Changing the world in an Earthbeat
On an early Tuesday morning in October, a strange sight greeted onlookers: a tall, mestizo-looking twentysomething stood in the middle of a one-hectare field in San Pablo, Laguna—working the land in a straw hat, checking on his produce, and giving a black native pig a belly rub. Curiously, there was no smartphone in sight.
Meet Enzo Pinga who runs Earthbeat Farms, an exception rather than the norm among his mobile-first, digitally wired fellow millennials. “If millennials are seen as rebellious, in a way, because they keep looking for more meaningful work, then I guess I fit the stereotype. [Organic farming is] definitely not a typical career path,” he said.
The 27-year-old, who admits to having no formal background in agriculture, decided to get his hands dirty, so to speak, after seeing the state of country’s farming sector when he returned from the United States five years ago.
“A friend and I got into aquaponics farming, which is farming without using soil, and were building different agri systems for communities. That led us to travel to different provinces, which exposed me to farming, big successful farms, the lifestyle, and the state of agriculture in the Philippines,” said Pinga, a BA Globalization Studies graduate of Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania.
Poor and struggling
“The average age of Filipino farmers is 57,” he said. “When you’re a farmer in the Philippines, you’re poor or struggling; in other countries it’s not like that. It’s understandable that a lot of young people don’t want to get into it. But we’re fast losing our farmers. What’s going to happen to our food? Who’s going to grow it? So it felt that the natural next step [for me] was to set up my own organic farm.”
With financial help from his father and a family friend, Pinga started Earthbeat in August 2015. He leased the land where he now grows salad greens that he supplies to some households and restaurants in Metro Manila, as well as fruits such as lanzones, coconut, banana, papaya and calamansi.
Half of the week he’s in San Pablo to oversee production and the weekly harvest (since leafy greens have a fast turnover and “in terms of cashflow, it’s also quicker,” Pinga said); the other half he’s in the city to do marketing and deliveries.
“The farm is very startup—I’m engaging with clients, marketing, doing deliveries,” he said. “This has to be approached as a business. If you do it as just a hobby, you’re going to get tired sooner or later. It’s not cheap,” he added.
But more than just being a businessman, Pinga has also become a mover of sorts among a new breed of millennials: young, educated men and women who are consciously making a serious career out of farming.
In fact, Pinga began this “movement” using a most modern tool: Facebook. By forming the online group Young Farmers, he found at least 11 others like him. Although not all are necessarily into organic farming, Pinga described them as being “very connected to farmers.”
“None of us have any [formal] agri background,” he said. “But [we’re looking into] possible collaborations and grants. Right now (the online group is meant) to help each other with our businesses. Down the line, it also aims to encourage more young people to get into farming.”
While Pinga admits that farming, especially organic, is still a very “romanticized” idea, he said he remains hopeful that through businesses like his, old-timers in the agri sector would see the bigger picture: that knowing where your food comes from and how it is grown can help the entire country’s food system.
“One of my [other] objectives is to grow the food movement in households. In the future, I also want [Earthbeat] to be a hub for good organic practices for [older] farmers in the area to emulate this,” Pinga said. “Right now they’re still not convinced because they want to see results first. When you choose to go organic, you need to be patient. It will take a while before you can match the harvests of conventional growers.”
But Pinga is a visionary and remains hopeful that as more from his generation get interested in agribusiness, he and his fellow millennials would become part of the solution to a bigger national problem: rapid urbanization that results in densely populated cities, poverty and lack of food security.
“For anyone who’s looking into farming: it’s very fulfilling work. Setting up an agribusiness will impact a lot of people in the countryside, give them more [job] opportunities, and encourage them to stay in their provinces. I think (with organic farming), there are many issues where you can be part of the solution, if not necessarily solve them,” Pinga said.
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