber – who is called a stakeholder – receives fresh, organic, seasonal produce from the farmer’s harvest every week.

“We’ve translated the commitment to 12-week and four-week subscriptions with Gulay Pambahay, Salad Pack and Juicing vegetable options. People order online or by phone, choose a pick-up point, pay upfront and pick up their fresh produce on a Wednesday,” Tan explains.

According to their website, a bayong (basket) of Gulay Pambahay, weighing about 3.5 kilograms, has 6 to 8 kinds of vegetables, while a Salad Pack has a 500-gram mix of salad greens and vegetables. Community hubs are located all around the metropolis.

“I thought this was a beautiful and elegant solution to our modern disconnectedness,” says Tan. “I thought it would be great for our farmers to have a steady demand; it would be great for people like me who would like to eat better and more responsibly. It would be great for society if there were some bridge for us to help one another, to be in community.”

In 2010, she pitched the idea to her prayer group in the Christian Life Community. “We were looking for an apostolate at that time so our collective ears and hearts were ready to try it.”

As things fell into place, Tan’s friend came up with a business plan for a social enterprise competition and they won some money to start the Good Food Community.

Through SIBAT (Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya), the NGO that Tan was working for, they were able to speak with the farmers who had been taught sustainable farming methods. Together with Tan on the Good Food Community team are Ernest Barreiro and Drei Castillo.

“Partner farms were chosen as communities rather organically,” Tan quips.  “We helped organize the farmers in Capas, Tarlac into a cooperative because they were the ones we knew through SIBAT and they had already been trained in organic farming.”

They also chose La Organica in La Trinidad, Benguet, which was highly recommended by a teacher in natural farming, and Chico River Organic Producers Cooperative, which was chosen through a partnership with Episcopal Church of the Philippines.

“We choose to work with smallholder farmers who have already been taught organic methods. In all cases, we are also chosen by them in that they could have opted not to work with us, not to trust, but they do,” says Tan.

The Good Food Community recognizes farmers as a key part of the group, so they work closely with them – but not as closely as they would like to, says Tan. “If we could live on the farms full-time, I think any one of us would say yes in a heartbeat.”

They make it a point to visit at least three times a year and communicate with the farmers weekly.

“Our solidarity is expressed in a number of tangible ways such as purchase guarantees, fixed prices, face-to-face dialogues and joint learning visits,” she says. “Whenever there is some venture or idea or change in policy, we meet face to face to discuss and figure out a way forward. You must understand, however, that they are communities in themselves so they have their own process as we (as a team) have ours. This is all a grand process of us learning to work together as one good food community.”

And it seems to be working. Tan says, “The response has been educational to say the least. We are heartened by the number of people who try it – there have been hundreds… What is lovely is when people share what they do with the vegetables, supporting one another in the community. And some stakeholders really inspire us, showing us a dedication and creativity that make us so grateful this work has given us such friends.”

Tan adds that there has been an improvement in the lives of the farmers as well.

“In Capas, I was told that they didn’t feel the lean months because of the vegetables that they were able to both eat and sell steadily.” The farmers no longer have to fear the periods of hunger as they wait for the next harvest.

“In Benguet, I see younger farmers joining the group so there is more hope in the profession. In Bauko, I see joy in their faces that they can do something they love and make a living,” she says.

Stakeholders are also given the opportunity to visit the farms and interact with the farmers themselves. “My heart smiles remembering them… It’s always lovely bringing people with a sense of wonder and awe,” Tan enthuses.

She recalls some visitors who find themselves knee-deep in mud, but still bright-spirited as they join the farmers in transplanting seedlings in the rice fields.

She also remembers one of the first times the team visited farmers in Capas to plan the project. There was much hesitation and doubt on the part of the farmers until one of them, Kong Carling, spoke up: “Kakayanin natin yan (We can do it)!”

The community looks forward with big dreams and plans. “We’re organizing a worker-owned food cooperative for the city as well as a Good Food Farmers Academy to continuously share what we’ve learned in growing farmers and a mobile app to give our stakeholders some element of choice based on what’s seasonally available.” The team also hopes to work with indigenous communities and share their stories with stakeholders in the city. 

In partnership with Makesense, the team will be launching a food security mobilization in June and July. The series of events include farm trips and community kitchens, talks and movie night discussions “to get people thinking and talking and learning about issues surrounding food security.”

 

In light of the plight of the Kidapawan farmers that has recently hit the headlines, the advocacy of the Good Food Community is even more relevant today.

“It’s so hard to get through the noise on the issue but some facts seem to remain: our farmers are hungry and they are suffering,” says Tan.

“We only hear of this injustice when an incident like this erupts. Most of the time, we don’t hear them at all.”

Through the Good Food Community, Tan says, “Meeting our farmers gives that reality a face. Our work gives us a way to listen and to respond. It gives us a way to work together, to build a new way forward together. It gives us a way to care.”

She says, many of the stakeholders have contacted the community asking about the well-being of their partner farmers. “What a consolation it is, to be able to relay to our farmers, ‘how are you?’ That is the beginning.”

Tan adds there are deeper causes to marginalization that her team seeks to address, including unsustainable consumption, market and farming practices. “Yet this is also the source of our hope – that WE can change. Not that we have all the answers. It gives us even more reason to do what we do, to spend our lives working our way towards a shared future.”

The Good Food Community’s slogan is “Let’s change the world with food.” Tan says, “With all our environmental and social crises, I think it seems clear that business-as-usual scenarios are not sustainable. We believe this is an invitation to build an alternative that is. We believe that we can change the world with food – it takes all of us to be stakeholders, to care, to choose the way we eat, the way we get our food, the way we grow our food.”

For more information, visit www.goodfoodcommunity.com or www.facebook.com/goodfoodcommunity.

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