By Liwliwa Malabed

A riddle–You see a strange creeping plant that looks like a cactus. You wake up in the middle of the night, peek out of the window, and chance upon the plant’s bloom that looks like a huge floating eye, with false white eyelashes, staring back at you.

You harvest a ripe, pink, magnificent egg-like fruit covered with what looks very much like green dragon scales. You sample the sweet, tangy, pulpy fruit, with the seeds popping inside your mouth and the red violet juice, dripping from your chin like blood. What are you eating?

The answer? Dragon fruit!

This exotic plant may sound and look like it came from a sci-fi novel or a fantasy film, but more and more Filipino farmers are now growing dragon fruit, and artisan winemakers are discovering its potential. And a team of social entrepreneurs are are making sure the sweet, sweet wine is on your table.

Making local wine

Deewan is a social enterprise that specializes in fruit wines locally-produced in the Philippines. It was established in 2018 by three wine-loving people who wanted to make a difference in farmer’s lives. It started with pink and white dragon fruit wine and now includes black plum or duhat wine and red rice wine, or Tapuey. Deewan is always creating new products. Just last summer, they launched their frozen line. Think watermelon jalapeno sorbet, honeydew cucumber sorbet, frozen mango lassi, and frozen banana lassi! These icy treats will surely chase the summer heat away.

Jing, Tom, and Malot at the Fortune Dragon Farm, July 2018, celebrating the partnership with the Nuez family and the farm staff to promote the dragonfruit industry.

Owner Jing Enriquez tells of their journey that started with the dragon fruit. “We discovered a farmer and a Filipino artisan winemaker making good dragon fruit wine. It is a good product, relatively new, and we were ready to take a risk. So we thought we had a perfect recipe for a business. But we always knew we wanted to be more than just a business. We knew we wanted to work with communities, help solve problems, and make a difference. So we were a social enterprise at the outset. We didn’t want to wait for us to get big to make a difference.”

The name Deewan was coined from “diwang,” the Filipino term for celebration, and for Jing Enriquez and co-owners Malot Teneza and Tom Teneza, there is really so much to celebrate. In the two years since Deewan started, they have formed vital links and strengthened relationships with their stakeholders. They are working closely with dragon fruit farms in Pangasinan and regularly conduct agri-tours to promote the country’s dragon fruit industry and bring people closer to the Filipino farmers. Their primary partner is the Fortune Dragon Farm. Deewan has a good partnership with them and they get to visit the farm anytime they want.

Enriquez explains, “We’ve been doing agri/farm tours. We aim to bring the people especially young ones closer to the farmers. We let them enjoy the farms and their produce but we create opportunities for interaction in the limited time that we visit them. We’ve been encouraging parents to bring their children to make them appreciate farm life and appreciate our farmer’s hard work. We also plan to do camping sessions at the farm in the near future for longer exposure to farm life.”

Picking dragonfruits with Kuya Junel, the head farmer, at the Fortune Dragon Farm on Deewan’s first organized tour on August 2018.

A social enterprise requires continuous research and consistent hard work. “We are putting up our own winery soon so we have better control of our wines. We will undergo formal training and will continue experimenting. We work directly with a lot of farmers, so there is a lot of fruits we can experiment with to make into good quality wine,” Enriquez adds.

Fruits of labor

Word gets around and Deewan is now reaping the fruits of their labor. “The Rotary Club of Makati Paseo de Magallanes found out about us and offered to help us promote Filipino artisan wines and help us get a grant for the farmers of the Mushroom Propagation and Processing Project. We are currently working directly with mushroom farmers as our consultants. They provide training for our community of farmers,” Enriquez shares.

Deewan with Jackie Anderson, one of the consultants for the Mushroom Propagation Project in partnership with the Rotary Club of Makati Paseo de Magallanes.

Aside from mushroom propagation, Deewan’s newest advocacy and collaboration is with an NGO called Plastic Solution. Enriquez expounds, “Deewan wants to raise the awareness of the big problem on plastic. We would like to do campaigns and continuous training in schools and in government and non-government sectors.”

But it doesn’t stop there. Deewan’s trio dreams of moving to the farm. “We want to bring the winery in the farm, set up a training center for farmers and small entrepreneurs and create more programs to uplift the lives of the Filipino farmers. Alongside this dream is to create a foundation that will send the farmer’s children to better schools and finish their education.”

Deewan wants to share to the youth what they learned from working with farmers.

“We think we’re independent but are actually interdependent. Seeing the connection between the food and the farmers who planted them, the soil where it came from makes us see our food in a different light. We now have a higher level of respect for the Earth, the farmers, and of course, our food.”

With the community of farmers in Binalonan, Pangasinan taken on October 2018. This community is the chosen recipient of Mushroom Propagation Grant, in partnership with the Rotary Club of Makati Paseo de Magallanes.

Deewan is proof that social enterprise works. Putting up an agri-business can also mean empowering the farmers, helping the community, and caring for the environment. Everyone can join their advocacies.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s October 2019 issue. 

For more information. visit Deewan.