By Yvette Tan

There’s a farm and zero waste-themed events space on top of a hill in the middle of Quezon City, and it’s hoping to be a model of sustainability. Annie’s Kitchen is located in Brgy. Pansol, behind La Vista village in the Katipunan area. It’s been a long time dream of Annie Guerrero, founder and president of The Cravings Group (TCG) (which includes Cravings restaurants, the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA) culinary school, and Earth Kitchen) and longtime advocate of sustainable living. In fact, she’s been espousing the tenets of the zero waste movement (and writing books about it) decades before it even had a name!

“This is a model (farm), a business model (on) how to be sustainable,” Guererro says. TGC also maintains farms in Antipolo and Tanay. “We have combined all our technologies from operating our kitchen, raising livestock—we have hogs, poultry, a little of everything… We process them all the zero-waste way.”

A project of love

Annie’s Kitchen sits on 1,000 sq.m. of a total of 4,000 sq.m. of land bought on installment in the 70s. Construction began five years ago, but was only recently completed because of pushback from the informal settlers who occupy a third of the land. “To them, (this is) just a disturbance, they don’t understand what’s here in this plot of land. It used to be a public (garbage site)—they just dump their waste here,” Guererro says. “That’s why we have a lot of reason to prove to the community that we are here to prove that we have many benefits to the community. We have many livelihood programs here.”

This has not stopped Guererro from making the most of what she has. “Almost everything here is built vertically,” she says, adding that it has its benefits. “When you go up to the farm, you get a 360 view of all the nearby communities… That’s why this is a big opportunity for schools, residents to take advantage of what we can show, what they can learn from this.”

She admits that she was on the verge of giving up on the project altogether, but the untimely death of a son spurred her to continue building her dream project. “He was my motivation and inspiration in continuing this project. I almost gave up,” she says.

A model farm

Besides the farm, there is also a small processing facility onsite that includes a professional kitchen and a simple yet chic events place that can fit around 50 people. The place aims to show people not only how to farm the natural way, but how to process ingredients into different products and how to do everything with little to no wastage. 

The farm grows a mix of crops and livestock, all cultivated the natural (read: organic) way. They grow saba because it’s a versatile fruit that can be turned into chips, cookies, and even probiotic fertilizer. They have a lot of papaya and other fruits and vegetables popular in Filipino households such as talbos, eggplants, and squash. They raise hogs, goats, and chickens. They make biogas from hog waste and have different kinds of recycling facilities, with everything up to code. “It has been shown by the DENR (that) we are the only one that passed ECC, Environment Clearance Certificate, without building a STP, Sewerage Treatment Plant,” Guererro says.

It’s a smaller version of the Tanay farm, which provides a lot of the ingredients that the school and restaurants need. “Staples like ginger, black pepper, all the ingredients that we need in producing our different products. We have kamote. In fact, we have planted one hectare of our land to kamote and a lot of bamboo because those are very self-sustaining,” Guererro says. “And rosella (was) one of the best sellers of Christmas last year. We are extricating all the seeds and we’ll sow it in Tanay. We used to sell seedlings. That’s why this is a go-to place for chefs.”

One man’s trash is another’s fertilizer

Talk with Guererro long enough and one will realize that she has a special place in her heart for garbage, particularly the potential goldmine it can reap when processed properly. “It’s really fun to show each and everyone what we do with the resources and garbage. If it is not managed well, it remains garbage. But once we show them how to properly manage, how to reduce, reuse, recycle, it becomes a resource,” she says. “So we have lots of resources, which we see to it that it doesn’t become garbage. According to the law, Ecological Solid Waste Management, we are about 90% compliant. Very little garbage. Even yard waste is being composted. Kitchen waste, 50% is utilized. They are fermented or composted for vermi.”

Though Guererro is glad that the world is finally seeing things from her perspective, she thinks that there is still a lot needed to be done, but also that this means that going zero waste still holds a lot of potential. “Sustainability is such a buzzword now. But to be sustainable, you have to deal with the most basic,” she says. “We start from the soil because fertilizing the soil is very central in all our activities… Because we own a school, we get so much kitchen waste from our production. We ferment our kitchen waste through the bokashi method. That is the anaerobic way of composting. At the same time, we also compost aerobic. What is aerobic? It’s exposed to the air… We do vermiculture. You can just imagine the huge volume of organic fertilizer that we have … We (also) produce our own probiotics.”

This isn’t just talk. She’s seen firsthand the effect that rich, naturally made fertilizer can have on tired ground. “Soil treatment is central to us because otherwise, you cannot grow anything. (Our farm in) Antipolo was denuded,” she says, adding that this is one of two farms previously that now provide TCG with ingredients. Another benefit of utilizing waste is that it saves money. Because of the harvested biogas, for example, Guererro says, “Now our power bill is going down.”

Various projects

This is just one of the many projects Guerrero is involved with. She set up a rehabilitation program for about 400 drug addiction surrenderees early this year. She works with partners in Mindanao to produce wild honey. 

There will be a launch of a mobile kitchen van which they will share with the barangay. “We will involve our new batch of scholars to teach everyday cooking. We focus not only on cooking skills but also nutrition, health consciousness, awareness of solid waste management,” she says.

She’s always looking for technology to benefit the community in the greenest way possible. “We seek the cooperation of everyone. Once they realize that this can benefit their personal lives, it’s really a joy,” she says. “Like planting, many people don’t like to start from seed, so we have a seedling bank where we give away (plants like) papaya and monggo. There’s so much to do. It’s just educating the public and share our knowledge.”

She adds, “If you notice, there’s so much interest in microgreens with the interest in culinary arts. In plating, they use microgreens. We can teach them all of those, how to sow (them), how to sprout different kinds of seeds.” 

Of course, researching for TCG never stops, either. “We have lentils … With foie gras, what we have done is substitute liver with lentils and made use of our herbs, plenty of fresh herbs. We have thyme, parsley, sage, rosemary. Faux gras,” she shares, adding that she would like to go into mushroom production.

Things to do at Annie’s Kitchen

Annie’s Kitchen accepts walk-ins for people who want to go on an earth walk, basically a tour of the farm and facilities. The service is free, though bigger groups should book in advance. Some schools have begun sending their kids to the farm on field trips. Small events can be arranged as late as a day before. Annie’s Kitchen also conducts sustainability workshops on topics like ecological solid waste management, eco-brick making, seed sowing, zero-waste crafts, and making bokashi fertilizer. The gift shop is packed with items processed from harvests such as wild honey, kamote chips, and banana chews (not to be confused with banana chips).

When asked how she feels that the world is moving towards sustainability, Guererro says, “It feels fulfilling that you are able to contribute. Before, it was like I was dreaming. Now, slowly, the level of awareness is really raised because of media. It’s all over social media. And the children, the schools are very bent on starting earnestly on saving the environment… Education. Actually, that is the key to sustainability.”

For more information, visit Annie’s Kitchen on Facebook