By Zac B. Sarian

In agribusiness, you don’t always need hectares upon hectares of growing area to make good income. Some people can make a decent profit even from a small area. And they don’t even have to own the land because they can just rent it. Just like Julius Carl Gerona, who grow lettuce and kale the hydroponics way in a vacant subdivision lot in Antipolo City that he rents for P300 a month.

Julius is a PE instructor in a private university who is into hydroponics production as a sideline. The week before we interviewed him on March 23, 2019, he said he sold more than P12,000 worth of lettuce to his fellow teachers, homeowners in the subdivision, three restaurants, and in the public market. He said his production is not enough to
meet the demand. Marketing is not a problem.

Under the SNAP hydroponics system developed by UP Los Banos, lettuce seedlings are grown in recycled plastic cups from coffee shops. Of course, one can also use unrecycled
cups. Eight plants are installed in a pair of discarded styropor boxes of imported grapes. The beauty about the SNAP system is that once installed, Julius just waits for the plants to be harvestable in 30 days. That is why he can manage his sideline with the help of just one young worker who does the sowing of the seedlings and planting them in cups using sterilized coco peat.

Julius checking young plants.

Julius grows his lettuce in two greenhouses in the idle lot that he rents. The bigger one, which is 7 meters by 18 meters, can accommodate 180 trays while the smaller one can accommodate 150 trays.

Planting is staggered to make the lettuce available on a sustained basis. He particularly likes to grow the Lollo Biondo variety because it is resistant to the hot weather in summer. It also produces big spreading leaves.

We visited Julius’ project on June 9, 2019 to take some photos for this article. You know what? He was so excited to tell us that two Korean restaurants have discovered his lettuce and they want steady supply. A few days before our visit, one of the restaurants ordered 20 kilos which Julius priced at P200 per kilo. That’s about double the price that he has been giving to his old customers. The next day, the owner went back to buy 20 more kilos and said he wanted to buy the same amount every day.

Another Korean restaurant discovered Julius’ lettuce and purchased an initial 40 kilos also at P200 per kilo. The next day, the owner went back to Julius and told him he can buy 40 kilos of his lettuce every day.

Wow! If Julius could produce the 60 kilos daily requirements of just the two restaurants. that would be P12,000 worth every day! That would be P360,000 gross income a month. In his calculation, Julius spends not even P25 to produce a kilo of lettuce. So the margin is really big. He has no labor problem because he needs only one helper to do the planting under his present set up.

Julius with a tray of harvested lettuce.

Julius surmises that the Korean resto owners must have loved the very fresh and crisp leaves of his lettuce. They are more fresh than those supplied from Benguet and other distant places. We have observed that Korean restaurants don’t just use the lettuce leaves in the usual salad preparations of leaves together with other ingredients in a plate. One time, a friend invited us to sample the offerings of a new Korean restaurant in Makati which caters to high spenders. The lettuce leaves are used for wrapping meat and other concoctions for eating. No doubt the meal was a most memorable experience for us.

Julius said that he has an uncle with a much bigger hydroponics farm in Tagaytay City. He said his uncle, who is a former OFW, can’t cope with the demand of his customers, who are also restaurant owners. In fact, he often places a sign at the entrance of his farm which announces in big letters “NO LETTUCE TODAY.” Actually, he has available production for his regular customers only.

Because of the advantages of growing vegetables the hydroponics way, a lot of enterprising people are now considering hydroponics farming as their full time project. In fact, a couple from Isabela who joined a seminar conducted by Julius are starting their own project. They also attended a seminar in UPLB to further increase their know-how. They hope to develop a market in Isabela for their lettuce, including the conducting of seminars as additional source of income. They also have a company that can fabricate and install low-cost greenhouses for interested growers.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s July 2019 issue.