By Yvette Tan
Teraoka Family Farm is a Pangasinan-based organic vegetable farm that supplies salad vegetables to households and high-end restaurants. They mainly focus on four crops—leafy greens, Fairy Tale eggplants, kale, and Japanese cucumber—and specialty produce like kohlrabi.
But Teraoka also grows heirloom crops—fruit and veg our grandparents used to consume that most people don’t recognize today. “We like how Filipino cuisine now is more recognized internationally,” Teraoka Family Farm owner Raffy Dacones says. “We want to focus on ingredients that are local, heirloom varieties that people used back then.”
Growing Heirloom Varieties
“We grow kamias (Averrhoa bilimbi). We grow sampaloc (Tamarindus indica) and santol (Sandoricum koetjape). We have a lot of local fruits like sineguelas (Spondias purpurea), duhat (Syzygium cumini), and balimbing (Averrhoa carambola),” Dacones expounds. “We want to help promote what’s truly Filipino. I’ve been asking old people sa barrio ‘Anong tanim niyo noon’ or ‘Anong ginagamit niyo noon?’ And we try to propagate that.”
The reception to these old-time crops has been surprisingly positive. “We supply a few restaurants with whatever is unique, like kamias and sampaloc flowers. People don’t know that you can use sampaloc flowers. It’s sour. Chefs have been fermenting it and it looks like miso in the end. We try to promote that as well,” Dacones says. “
They also grow what is commonly thought of as weeds with nutritional and medicinal properties like Pansit-panistan (Peperomia pellucida). “My mom being Ilocano, we eat a lot of vegetable greens that people don’t see,” Dacones explains. “We have sabidukong (Amorphophallus titanum)—edible wild vine flower. I brought it here for chefs to try and they’re like, ‘this is amazing.’”
The customer base for heirloom plants is small, but intense. Many of the customers are chefs; all of them are food enthusiasts. Dacones hopes that the chefs’ usage of these indigenous ingredients will help reignite the public’s interest in them. “I want to encourage people to grow whatever is local in our area,” he says. “We even have heirloom kamatis Tagalog (also called kamatis na lligaw) grown from seeds given by the local Department of Agriculture. It looks like a squash. People don’t like it in the regular market. They find it ugly, and that’s what we want to change. It may be ugly, but you don’t know what’s in store for you inside. Once you open it and put it in your food, it’s as sweet as you can get. We want to promote that.”
He adds, “It may be harder because it’s not as resistant to pests, but we can manage.”
A Demand for the Indigenous
Dacones travels a lot for work, and takes this opportunity to collect indigenous seeds for the farm. His stories are as varied as the seeds he brings home. “We got our fairytale eggplants from an old woman who said, ‘Itong tanim ko, tanim ng tatay ko noon pa. Try mo.’ I tried it and I love how tender it is and how the skin is so easy to peel off. Now I can’t live without it,” he relates. “I got seeds of native squash. It grows less than a kilo. It’s beautiful. I attended the Organic Agriculture Congress in Ilocos Norte. We met a few MASIPAG farmers and they had those seeds. They said regular farmers don’t like it because they prefer hybrid varieties, so they might as well give it to us. We were happy because they were supportive with our cause.”
Other indigenous plants that they cultivate include red okra and red sitaw, both local to their area, both almost forgotten. “We try to grow whatever is unique, and I guess that was our selling point because people started to reminisce about what they used to eat back then,” Dacones says. It’s how we were able to distinguish ourselves from other farms aside from us being organic certified.”
Dacones is happy that the farm can make a profit off indigenous crops, and hopes that the trend catches on. “A lot of people, especially in the culinary industry, keep telling us, ‘keep growing that because honestly, we prefer this. We don’t mind paying a little more but getting tastier produce,’” he says. “I guess that’s the reason why people should grow these things—to further lower the price, or to help have more availability of seeds.”
He adds, “If we make them more available, I think people will go back to that.”
For more information, visit Teraoka Family Farm.