Virtual palengke is 'new normal' during coronavirus lockdown

Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 10 2020 09:08 AM | Updated as of Apr 10 2020 11:43 AM

Online farmer's market BukidFresh sells seasonal fresh produce to help small farmers. They now help feed Filipinos stuck in their homes during the Luzon lockdown. Photo: BukidFresh

MANILA - Tired of canned food and fearing constipation, Rowie Catuba clicked for a few days worth of fruits and vegetables, one of many first time online shoppers of produce during the Philippines' coronavirus lockdown.

The 44-year old content producer is raising a teen swimmer who requires a healthy diet. She used to meticulously inspect all fresh goods to get value for money but the lockdown gave her no choice but to take her grocery shopping to the internet.

"It was my first time...[We're] starting to get constipated and having irregular bowel movements because of lack of fiber food, starting to experience “sawa” factor with all the de-lata (canned) meals, feeling guilty with eating unhealthy processed foods," Cantuba told ABS-CBN News.

"The ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), it has created a new normal for all of us. To me, as a working parent, convenience wise, online buying of fresh produce will be a new norm for majority of us," she added.

The lockdown, which started March 17, was extended for 18 days until April 30 to give authorities more time to flatten the curve or bring infections down.

With millions required to stay at home, food and essentials are shipped from markets to doorsteps via motorcycles and online delivery platforms.

One of the many platforms that delivery fresh produce direct to homes is startup BukidFresh, an online farmer's market conceptualized in 2017 even before the COVID-19 outbreak.

What used to be a school project to help small farmers has grown during the lockdown, said co-founder Aaron David. It's Facebook page has over 14,000 followers.

BukidFresh sells seasonal goods from small farmers around Luzon. Sales surged up to 5 times during the lockdown. Photo: BukidFresh

Fruits and vegetables in season are sourced from farmer cooperatives in Benguet, Ilocos Sur, Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, and Palawan. Orders placed on its website are fulfilled by their in-house fleet on Wednesdays and Saturdays with a shipping fee of P150, he said.

"We started BukidFresh to help solve the problem of farmers in the province and so it is only necessary that we continue operating to solve the problem of Filipinos in Metro Manila who are unable to come out of their homes and buy their weekly requirement of fresh fruits & vegetables," to 28-year old David said.

"Not only are we helping bend the curve by encouraging Filipinos to stay at home but we are also helping them stay healthy by feeding them fresh and nutritious food to increase their immunity and fight off the virus," he added.

Sales surged 5 times since the lockdown, David said. Banana and ginger sales have also gone up due to viral social media posts claiming that it can help fight COVID-19, he said.

The pandemic, however, led to many challenges including transport of goods to Manila, drivers who are unable to pass through checkpoints and farmers who stopped working due to virus fears, he said. But nothing can stop them from helping Filipinos, he said.

"Now more than ever Filipinos need to be taken care of and well fed. We won’t let these difficulties stop us from serving the Filipino people and our partner farmers," David said.

Cantuba, the content producer, said she was thankful for the convenience of online market places but she would still prefer to shop for fresh produce herself when the quarantine is lifted.

"Personally, I will still prefer to really be the one to inspect the veggies I buy to really see which are fresh and old, to check if there are damage items… I may have to lower my expectations though with the quality of goods to give way to convenience," Cantuba said.