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Fifteen years ago, people asked us why we put up an eco-friendly, community-supporting store in an upscale mall which was then the Serendra. Our reply was simple: because we want the people to aspire to becoming supportive of sustainable ventures and a sustainable lifestyle. We envisioned a greener world (eco-friendly), a more socially-conscious consumer (supporting communities), to give other small producers hope and we wanted to work with others (like NGOs and organizations who were like-minded). Environment, Community, Hope, Organization and if you picked out the first letters of those four powerful words it spelled E-C-H-O. That is why we called it ECHOstore.
Fast forward and look where the consumer is today. Gen Z looking for vintage clothing to wear and taking a second look at supporting fast fashion. Today’s youth are more conscious of polyester and how it pollutes the earth. They buy from Ukay-ukay (when you are on a budget that is what it is called), or Vintage shops (when you want to be more fashionable and can afford more). It may have taken fifteen years for the youth to realize this but they do recognize this now: fast fashion kills Mother Nature. So if you want to be upscale and fashionable, you choose vintage.
How about our work with small communities? Today, students are looking into opening small enterprises that help farmers and producers. It could be to sell coffee (the most popular business model these days) and work with farmers or to sell vegetables that come straight from producers.
New organizations and partnerships have arisen. Take ISKAPARATE.com, a venture started by our good friends who know microfinance and the pains of funding small businesses who had no steady markets. There is Good Food Community, Mayani, and other collaborations (now called collabs) between and among producers, consolidators and consumers.
So what we started fifteen years ago has finally caught fire and we may just be on the road to a green and sustainable future, sooner than later.
But like other vision-driven entrepreneurs we know that the future will take us back to the land, to the farms, to the open spaces we can also call home. So we have started fixing our land, planting our own food so we can walk the talk. “Grow your won food” has been our mantra when the pandemic came and when sources of food became unreliable. Is the food we are buying good, clean and fair? Is it safe from pesticides and chemicals? The only way to know, is to know the farmer and the farmer could be yourself!
We started an herb garden to introduce a more organized way of getting to know culinary herbs and medicinal plants. In what used to be our vegetable plots for arugula and lettuce, we got to plant rosemary, tarragon, oregano, Thai basil, holy basil and Vietnamese coriander ( the special ingredient used in pho). And for the local medicinals we have tawatawa (for dengue), Lagundi (for asthma and coughs), local Oregano for sore throat relief, Balbas Pusa or Taheebo, Talinum, Saluyot, and other “weedicinals” as inspired by For Tarriela of Flor’s garden in her book Weedibles and Weedicinals.
Over at the rolling hills of our coffee farm, we planted local forest trees – Malapapaya, batino, Ipil, Banaybanay, Catmon, Yakal and other native species. At the same time we planted more coconut, banana and papaya---companion trees of our Liberica or Barako coffee trees. This is where we get : banana hearts for vegetables, coconut juice, papaya from breakfast and many random fruits in season : guava, santol and avocado.
Our friend Nicolo helped us start a rainfed garden of camote or local sweet potato, Kadyos or black eyed peas, and even Napier grass in preparation for hosting cows in the future. We started our small chicken community of egg layers who eat grub and corn and provide us a decent supply of eggs every week. Sometimes we wonder why we do this when it is so easy to buy provisions from the supermarket. What the experience is teaching us is all about Nature: the seasons, the food chain in action (chickens eating the worms and snails), composting our own fertilizer and making use of our waste in one operation to be beneficial to another area.
So the ECHOstore has transitioned to the ECHOfarms and now we are hoping the inspiration remains and more people can follow suit, like they did with our retail store. Though farming is a bit more challenging, it is the ultimate Master’s degree in sustainability. If more people started to grow their own food, life will be better for everyone.
Our partner in Davao, Sarah Claudio, who operates the ECHOstore Davao has herself started Verdeli farms in Calinan, about the same distance from Davao City as our Amadeo farm is to Manila. Sarah has started her vegetable garden, a coffee variety showcase and some herbs, too.
Our ECHOstore original founding partner Jeannie Javelosa has started her own farm in Mount Banahaw and soon will be growing coffee and vegetables.
This is how we envision the next phase of our ECHO project to be. A sustainable lifestyle as our tag suggests means getting your hands dirty, rolling up your sleeves and working with Nature. And sooner or later, it will also be the trend for people challenged by food security, climate change and other issues on food safety and responsible consumption.
ECHOstore was the start. ECHOfarms is the next phase. And if more people get inspired to join us it will really be the ECHOworld we all want to live in.