By Yvette Tan

Food security has always been important for a community. Having access to substantial, nutritious food year round is the reason the human race has moved past its hunter-gatherer past and has been able to build urban civilizations.

Unfortunately, the recent decades have seen the farmer set aside, with many people—sometimes including farmers themselves—underestimating the role agriculture and the food system plays in society.  Nowhere is the divide and the irony more apparent than in the food industry itself, where consumers have forgotten just how important the role the farmer plays in literally their every meal. A culinary school is offering a course that hopes to change this way of thinking.

The need for sustainability

“Demographic developments, climate change, and a vision for achieving sustainable developments goals demand a change in the global food system. An understanding of how we eat and how to sustain this with our growing population tells us that our existing food system will no longer work for us in the near future. We need to change our food system,” says Center for Culinary Arts (CCA) Chancellor for Education Dr. Veritas Luna.

“Culinarians and chefs play vital roles in influencing what consumers shall eat, how, when and where these foods may be eaten. They are gateways to the creation of food ideas, menus and innovative products which are driven by lifestyle and their beliefs about food and its impact in our society. As they are great influencers to consumers, educating and training them on responsible, ethical and broader culinary and gastronomy perspectives shall impact on the food value chain.”

In response to this, CCA has launched Culinary Agripreneurship, an 18-month diploma program that they offer in partnership with the University of the Philippines-Los Banos and the University of Asia and the Pacific. “These two institutions have the best track records in producing the country’s top experts in agriculture and entrepreneurship,” Dr. Luna explains.

Sustainability at its core

According to Dr. Luna, Culinary Agripreneurship is “a focused and fast track program, with content ranging from edible landscaping, high-value crops container gardening, small animal raising, to project management, finance & marketing, family enterprise and social entrepreneurship.”

Of course, there will also be fieldwork. “There will be opportunities for students to dirty their hands to plant high-value crops that they wish to produce for their culinary-agrienterprise. This will last at least one crop cycle and shall be carried out at the fertile laboratory fields of the UPLB campus,” Dr. Luna says.

The course hopes to attract applicants who own or operate culinary-agri-enterprises as well as designers who want to specialize in culinary-agri business spaces. “This will bring farm sites closer to, if not together with culinary businesses. Imagine scaling up restaurants with edible gardens, farm tourism, lowering food waste and reduction of food miles, closer ties among farmers and chefs bringing better economic pay-offs for both, and best of all more nutritious, affordable and delicious foods to our consumers.The thought of sustainability is more than tempting as it will certainly benefit many, including our environment,” Dr. Luna says.

A student’s experience

Marie Dominique Quilicot, 31, is currently in the culinary phase of the program. An industry practitioner, she’s been operating her family’s restaurant since 2015 and has also been involved with food-based social enterprises.

She decided to take the course because, “I realized how important sourcing was and how a product can really transform when the raw ingredients are top notch. However, I also saw how it was so hard to source quality raw ingredients because those who were working on it, our farmers, were struggling and disempowered when they’re such a crucial part in the food chain. This made me want to understand the whole process of production to not only set up a business that has value but integrity as well, starting with our family farm and its stewards.”

In an industry where all the attention is placed on the chef and the farmer is left forgotten, this approach is new, but must become the norm. “I think that chefs are so celebrated in the industry and rightfully so – it takes such hard work to make exceptional food! However, the farmers should also be put in an equal pedestal because without them, there won’t be food to process and cook and experiment with, in the first place. Our farmers not only bring food to the plate but make sure that what we eat is safe and nutrition,” Quilicot says.

The culinary portion teaches students the basics of cooking and food processing—important for creating value-added products. This, combined with the agriculture portion, offers students  a clearer picture of the food system, allowing them to make better decisions on how they source, produce, and market their businesses or future endeavors.

“After I graduate, I really would want to put up a business that marries food supply and food processing, in a very sustainable way,” Quilicot says. I’m also an advocate for education as well and maybe, put up a program where I can learn from and teach our seasoned farmers on best practices. I still don’t know, the opportunities and ideas are endless!”