We often hear that children of farmers don’t want to follow in their parents’ footsteps because there is no money in agriculture. In the case of Reden Mark F. Costales, not only does he manage the family farm, he’s also become an internet celebrity, instructing and encouraging Filipinos to go into agriculture via The Agrillenial, his YouTube channel whose videos are also available on Facebook.
Costales is the son of Ronald and Josie Costales, the couple behind Costales Nature Farms, the first recognized agri-tourism site in the Philippines. Now 29, Costales admits that he considered working in other industries with the hope of earning money. However, he realized that he actually didn’t need to venture far to work in a job he loved and earn from it, too. “In agriculture, you produce food. Food is a necessity, and if your product is a necessity, the demand is always high, if the demand is high, that should earn more right?” he says.
He focused on learning the technical aspects of farming, as well as the intricacies of running a successful business. After graduating from college in 2011, he immediately began working on the family farm, which just started operations and was supplying vegetables to several restaurants in Manila. “Working alongside my mentor and my dad and the rest of my family is the best motivation I could get to be in this industry. Having your family support you really is one of the defining factors of success,” he says.
Costales Nature Farms
It has kept its reputation as one of the most popular farm tourism sites in the country.
“(This was) thanks to the efforts of my late father Mr. Ronald Costales, who was also called the ´father of farm tourism in the Philippines.´ We are the first farm tourism destination in the Philippines. But to stay relevant after all those years since 2012, I would have to say that our ´secret sauce´ is our harmonious partnership with our regional Department of Tourism. With exemplary leadership, the DOT region 4-A have promoted us, assisted us and provided us with support in multiple ways,” Costales says.
“Aside from the government’s support, It is also important to keep track of trends, techniques and best practices. The perfect balance and implementation of these aspects would certainly alleviate any farm tourism destination.”
Another reason the farm has stayed on top of its game is because it places importance on expanding to suit its and its clients’ needs. Before the pandemic, the farm constructed a 300 sq.m. convention hall where it conducts training and seminars and holds special events. They acquired additional land to serve as parking space and a second entrance for buses, as their original entrance was too narrow. “All to support our growing tourism demand and influx of guests,” Costales says.
Alongside this, they expanded their farm tourism offerings to cater to different tourist types. “Whether you are a nature lover, athletic, chill, thrill seeker, adventurous, etc., we have tour packages for you,” he adds.
Of course, they haven’t neglected what got them started in the first place: growing vegetables. “On the production side, the type of vegetables or crops are mostly the same, but the difference between then and now is the size. We have acquired an additional two hectares of production area due to an increase of demand,” Costales says.
From Farmer to Influencer
Costales is the man behind the YouTube channel The Agrillenial, where he talks about running a farm as a business. Videos include planting tips, how to make natural concoctions and fertilizers, and how to care for livestock.
He says that it was mainly frustration that made him decide to become a vlogger. Other reasons include, “the lack of quality instructional content on the agriculture industry, motivation for would-be farmers and inspiration for the younger generation (Millennials and Gen Z) to go into farming.”
He expounds: “I was frustrated due to the lack of free and high quality content on the internet that focuses on agriculture that is based in the Philippines. Whenever I want to learn something, research something, looking up anything agri-related, the ones that would pop up first are technologies from the states or from Europe. I don’t mean to discredit them but their technology is not applicable to us (mostly). So where are the great minds of the Philippine agriculture? And even if I do find an article in the Philippine setting, it would be too complicated and too technical that a simple farmer wouldn’t understand. I was fed up and I have to do something about this.”
In short, he took one of Costales Nature Farms’ greatest strengths, that of finding a problem and turning it into an opportunity, and applied it to information and social media. “I saw the need for these kinds of content so took up the challenge and started my channel on youtube. My approach would be a young millennial guy talking and teaching about farming techniques and technologies in Tagalog so that our marginalized farmers would be able to absorb what I am talking about, at the same time, motivating and inspiring other startups and younger generations to take up farming. Basically I am repackaging and reframing agriculture and giving it a ‘sexier’ look.”
He defines what he means by “agrillenial:” “By my definition, agrillenial refers to a person who belongs to the millennial generation or in general terms, the youth, who are involved or engaged in agriculture. Given that term, which is a mass noun, I want to be recognized as ‘the,’ as in the first, the one and only and the original agrillenial. Aside from that, it is (also) part of my repackaging and reframing techniques to give farming a new, cooler look.”
Created on July 31, 2019, the channel currently has 89,300 subscribers and is the fifth title to appear on YouTube when searching for the term “agri.” “It was an amazing growth. I cannot believe it myself. I am blown away at how this thing got big so fast,” he says.
He admits that garnering a steady following wasn’t easy, especially at first It took him five months to gain 1000 subscribers, but once he hit his stride, turning out relevant, good quality videos at regular intervals, his followers organically grew. Six months later, The Agrillenial hit 50,000 subscribers.
“In the earlier parts of my 3rd month, I really wanted to stop because my views and subscribers had no significant increase. I was so discouraged and even though I really produce quality content, nobody was watching them. I was on the verge of quitting but I powered through it and continued to make videos,” he shares. “And then, later that month – October, I saw my very first spike. From 10 views per day, It shot up to 250, (then) 400 the next day, (then) 500, 600, and then the rest was history.”
The secret to social media success
Costales’ success is the product of both knowledge from his many years as a farmer and a sound social media strategy.
“I have a list of interesting videos from our modules because we are offering seminars here on the farm so I am well versed in teaching and delivering them. My plan was to chop them up into several parts and make a series out of them. That way, I will be able to produce a lot of videos under one topic,” he shares. “But as I went on, my subscriber count grew and they slowly started pitching in their ideas and what they want to see next. From there, I started to take note of their requests and when I am able, I look at the list and produce one to two videos per week. From there, the channel became market-driven but sometimes I still inject a topic that I think would be more relevant depending on the situation and trend.”
While being a farmer helped him secure a niche in the vlogging world, being a vlogger has helped him as a farmer as well. It’s encouraged him to read more about different aspects of industry and has cemented his role as an agriculture authority.
“…before vlogging, I rarely read articles, did research, or increased my knowledge willingly in general. But when my subscriber count grew, so did the comments and questions,” he says. “But that said, the answers needed for me to be able to address their questions were not within my field of expertise. I don’t want to say ‘I don’t know, I’m sorry’ (as) that would ruin my credibility. So whenever I come across a tough question, I look it up first and read several articles on it before concluding my answer. This way I am also increasing my knowledge on the topic. Some of these new learnings I have been able to implement here on the farm. Information that I would have never learned if not for their questions.”
Costales enjoys interacting with his subscribers. Not only does he offer advice and encouragement, but conversing with farming hopefuls shows him that, contrary to popular belief, there are actually a lot of people who want a future in agriculture.
I enjoy answering, conversing with, and helping them in any way I can so that (I can motivate them to keep) their interest in farming. This actually made me sort of an online consultant to 72,000 (at the time of the interview – ed.) people! Until now, I guess on average, I answer 200 comments and questions daily.”
He emphasized that part of his fast rise to success, despite a slow first five months, has to do with his expertise as a working farmer and meticulous research on and rigorous application of an effective social media strategy.
“One of the things that I would consider as an edge as a farmer influencer over other content creators in this field is that I have nine years worth of farming and lecturer experience. This means I have been practicing and teaching farming way before I started vlogging. That gives me confidence, practical knowledge, and mastery of the topics, as well as public speaking skills. With all of these combined, success in vlogging is not too far away,” he says. “Aside from those, I watched and researched on vlogging before actually starting my own (channel). I watched how-to videos on vlogging, tips and techniques, and dos and don’ts. I took my time to learn it first before diving in head first. The culmination of all these techniques are the results of my channel today. As I quoted on my free seminar on how to vlog: ‘Start it right, vlog it right. Get monetized faster.’”
Even though he’s been farming and teaching for longer than many farmers who are older, this doesn’t mean that he doesn’t encounter challenges. One of the most prevailing one is something many young farmers encounter—being discriminated against because of his age. “Not all of our guests enjoy the presence of a greenhorn-looking lecturer in front of them and doing talks about how we do farming,” he shares. “They absolutely hate that fact and so they throw you these overly technical and ‘testing’ questions, trying to poke at my credibility and my level of understanding of the topic.”
Costales always manages to win them over by showcasing his wide-reaching technical and practical knowledge. Still, he wishes that older farmers would be more open-minded about learning from younger farmers who have meticulously studied their craft and also have the benefit of being familiar with how to integrate technology into agriculture.
Some truths about farming
There are many misconceptions about farming, and no one is more familiar with them than a farmer himself. Costales wishes that people would change their perception of what it means to work in agriculture, specifically that even though it can be hard work, it can also mean big earnings as well. “We all know that farming is not easy. Being under the sun, tilling, plowing, grinding. it’s not a job for everybody. But, what people don’t see and what they don’t appreciate are the numbers in the background. Especially with high value vegetables. If we look at agriculture with an entrepreneur’s perspective, we will be able to see and appreciate farming for what it really is – a lucrative venture,” he says.
He also makes a case for living, what Belle decidedly called in the Disney adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, the “provincial life.” “Life in the province is not so bad. [You’re] able to work with nature, away from the toxicity of the city, the noise, the smoke, the pollution, [and] the traffic. As long as there is a 4G internet connection, us millennials will survive anywhere,” Costales says.
But as enterprising as one is, success is still more probable if they have the proper tools, technology, education, and government support to properly pursue their endeavor. Costales believes that the Department of Agriculture’s current thrusts can help solve these issues. “ access to capital, mechanization and modernization, more strategic training system, updated farming technologies, marketing access/assistance/support and consumer awareness. All these points are all under DA sec. Dar’s 8 Paradigm shift,” he says. “I think that under his administration, the DA would really… serve our small farmers the help that they need.”
The life of an influencer
Costales approaches vlogging the same way he does farming: he uses business methodology, focusing on customer service to keep his viewers satisfied without sacrificing the quality of his content.
“[The most challenging part of being a vlogger is] feeding the insatiable hunger of my followers,” he says. “Once they get a taste of what I can deliver, keeping up with their demand for more content is really challenging.
There’s an art to satisfying one’s audience while continuing to deliver a product that one is proud of and interested in continuing, and Costales has found this happy balance.
“[This includes] thinking up new ideas to keep and maintain their interest in my videos. Because if I falter and downgrade my quality, It could possibly result in lesser views and ultimately, unsubscription,” he says. “On a brighter note, this challenge has improved my creativity in terms of thinking up new video topics, ideas and it seems their unlimited demand is parallel to my unlimited imagination.”
Part of being an influencer, especially in an educational capacity, means being able to answer people’s questions. “Another challenging aspect of being an educational influencer is to maintain a healthy community, which means I have to answer hundreds of comments and questions on a daily basis,” he says. “But that’s fine because more engagements in my videos promotes them and ranks them higher in the YouTube algorithm.”
All of these are worth being able to reach so many people that he otherwise would not have had access to. “The fact that I am able to help and influence a lot of people and change their perspective about farming really is the homerun for me,” he says. “Reading their comments on how my videos changed the ways they started gardening, [how they] implemented my techniques and saw a drastic change in terms of plant health and productivity, [and to see] young kids tilling their backyard. For me that is the ultimate reward – even better than money, because being able to reach out to their lives and inspire them to go into farming, for me, I was able to do what I was meant to do and I did an awesome job.”
Success as a vlogger hasn’t lessened his passion for farming. In fact, he, now more than ever, appreciates his time on the farm. “As an introvert, I was never a fan of crowded places. I think the solemnity, the peace and quiet, the simplicity of life in the province is what really made all the difference despite all the challenges,” he says.
The dynamic combination of being at the forefront of agriculture and farm tourism, plus an active community online, is exciting, and continually inspires Costales to try new things.
He has many plans for the improvement of Costales Nature Farms. “Productionwise, I would like to shift to commercial hydroponic production. The ones that you see in Israel and in The Netherlands. An enclosed environment, controlled climate, minimal water usage, no insect spray but instead we’ll be using natural enemies of insects and other biological control methods,” he says. “The impact of the pandemic for the tourism industry has also crippled our operations because the majority of our income comes from tourism that’s why we focused on production.”
Costales’ parlaying of his prowess as a farmer into success as an influencer is an example of the many imaginative ways younger people can make agriculture accessible, not just to younger generations, but to all wannabe farmers, no matter what age. It’s an inspiration that more technology can also mean more interest in and access to agriculture.
As Costales likes to end his spiels, “Ingat and keep farming!”
Photos courtesy of Reden Costales
This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s January to February 2021 issue.