Words and photos by Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

A common stigma deeply rooted into the minds of many is that farming is a poor man’s job. It is a common belief that farming requires a lot of time and energy but provides little to no income or gratification.

Forgotten by many, farming can be a great source of income because it provides one of the basic human needs—food.

JelFarm Fresh Food Enterprise, an okra grower and exporter based in Tarlac, recognizes the potential in making money from growing quality products. According to Jef Fernandez, JelFarms’ Executive Assistant, the establishment was built on the idea of helping farmers.

Jef Fernandez posing with a harvester out on the field.

“It was established in 2010 by my parents, Larry and Joy Fernandez. It was pretty much built on assisting farmers by helping them learn more or acquire new technology, new developments, and even new procedures to try,” Fernandez said.

They okra farm engages in a contract growing arrangement with the farmers, who will receive a typical capital of P160,000 per hectare.

“We finance about 90% of their capital, then we deduct a certain percent from their weekly sales because we hand them their payroll every week,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez explained that the success of the farmer comes from how well they handle their crops. If they really take care of the okra they grow by making sure it has proper fertilizers or by controlling any insect infestations, then the farmers can really make money from the agreement.

“One of my biggest farmers handles about 20 hectares of land where he grows the okra we export to Japan. His yearly sales reach up to P30 million,” Fernandez said.

A quality okra exporter

JelFarm’s lands can be found in Tarlac because of the fruitful results the location has offered after Fernandez’s father conducted trial and error tests on where their farm should be situated for maximum productivity.

“My father has tried to plant in different areas here in Central Luzon. But for some reason, the soil in Tarlac has a lot of nutrition for growing okra, which results in an abundant harvest,” Fernandez said.

The farms produces around 5,000 tons of okra in a year, which they export daily to their market in Japan, making them the biggest okra exporter in the country for five years running.

“Japan is our market and they are very, very strict when it comes to vegetables and fruits. So [our product] really needs to be high-quality,” Fernandez said.

In terms of high-quality, Fernandez explained that the company must implement the utmost care in growing, handling, and transporting their products from the field to the processing plant, and finally when it leaves the factory. 

The okra that the company exports must be only of a certain size, with no more than a measurement of 0.1 millimeters in curvature, and with no discoloration on any part of the vegetable. There should also be no mechanical injury evident on the product. Each piece is checked by workers in the factory to separate the export quality okra from the rejects.

A crate full of the Japanese okra variety that JelFarm grows.

While the high-quality okra is scheduled to reach the Japanese supermarkets early by the following day, the rejects also have their own purpose locally.

“The ‘rejects,’ we give back to society. We supply the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology with okra that they can serve to their inmates,” Fernandez said.

JelFarm has been around for nearly three decades and Fernandez shared that the secret to their success is by developing a good relationship with the company’s workers.

“By having a harmonious relationship with the farmers [and workers], then you have an amazing company that can really thrive in the industry,” Fernandez said.For more information, visit www.jelfarm.com.