By: Demee Angelica S. Ludia
Photo credits: Mr. Ronaldo Relador, Mr. Christopher Suazo De Villa, Bayani-Juan Mobile Market Solutions Facebook Page

#LOOK: Laudable Ounces of Kindness is an article series which features extraordinary efforts in this time of pandemic from DOST-assisted micro, small, and medium enterprises and people’s organizations in CALABARZON.

Meet Farm Asia Global Environmental Research or Farm Asia, a non-stock, non-profit association of organic farmers, enthusiasts, educators, consumers, and health-oriented individuals. Farm Asia’s primary goal is to bring the industry of organic and natural agricultural products, services, and technology closer to the community.

With years of backbone experience in the field of research and agriculture, how has this DOST-CALABARZON Grants-in-Aid Community-Based Project (GIA-CBP) beneficiary been coping up with the current situation? What pushed them to craft their mobile palengke project? These questions answered by the president of Farm Asia himself, Mr. Ronaldo Z. Relador, or “Doc” Ron to many. Come on and let us take a #LOOK.

DOST: Can you briefly describe Farm Asia?

‘Doc’ Ron: Farm Asia is a dream turned reality born in the US during one of my soul searching [trips]. [I pondered on] what I should do once I retire from my teaching job abroad [and] I have always thought that there [are] so many things to heal, but real cure… [is limited]. Farm Asia is a cure to social diseases.

‘Doc’ Ron prefers to be described as a P.E.N.: pedagogist, environmentalist, and nationalist. He is a pedagogist who firmly believes in the power of coaching to shape a young mind. An environmentalist who advocates for equal respect among living and non-living organisms. And a nationalist who has dedicated his life into understanding and combatting the problems of the country with passion and technology. Farm Asia, on the other hand, does not fall far from being a P.E.N association itself.

‘Doc’ Ron: Farm Asia was intentionally coined to sound like ‘Farmacia’ which means the place to buy medicine. But what kind of medicine does Farm Asia really spread around? It is the cure for ignorance through connecting research and evidenced based science with everyday living. One such cure is food-the best medicine…. However, people now unsuspectingly consume poison in the food they eat because of over experimentation on food to make it cheaper, fuller, and tastier. Farm Asia’s battle cry is - food is sacred and must be given all the respect it deserves, so we must not fake it, extend it, cure it, or even preserve it (if possible) if we want to enjoy…[its] fullest benefit….

Farm Asia is composed of farmer innovators from different provinces and municipalities of CALABARZON who propagate diverse agricultural crops and commodities like tomatoes, pineapples, coconuts, mangoes, tilapia, and even salted egg. Albeit diverse in agricultural offerings, two aspects remain intact- Farm Asia offers basic commodities through organic agriculture.

The Department of Science and Technology-CALABARZON has also been there to support Farm Asia. Since 2017, DOST has been helping them improve their production of bio-organic products through mechanization and trainings for their farmer innovators. Years have passed and Farm Asia has managed to grow and propagate its vision of safe food through organic agriculture. From organic compost production, the organization began to explore primary derivative products like fruits and vegetable crops, herbs and spices, livestock and their feeds. It ventured further on secondary derivatives such as dried herbs and spices for culinary and medicinal purposes, personal care products such as soap, lotions, insect repellants, and even produced their own version of sukang pinya and burong mustasa.

Bringing the conversation now to the present battle against COVID-19, ‘Doc’ Ron elaborates more about Farm Asia’s current situation.

DOST: How has Farm Asia been coping up with the recent COVID-19 crisis and community quarantine setup?

‘Doc’ Ron: Farm Asia understands the silent language of the environment, and is always ready to respond [to its] subtlest changes. Now, more than ever, its constituents are in full-battle gear in fighting hunger, unemployment, and diseases. We are armed with the most dynamic global research that we can apply to make a difference everywhere we are. COVID-19 can be a really big challenge, but not big enough to stop us from reinventing and rethinking our old selves to adjust to the new normal.

Farm Asia has proven that adversity triggers ingenuity. As the COVID-19 battle pushed for an enhanced community quarantine setup, most farmer innovators of Farm Asia are left with less or even no means of contact with their regular buyers. This dilemma brought about Farm Asia’s Bayani-Juan Mobile - Online Farmers Market Solution.

DOST: What /who inspired you to craft the Bayani-Juan?

‘Doc’ Ron: It is our most treasured farmers. They are our Bayani-Juans, and we dream them to be with every Filipino especially now that we are in these difficult times.

As a mobile-online market, Bayani-Juan sells Farm Asia farmers’ organic and natural commodities together with different essential products like condiments, minimally processed food products (buro, pickles, etc.), personal care, supplements, and many more. At the surface, Bayani-Juan may seem like a straightforward answer to the main dilemma which is the farmers’ lack of avenue to sell its products. However, there is more to Bayani-Juan as it is Farm Asia’s partnership project with the Samahan ng Magsasaka at Mag-aaral ng Pilipinas and other members of the transportation sector whose vehicles could be used for product delivery.

To ensure the safety of both the Bayani-Juan sellers and buyers, all products in this mobile market are already pre-packed and can be bought in kilo/s or in containers which limit contact between the two parties. Farm Asia has also developed an online ordering system called Bayani-Juan Online Farmers Market support. After a few weeks of operations, Bayani-Juan has received astounding feedback from its customers proving that agricultural goods partnered with an innovative tool are essential especially during this time.

“…You are our frontliners too! We give thanks and we salute you all in the jeepney palengke for helping everyone…[by] catering good perishables and fresh fruits and veggies in this hard times on ECQ. Maraming salamat po sa inyong lahat! God Bless”

“…Thanks for introducing the Jeepney Market to us. My order was not complete though ‘cause most of the veggies were sold out already. I was number 38 in the list….Anyway, so happy for the pakwan and pinya and saging [na] saba. Hope they can come back again this weekend…”

“I’m happy with what we got and better than nothing at all. At least we have fresh veggies. Please extend our thank you to Doc Ron for bringing the Jeepney Market here in the village. It is really a big help for everyone…”

There are currently four Bayani-Juans serving the cities and municipalities of San Pedro, Biñan, Muntinlupa, and Parañaque. It is bound to expand its reach to Pila, San Pablo City, Santa Cruz, and Calauan.

DOST: What is the way forward for Farm Asia amidst this COVID-19 pandemic?

‘Doc’ Ron: We saw that this pandemic became an opportunity to get started with what we have always wanted to do - to make food the main thing: for nourishment, for healing, for livelihood. We are seeing this fulfilled. We will stay and build on what we have started beyond COVID-19. The opportunity we have ceased will not go wasted.

Indeed, no adversity is hard too hard to handle with an innovative mind. This pandemic may have brought upon uncertainty but as of now, one thing is certain - Farm Asia and their Bayani-Juan proves that an ounce of ingenuity and kindness is worth being #LOOKed upon.