By Chit U. Juan
In 2005, I dreamt of having my very own coffee farm.
Both my parents were born in Manila so we really never had a province to go home to. So, everyone like me who is city-bred longs to have a place you can “go home to,” right? I got involved with Amadeo, Cavite when we adopted a coffee farm of the mayor then to showcase as a Barako Farm. I would go and take our friends there to see coffee growing amidst bananas and papayas.
Not long after, we came across a property that was on the auction block. It was relatively small but right there on the main road. I would not touch the property even after acquisition until some five years ago. Looking back, it was a jungle of coffee trees and chico, langka, santol which badly needed cleaning up.
When ECHOcafe was in our visioning exercise a few years back my partners insisted we had to grow our own vegetables, to be sure we had only organic vegetables. So in 2010 I rolled up my sleeves and started the ECHOfarm project. We started from scratch, laying the plots and putting up vine poles for my favorite ampalaya. I grew arugula, romaine and lollo rossa as we had a ready market for these kinds—Le Bistro Vert (our first sustainable restaurant) and ECHOcafe (Our sustainable coffee shop) and of course, our families.
Then my friends started to order a little arugula, a little romaine and we would deliver to Mandaluyong, Valle Verde and to our stores. Knowing we had an increasing demand, we opened up the ECHOmarket—especially for people who had NO time for weekend markets. “Why wait for the weekend?” we thought. After all, you must buy vegetables a few times during the week to make sure they are fresh and crisp.
We also entertained “tingi” (absolute retail—even one or two piecesof eggs, for example) buying and our neighbors in Serendra love the concept of retail. Three eggs, a bag of lettuce, a few chicos,—thus we became the everyday market. Fresh from the farm, all-natural and trying our best to be complete for our increasing customer base. We now even entertain orders for a few sunflowers, a bag of guyabano leaves and really taking the farm to market.
But it all started from nothing. And now, we harvest our favorite vegetables and whatever we choose to plant. It really is the concept of “growing your own food.” We ask our customers what they want to see in ECHOmarket, and that is what we grow.
Recently my family’s Binalot chain started to ask for organic lowland vegetables—the kind you find in Pinakbet—ampalaya, kalabasa, talong, sitaw—so I started the Binalot Pinakbet Project last December. Soon, the lowland vegetables, all organic, will be served in our Binalot branches starting with our very own Salcedo Village outlet .
Everything starts with a dream or a vision. And everything starts from scratch—if you wish to enjoy the journey and own it. Not everything can be bought, especially the joy of experience. So, start your herb garden now, maybe in your kitchen.
Start harvesting fruits from your backyard or from your long-forgotten provincial house. I know a lawyer who harvests pomelo from her family farm and consigns them to us in ECHOmarket.
I never thought this dream would come to fruition. But here we are, harvesting twice a week, and making our dream a reality. I have recently started growing spinach for the Lutein content, so I can throw my glasses away. Let’s see. I already also have my ginger or turmeric for memory. We have Lagundi for cough, tarragon for stomach health and even “tawatawa” for dengue. You ,too, can have your own Nature’s pharmacy like mine or an herb spice rack by growing basil, thyme and dill.
Everything starts from scratch. After all, anything instant is not natural. Everything must take its natural course. And in time, you too shall have your own garden or shall grow your own food.
“Eat mostly plants,” says Michael Pollan.
The author 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. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on Facebook: Pacita “Chit” Juan. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org