When Charlene Tan and her partners, Ernest Barreiro and Tricia Velez, talk about the produce to be delivered to their customers for the week, they tell you whose hands are responsible for growing these fruits and vegetables. This week there might be tomatoes from ‘Nay Cely, monggo beans from ‘Nay Lina, arugula from (Nay Susan, apple mangoes from ‘Tay Abel.
It is important to them that you, as a consumer, remember that your food comes from the work of very real men and women. That is the principle behind Good Food Community (GFC), a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program that aims to close the gap between the farm and the fork, and in doing so, benefit everyone in the food supply chain.
Here’s how it works: Customers—GFC prefers the term “shareholders”—pledge to support the farm operations by prepaying for a subscription of at least four weeks’ worth of produce, during which they receive deliveries of fresh, organic produce from that week’s harvest of the community’s 14 farmers.
The advantages are mutual: The shareholders are assured of a steady supply of the freshest fruits and vegetables, with the added assurance of knowing that their food is reliably organic; in the meantime, the farmers are assured of a steady income from a stable demand. Freed from the restriction of safe choices that they know the mass market will buy, they’re also able to experiment with different crops, such as kale and heirloom tomatoes.
On the other hand, everyone also shares in the risk. The subscription means that stakeholders get to see both the thick and thin of the harvests. If a storm has damaged the crops, or if nothing is ready to harvest for that week, then the stakeholders also have to accept that reality. “The subscription aspect is not the most delightful part of it,” admits Charlene. “But the commitment advocates a lifestyle change and a shift in mindset—to take a stake, to support the livelihood of the farmers, as well as make the commitment to eat seasonally.”
The human connection has been bred out of the traditional mass market, where both the producers and consumers are faceless to one another. But with this setup, stakeholders get to know how the incredibly sweet saging bulkan comes from ‘Tay Abel, who tells the story of how he started to plant bananas as a way to heal after his son’s death left him heartbroken. For his part, Abel feels both pride and renewed commitment to growing his organic crops when he meets customers who enthuse about the food, how delicious the fresh fruits and vegetables are, and how much healthier they’ve gotten with organic produce.
Not that there haven’t been any challenges. GFC had to go on hiatus last year, when the first attempt showed that many subscribers weren’t used to the CSA system. People weren’t ready then, Charlene says, and the subscribers really minded it when the week’s harvest was too light. “Agriculture is not plug-and-play. You can’t plant it today and expect it to be ready tomorrow. It takes time.”
Thankfully for everyone, Charlene was steadfast in her belief, and relaunched Good Food Community with her new partners earlier in 2013. Eventually, she says, she hopes that GFC will be able to help the farmers even more, by funding greenhouses that will protect their crops from the weather, and therefore be able to better guarantee a steadier harvest for stakeholders.
At the end of the long day that has Charlene and Ernest driving around Metro Manila to deliver fresh produce, the two are almost ready to drop from exhaustion. But get Charlene talking about the farms and about their long-term dreams for GFC, the spark is relit. “Imagine: I only see the crops from Capas, and we already plant such a variety,” says Charlene. “Imagine if we had this elsewhere in Tarlac, elsewhere in the Philippines. All of these different expressions of community-shared agriculture, where we celebrate local vegetables and the traditional ways of cooking them…” she enthuses. “It’s exciting to think about all the different varieties that we can grow and all the stories behind them. I am so hopeful and optimistic.”
For more information about Good Food Community, visit www. goodfoodcommunity.com, contact 0906-4332324, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.