Lockdown 'accident': Online shop helps Dumagat farmers sell produce in Metro Manila

VEGGIES4GOOD. The social enterprise founded by Aison Garcia and wife Ditsi Carolino helps Dumagat farmers sell their produce. Photo from Aison Garcia's Facebook page

VEGGIES4GOOD. The social enterprise founded by Aison Garcia and wife Ditsi Carolino helps Dumagat farmers sell their produce.

Photo from Aison Garcia's Facebook page

Out of the many online produce shops sprouting online, Veggies4Good stands out. It's the "accidental" solution to one man's impulsive decision to buy 5 jeeps worth of local produce on a whim even as Luzon was weeks into a coronavirus lockdown. 

After a visit to Daraitan in Rizal to hand out relief goods, Aison Garcia came back home to Manila with 5 jeeps full of a Dumagat tribe's harvest – 528 kilos of gabi, 232 kilos of cassava, 423 kilos of luya (ginger), 293 kilos of camote (sweet potato), 253 kilos of niyog (coconut), and 96 kilos of guyabano. 

"All talaga babe? As in all?!" was Ditsi Carolino, Aison's wife's initial reaction. 

As luck – and hardwork – would have it, the produce purchased on May 2 took only 10 days to sell within Metro Manila thanks to Veggies4Good.  

How it all began

The story starts not in Rizal but in Antipolo, with Dorina. 

After days of pleading at checkpoints, and 6-hour walks to sell kangkong, exhaustion took over for Dorina, a woman from Cogeo in Antipolo, who had 6 young children to feed. One day, Dorina managed to catch Vice President Leni Robredo's shuttle for pandemic frontliners. It was there that she and Aison first met. 

After listening to her story, Aison was moved. He decided to return to her home as soon as he could to help Dorina by giving out relief packs sponsored by generous friends.

He noticed that aside from the community's farmers, jeepney drivers and construction workers were also out of work. "It's hard to rely on ayuda (aid), because it is very irregular and is not enough to support 7 members in family," Aison told Rappler. "How do we sustainably support them?"

He later crossed paths again with Dumagat farmers, whom Aison had already worked with before.

"They have a lot of produce to sell, but they can't sell in their markets now, or to the traders because of the quarantine," he said. "So, how do we expose their products?" 

The solution was both simple and complex — buying all their harvest and bringing it to Marikina City, where it could potentially be distributed.

"Patay, pano to?' Aison first asked himself. He reached out to his village's association, which allowed him to leave the harvest at the covered courts, much to the joy of neighbors who were looking for fresh produce.

"But I thought... what about the people who want to buy from us, but can't, because of the checkpoints? What platform could we use so our produce reaches them?" Aison asked.

With the help of prayer groupmates and volunteers, the social enterprise Veggies4Good was created, a group "connecting those that can’t buy from us physically, so we will deliver it ourselves to you."

Day-to-day grind

Aside from spearheading the stand-alone market at Dela Costa Homes in Marikina City, Aison is also a deliveryman. On some days, he drives his sedan filled with boxes of greens around the Metro and drops orders off to customers himself. 

The first day of operations involved 100 orders and deliveries, so Aison tapped their area's tricycle drivers for man power. "Maraming trycicle drivers na walang biyahe, so tinanong namin, baka pwede gamitin namin ung mga single motor niyo?” Aison said. (There are a lot of tricycle drivers without trips right now, so we asked them if we could use their motors to deliver.) 

Aison also asked fellow online gulay shop The Murang Gulay Shop if their riders would be willing to help out with deliveries, to which they obliged. 

Dorina, as well, is still in the picture. She, her son, and her sister are in charge of packing the produce, and have been living with Aison and Ditsi in the meantime.

"We are happy because they are getting 400 pesos of daily salary to pack, and it's supporting them sustainably and their families. Dorina has a young child who needs milk, which she gets to buy," Aison said.

Veggies4Good is here to stay – 4Good

On May 12, Aison finally sold the last of the first batch of produce, thanks mostly to a community kitchen in a Muslim community. 

But it certainly wasn't the end of Veggies4Good. Aison said it's just the start.

“After seeing our customers wanting more, I thought: sige na nga, we can pursue [this] sustainably," Aison said.

“We are looking at other groups who want to sell. In fact, two other communities in the Dumagat area want to join our initiative, so we will accomodate them. Hopefully, there will be more communities we can help both in Dumagat and from the urban poor," he added.

Aison takes pride in the fact that Veggies4Good doesn't just help those it employs and buys produce from – it also empowers them. 

"Hindi lang sila naka-depende sa support or charity. With this, they can stand on their own. It's really empowering," he said. 

“People can overcome whatever challenges, with the right attitude. We are here to help them reap the opportunities to do that."

To place your orders, you can check out Veggies4Good's Facebook page. They can also be found at the Dela Costa Homes Covered Courts, Barangka, Marikina City, at varying hours per day. – Rappler.com

Steph Arnaldo

If she’s not writing about food, she’s probably thinking about it. From advertising copywriter to freelance feature writer, Steph Arnaldo finally turned her part-time passion into a full-time career. She’s written about food, lifestyle, and wellness for Rappler since 2018.

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