By Yvette Tan
Photos from Farm to Table PH Facebook page
People from the local rock and cosplay scenes are familiar with Hank Palenzuela. A former musician and bartender, he’s nowadays more known as Hank Sparrow when he cosplays Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and as the inspiration for Hank, the bartender of the bar in the Trese comic series, which is set to be an animated series in 2020. In the agriculture and clean eating scenes, however, he’s known as a milkman.
Palenzuela is President of Farm to Table Ventures, Inc., which sells naturally grown, grass-fed dairy products from farmers based in Mindanao. The products are usually for delivery but can can be found in Salcedo Community Market and Legazpi Sunday Market, two weekend markets who hold its vendors to high standards, something that the brand is understandably proud of.
His foray into dairy began when he switched from rock and roll living to a healthier lifestyle. “With the onset of years, fitness became more of priority for me and I wanted the business I was in to be congruent with that mindset,” he says. “With my change of lifestyle a few years back, I was approached by Michelle (Nuyda, Operations Manager) and another partner, no longer with us. We wanted to get into business that reflected a more health conscious outlook we shared.”
They were conscious about sourcing milk from local farmers. Most of the milk in the Philippines is imported; there are not enough dairy farmers to support the country’s demand. “We wanted a more back-to-basics type of dairy (no preservatives, grass fed, more traditional methods), because of this, importing milk was not viable option,” he explains. “We looked all over the Philippines til we found the best tasting grass fed dairy. We had our friends (Filipinos and expats as well) try the milk too and got their feedback as well.”
Farm to Table gets their dairy from small to medium grass fed dairy farmers from different parts of Mindanao. Most of the cattle are crossbreeds from New Zealand, as well as Friesian and Jersey breeds. “Some local farmers are also experimenting with crossing the Kiwi cross breeds with the Indian Sahiwal breed (to adjust better for warmer climate),” Palenzuela says.
Running a dairy business comes with its own set of challenges, especially since the use of preservatives is out of the question. Balancing the supply and demand of a product with a short shelf life is a constant concern. “Our milk for example has a seven day shelf life and is also very temperature sensitive. We have learned a bit, and are still learning more everyday,” Palenzuela says. “We have also learned that there is no way we can compete with milk that has preservatives that gives it a shelf life of months.”
Farm to Table offers an array of dairy products: fresh, whole, chocolate, melon, low fat and nonfat milk; lightly salted and unsalted butter; buttermilk, whipped cream, sour cream and half & half; and farmer’s cheese, which is kesong puti using grass fed cow’s milk.
Because they are only available via delivery and in weekend markets and certain bazaars, profit differs from week to week. “Our sales of products are quite erratic–something we still have to figure out how to address,” Palenzuela says.
Still, the benefits of being a milkman outweighs its drawbacks. Palenzuela says that the best part of his job is, “Meeting people at the market and seeing how their faces light up when they try Farm to Table. It reinforces the fulfillment our company’s motto and vision, Healthy Yummy Pinoy Fun.”
Farm to Table has been around for a few years now, and the partners hope to expand beyond dairy. “At the moment we are starting with probiotic eggs. As long as it is locally sourced and it is organic and more natural, we are open to it,” Palenzuela says.
If you had told Palenzuela that he would one day stop being a night owl and become an early bird, he wouldn’t have believed you. But as his shift from bartender to milkman shows, anything is possible if your heart’s in it.