By Sahlie P. Lacson
Nowadays, there are more and more organizations, companies, and social enterprises willing to do their part in working for what needs to be achieved in terms of sustainability in food production by turning to natural farming.
“We do not use pesticides, or any harmful chemicals to the soil, plants, beneficial insects, and to us, the consumers,” defines Carlomagno Aguilar, who manages Organic Growth.
Organic Growth is a social enterprise (SE), which from the name itself, means that the food produced through the crops they grow is farmed naturally. Though a Bachelor of Arts major in Asian Studies graduate from a reputable school who was supposed to follow a career path in Foreign Affairs, Aguilar instead pursued his passion for farming at the age of 25.
“I started farming when I was 25 years old. I was just growing tomatoes and hot peppers back then, which I delivered to a Kapampangan restaurant. Sometimes, I directly sell them in the public market,” shared Aguilar. “I’ve been farming for several years already but I never tried to understand where my produce goes.”
However, when Aguilar started working with Chef Kenneth Cacho, president of International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management (ISCAHM) Pampanga, he started to understand the gap between farmers and chefs; that there is a need to produce crops right at the doorfront of every kitchen in order to preserve their flavor and freshness, besides being sustainable.
But why choose naturally grown produce? First, it is sustainable. Second, it can be cheaper. And third, it is safe and clean. “Everyone wants to live longer and healthier, and one way of doing it is eating clean and safe food,” Aguilar further said.
The farm-to-table concept
The name Organic Growth came from the idea of growing naturally farmed food ‘in- house’ by developing and managing farms or gardens so they would not need to buy ingredients from the market; they could harvest them by themselves fresh – just right outside of their kitchen. This could also lead to increased profit because it would lessen the cost of food.
Aguilar considers himself “the Chef’s Farmer” since they grow almost all of the chef’s needs for their kitchen. Organic Growth also addresses the chef’s need of ensuring the quality and freshness of fruits and vegetables by bringing the source closer to them and whenever they need them.
“The vision of Organic Growth is to make every region of our country become self- reliant with their food through farm-to-table. This concept, if applied to each of our country’s region, will make food sustainable. Each region won’t have to rely on distant provinces’ produce, rather, (they) will be producing their own,” Aguilar enthused.
How the process works
Organic Growth partners with hotels, resorts, restaurants, and culinary schools that have vacant or idle lands where fruits and vegetables can be grown. They identify the in-demand crops which contribute to almost 80% of their food cost, analyze the data, and find ways on how to bring these costs down. Their clients will then hire the farmers, usually five per hectare. They will be trained and managed by Organic Growth in growing the priority crops that will be supplied to their clients.
Clients are manned by Organic Growth associate consultants who are also trained by Agriculture graduates. As the owner, Aguilar supervises the associate consultants by giving them targets to produce, which they will cascade to the farmers they handle. He also regularly visits the farms to make sure that all instructions given to them are properly implemented and checks on their clients whether they are satisfied with their company’s services. In exchange for their services, they get paid with a monthly consultancy fee. At present, Organic Growth manages The Farm at San Benito in Batangas, ISCAHM Pampanga, Bamboo Private Islands in Coron, Palawan, and the Aquino Farm in San Fernando, Pampanga. They have a coming up project though, the Le Petite Ferme, wherein they will grow salad and pinakbet vegetables, herbs, and spices for their direct household customers.
But what makes Organic Growth different from other companies who are providing the same service among farmers or communities? “We have met different farm consultants,
but most of them are just focused on the operations side of the farm,” relayed Aguilar.
With Organic Growth, aside from the operations, they also managed the farmers and
matched the crops being grown to the needs of their every client. They train farmers
how to grow vegetables without artificial chemicals, show them modern ways of growing
them, and introduce new and prolific variety of seeds. Moreover, they also teach new
ways to do agribusiness so farmers can earn a living by growing herbs and vegetables
the company introduced.
Organic Growth provides training to farmers, specifically on organic-style farming, multi- cropping, crop rotation, companion planting, and proper spacing. As mentioned by Aguilar, most of the farmers they have met are used to mono-cropping and selling their produce in volume. The company teaches farmers how to grow a variety of crops and schedule them in order for these farmers to have a sustainable and continuous harvest.
Moreover, Organic Growth brings value to what the farmers do. They make sure that farmers get recognized by the management they work with when they accomplish the tasks given to them. That way, it boosts their self-esteem and erases the notion that they are only “mere farmers”.
With the passion for farming and the proper implementation of good farm practices such as one that is farm-to-table, Organic Growth proves that it's always possible to grow your own food – especially one that is organic.