The author’s farm in nearby Cavite
Food & Drink Features

This Cavite farmer says the COVID-19 crisis should teach us to buy and eat as local as possible

While we’re scrambling for groceries during this enhanced community quarantine, perhaps it’s time to rethink our food choices post-COVID and find new ways to source our food. By CHIT U. JUAN
| Apr 08 2020

When ECHOstore started back in 2008, my two partners challenged me to grow our own vegetables in our small patch of land in Cavite. We have had that land for a few years and never really had time to arrange the old coffee trees and create some plots for organic vegetables. I then asked our farmhands to plant our favorites: arugula (which I used to buy at a premium because what was sold came from Australia), romaine (because Caesar salad is a personal favorite), pechay (because I love local greens just sautéed in garlic), and okra (another favorite). We pretty much had a whole assortment based on the childhood song “Bahay Kubo” that serves as guide to what vegetables can be considered truly local.

Local ampalaya growing on the vine

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Since we started planting our own lowland and highland vegetables, we would have Chef Sau del Rosario in our defunct Le Bistro Vert cook whatever we harvested. At the time, I was experimenting on what to plant, what was popular, and what we consumed a lot of. We would have eggplants, bumper crops of lettuce, and other vegetables like mustard greens which I later found out that only Le Bistro used, as my family was not fond of it.

And that’s how I learned to appreciate locally-grown veggies. I also learned what fruits were ripe for harvest and what were good during summer. I found out that our farm had duhat, plus bananas, coconuts, papaya, even avocado. What bounty!

The author (center) with partners Reena Francisco and Jeannie Javelosa at ECHOfarms

In that same period, I became part of Slow Food (www.slowfood.com) with Chef Margarita Forés and Chef Jam Melchor, an international movement that promotes good, clean, and fair food. My exposure to Slow Food, plus other movements like Global Seed Savers, has led me to speak out about locavorism. 

Locavorism simply means enjoying produce that is grown or raised as close to home as possible, rather than transporting it all the way from Bukidnon or Baguio, let alone from out of the country. Locavorism also led me to become interested in gastronomic tourism, and sustainable tourism as well. Everything is related and even the very business enterprise we founded, ECHOstore (www.echostore.ph), sells only locally-sourced food.

 

Why local?

Buying local makes sense because you consume less energy on the transport of goods. Cavite is 70 kilometers away from Metro Manila, while Baguio is 250 kilometers away, almost four times the distance traveled. So it makes sense for me to enjoy salads and local fare from Cavite, while consuming only 25% of the energy required to transport the produce to the city.

The author’s farm located just 70 kilometers from the metropolis

Why plant what we plant?

We plant only what we can consume. This way, we do not throw any vegetables because of a bumper crop. Usually, farmers grow in volume for economies of scale, but they risk not being able to sell all their crop. Our farm has only a few plots and we rotate what we plant. We use our own fertilizer, too. Agnes Escalante of Antonio’s sold me my first few kilos of worms, which we use to make vermicompost to feed the soil.

Local is fresher.

I stopped buying imported vegetables since we started the ECHOfarms. I also only buy from as close to point of use as possible. If you can, I believe it is much better to grow what you can for your own consumption. Or the next best thing is to buy from the nearest farm, not the nearest market. The idea is to shorten the supply chain.

Planting fruits and vegetables doesn’t require a large plot of land

A case for eating less meat.

Imported meats have flooded our supply chain. That may change. Food companies may have a hard time importing meat after this COVID-19 crisis. Since we do not have much of a domestic meat supply, it may be that our diets will soon involve less meat.

Maybe it’s time to make beef a once-a-week thing rather than more often? We do not have a local cattle industry to speak of anyway. Unless you find a nearby source for local grass-fed pigs, you may be better off not consuming too much pork or pork products. For example, did you know that Vienna sausage is actually made from TVP or textured vegetable protein, and not 100% real pork? If you learn about how commercially-bred chickens are raised, you may actually be better off switching to other sources or lessening your consumption of chicken.

Farmed fish is what you see in most groceries these days, while fresh fish can only be had when we are able to travel again. In the meantime, just make sure to go easy on sardines and canned fish which are highly salted and processed. 


So what do we eat now?  

Find a farm within 70 kilometers or closer. Look for vegetable gardens closer to your home or business. Visit a homestead and get inspiration from people who live off their farm.

Eating local may be hard to do, but baby steps during this COVID-19 time are certainly possible. Take a map and see what is closest to your home. Or better yet, find a small patch of land near your home and start your own personal vegetable garden. When I was little, we had a gardener who grew our vegetables in a lot behind our house.

Perhaps this crisis is forcing us to think about a new way of consuming food. It may not be about scale, but about getting to know food sources nearer you. Simply put, let’s buy local.