Better for you, the planet, and our local farmers, these sustainable online grocers are bringing fresh produce right to your doorstep.
In this strange time of continuous quarantines, where even a simple grocery run can feel unsafe, big and small brands alike are finding different ways to bring food to our tables. Online groceries are a fairly new concept to most but when the pandemic hit and brick-and-mortar grocery stores were losing stock and crowded with long queues, they became one of the main sources to safely bring food and essentials to each household. Among them are these farm-to-table online grocers who aren’t only delivering fresh fruits and veggies every day but are also taking action on the nation’s need to invest in local agribusiness. By directly partnering with local farms all around the country, they advocate for a sustainable lifestyle that secures the future of the Filipino community.
College best friends turned business partners, the founders of HI FRED started as two separate thesis projects between Jeremiah Zabarte, Alyeska Yunam, and Samantha Serrano when they were taking entrepreneurship in Enderun College. Upon learning how crucial yet neglected the agricultural sector is in the country, they stepped up to the plate and learned the ropes of the supply chain and market. “The simplest way we knew how to start helping was by purchasing and selling local produce,” says Serrano. Sourcing from farms around Baguio, Davao, and Nueva Ecija, it didn’t only benefit customers with healthier goods, but it also uplifted local farmers.
“There was one particular Ampalaya farmer in Nueva Ecija who started supplying us and shared the struggle that most of them would end up stuck in a cruel cycle. They would borrow money from loan sharks at high rates just to be able to sell their products at low prices in the market–earning only enough to pay off their debts,” Serrano shares. With the help of Zabarte’s grandfather, Jose “Chito” Zabarte who was an advocate of educating local farmers about proper farming methods, they made sure to their team was knowledgable about quality local produce and agriculture.
Today they offer fruits, vegetables, and all kinds of ingredients across Metro Manila, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal. They are also underway in using data and tech to revolutionize the local online grocery industry. “With the help of like-minded individuals and organizations who are willing to collaborate with us, we can build a better food system and bridge the gap between farmers and customers.”
From corporate life to founding an SME that advocates for organic farming and sustainable living, Adrienne Tan and Carl Lee created Farm To Folk intending to make organic locally sourced products accessible and affordable for all Filipinos. “Local products can also be affordable and world-class in quality. This is what inspired us to birth our brand. What highly drives us is also seeing the lives of farmers uplifted, as we help and provide them with sustainable livelihood, ” says Tan. It’s common for everyday customers to prefer imported products over local ones, but Tan explains that this kind of mentality causes organic goods to come with a hefty price tag. “With more demand in the local market, farmers will be encouraged to allocate more land to organic planting, generating more supply, and thus lowering prices,” she explains.
Oversupply is also a reoccurring problem in our local farms, leaving farmers to throw away crops and no income. “These are farmers who have tried to plant whatever seeds are given to them for free, only to find out that the produce is already in a state of oversupply in the market,” she says. Through Farm To Folk, Tan and Lee were able to bridge the gap between the farmer and the market by providing them with the means to plant what is sellable. “With one correct seed, one Filipino farmer’s family is changed indefinitely.”
More than a business, Farm to Folk encourages customers to buy direct-from-farm grocers to ensure that farmers receive a just and fair amount for their produce. “This model optimally benefits local farmers given the painstaking efforts they put into growing our non-GMO, healthy food staples,” she says. “In a way, we empower our local farmers to be businessmen themselves.”
PAY IT FORWARD
What was originally supposed to be a standard Baguio-based online grocery app in 2018 changed when typhoon “Ompong” hit Benguet. Session Groceries changed their business model, using their app to instead deliver donations. In January 2019, when local Baguio farmers had an oversupply of carrots and were forced to throw them away, they stepped in and used the app to sell the produce. Today, Session Groceries is one of the biggest farm-to-table online grocers in the local market catering to homes in Baguio, Cavite, and Metro Manila with a wide range of fresh produce. Founder Iloisa Romaraog-Diga says the expansion is all made possible because of the support of their consumers and because they prioritize showing the market the effects of their support in their pages and online site.
“Malaking bagay yung result na pinapakita namin yung mga farmers nakabili na ng sasakyan nila with one year of support, sa second year naman nakabili na yung farmer ng lot nila or their farm improved.” But what may be the most important note that Romaraog-Diga advocates for is how empowering local farmers is essentially giving back to those who are responsible for sustaining us and our needs for years. “Kung patuloy na mahirap ang magsasaka mawawalan tayo ng next generation farmers.
This means magkakaproblema tayo sa food security,” says Romaraog-Diga. Farmers play an important role in food security and without them, there wouldn’t be anything to eat. As much as they need our help, we also can’t live without them. “It’s time to help yung mga magsasaka na matagal na nagaantay ng tulong mula sa community na pinapakain nila.”
An online farm-to-table brand born out of the pandemic, Gising Gising by Celina Borromeo, TJ Malvar, and Tonyo Silva has three main goals: Help local farmers, provide healthy and fresh food to struggling communities, and aid customers who want to eat healthily but can’t go the grocery or wet market. With a big dream but limited resources, how can a start-up brand do this you may ask? For Gising Gising it was simply the act of Bayanihan. With each box that is purchased from their brand, another box is also donated to a family in need. “Our task was to build a sharing ecosystem between farmers, communities that needed help, people who wanted to help out, and organizations with the same vision,” says Borromeo.
With their “one box sold is one box shared” pilot initiative they were able to share the country’s resources to more consumers and to those who need them the most. “For example, when we would allocate 100 boxes to a particular community in Marikina, more than a hundred families get their share of goods because their community leaders are efficient,” she shares. “We’ve discovered that sharing is universal no matter how much you actually have in life.”
As the country continues to grow more socially aware, Borromeo reminds us there is a bigger job to be done to alleviate food insecurity. “It’s very important to support and give fair wages to our local agriculture sector because a relatively large percentage of the Filipino workforce is in Agriculture. Paying them fairly and investing in their sector for research and development, skill enhancement, and infrastructure will help alleviate poverty. It’s all connected.”