Malipayon Farms, a successful organic farming business that produces 'specialty fresh' produce, flourished out of Gerardo “Gejo” Jimenez’s sense of wonder. From literally a seed that he and his wife had planted in an empty lot beside their home in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, they were able to fulfill a passion that eventually led to a lucrative business. Ten years into the business, Jimenez has stuck it through with organic farming despite its challenges. Today, the farm has gone beyond business and Jimenez uses it to advocate what is natural, chemical-free, and healthy.
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“Mahilig ako sa nature and looking back it was really that sense of wonder [that led me here]. Tatanim ka ng buto and then after a few days sumisibol na,” Jimenez tells Cathy Salimbangon, owner of the global brand Organique Acai during a conversation for the Heroes & Titans campaign of ANC-X. “Siguro I still belong to that generation na pag may nakita akong tanim I can identify kung ano yun. Sadly, ngayon, we’ve been disconnected from nature so I think a lot of those things I experienced when I was small nadala ko and it expressed itself in gardening.” Jimenez and Salimbangon share a passion for organic produce, health, and wellness, and they talk about it in this weekend’s episode of the ANCX.ph web series.
It started at home
Much like his produce, Jimenez’s business grew organically. Their harvests would usually be for family consumption only, mostly for their children who, Jimenez says, had a predisposition to diabetes as it ran on both sides of the family. When harvest was abundant, it was shared with their parents and friends. Soon, they found themselves joining weekend markets in Alabang, selling produce like lettuces, carrots, tomatoes, and different herbs.
In one of their first attempts, they had zero sales. “We prepared all the stuff early and ang ganda-ganda ng preparasyon pero wala kaming benta ni isa that whole morning. I think it was also the market, organic farming was just [starting] so wala pa siyang followers,” Jimenez recalls. But my wife and I believed so much in what we were doing tsaka nandun na yung produkto. We found a nearby market and sinubukan namin ulit and that’s when we started to see yungreactionng mga tao. And then habang tumatagal, I could feel nabusiness na ito.”
Jimenez left his day job and poured his energy into growing his hobby into a business. From weekend backyard gardening, he and his wife were able to find a space in Silang, Cavite. Soon, he had a steady set of clients, mostly restaurant chefs who needed a regular supply of vegetables and herbs.
What made the business more exciting for Jimenez was learning how to grow his plants free of chemical fertilizers. “I was drawn more to the organic principles na instead of using chemicals why don’t we grow our produce the natural way? And that was really how we were feeding it to our children, giving it to our families, and eating it ourselves. In fact, umabot na sa point na sabi ko, if I were to farm with chemicals I’d rather not farm at all. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Jimenez soon found out organic doesn’t necessarily always translate to sales. “When we went to the restaurants, angfirst impression [ngchefs] was, naku kung chemical-free yanand organic mas mahaland in the restaurant industry price is very much a consideration.” Jimenez then asked the chefs what kind of vegetables they wanted him to grow. “Ako naman gusto ko yung suggestion [to grow a variety of plants] kasiit keeps the fertility of the soil.”
Today, Jimenez grows what his clients need, some of which are produce unique to the country such as lagkitan corn sprouts, aruy-uy non-spicy chillies, edible flowers, and alugbati. For fertilizers, Malipayon Farms use nitrogen-rich animal manure as well as dried leaves, rice haul, and coffee haul that have plenty of micronutrients and microorganisms.
Going organic is not always the shortest route to profit and that’s okay for Jimenez who challenges consumers to weigh in on the more important things: Do you choose cheap or do you choose value? “Pag chemical free parang lumalabas [makakatipid ka] sa pagpapatubo pero pag magkakasakit naman [yung kakain], sino magbabayad nun?”
He elaborates, “[When you produce organic] it takes more people to move compost and to grow it properly and that means more cost but are people willing to pay that?” In the same manner, Jimenez says that when people try to haggle with farmers for lower costs, they forget the value the farmers put into growing their produce. “Farmers yung pinaka madaling tawaran kasi kapag hindi nila mabenta masisira. I think if people realize the value of [what goes into planting organic produce] they will be willing to pay for it.”
Back to art
These days, Jimenez has left the management of Malipayon farms to his wife while he immerses himself in a rekindled passion: painting. Both passion, he says, have always been part of him as a kid. “I think that what brings them together is [for me] the sense of wonder. Plants grow from nothing then suddenly malaki na siya. That’s also what I get from my art--when you draw something as ordinary as a cup of coffee, biglangmakikita mo maganda pala siya.”
A sense of wonder has obviously brought Jimenez abundance beyond business—it has brought him a sense of purpose. “The dedication you put into your farm and also into your art inspires a lot of people,” he says. “Walang shortcut because you really want to put out the best product there is for your customers and I think that’s a very noble thing to do."