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Starting them young

Getting kids into agriculture through education and cuisine


By Patricia Bianca Taculao

It’s a common cry all over the world that not enough young people are considering agri­culture as a career. One way to get them interested is to make it part of their daily lives.

FUN WITH PLANTS— A girl tries her hand on bonsai care at the Flora Filipina Expo. (KEVIN TRISTAN ESPIRITU / MANILA BULLETIN)

FUN WITH PLANTS— A girl tries her hand on bonsai care at the Flora Filipina Expo. (KEVIN TRISTAN ESPIRITU / MANILA BULLETIN)

This doesn’t just mean encouraging kids to plant; it also means helping them understand that the seeds they bury in the soil become the delicious fruits and veg­etables that fill their bellies.

This is what AHA Learning Center (AHA!) and Mesa ni Mi­sis hope to instill in the kids — and parents — that they reach.

Angels here abound

AHA!, which stands for Angels Here Abound, is a project of the Commodore Jose Francisco Foundation. It is an after­school program that offers free tutoring for academic subjects and also focuses on values formation for public school children living in Makati. The learning center has helped around 2,000 children since they started in 2009.

AHA! recently launched an agriculture program where they partnered with Kai Farms to create a module where the chil­dren can experience farming and obtain qualities from it to use in their daily lives.

“Farming creates safe spaces inside your [own] home and having plants in­creases your level of responsibility. This is also an avenue for our students to practice the core values, like grit and commitment, that we teach,” said AHA! founder and president Jaton Zulueta.

The learning center’s agriculture pro­gram aims to shape students into resilient workers, independent adults, critical think­ers, and helpful Filipinos, or the R.I.C.H. for short. “We believe that if you’re able to farm, it fills in those aspects because it requires time and labor extensive skill sets,” Zulueta said.

The children not only learn from the classroom but also through hands-on ac­tivities done on a plot of land in the Makati area. “Every open space, every open lot, can actually feed and serve so many dif­ferent people,” Zulueta said.

Aside from educating the children, AHA’s agriculture program also involves the mothers in their efforts. “What’s integral for this program is to have the mothers and the students learn edible farming together, at the same time,” Zulueta said.

Zulueta hopes that the program will pave the way for the center to create a pilot project where they can go around the country and have an edible farming program.

There will also be cooking classes where both the students and their moth­ers can learn new healthy recipes. “You have to be creative in involving more people. It’s kind of like an indie band — you have find like-minded people. Start somewhere and keep adding more people as you go on,” he said.

He added that if the program becomes more readily available, then maybe that’s when real change can happen.

To learn more about AHA and its pro­grams, contact 8040091 or e-mail

Mesa ni Misis

Another way to start the children on the path toward agriculture is by encouraging them to eat healthy.

Data from United Nations Internation­al Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Philippines shows that there are around 3.6 million Filipino children who are un­dernourished, with four million stunted in growth.

Juana Manahan Yupangco is on a quest to address the malnutrition among the youth.

She runs Mesa Ni Misis, a food blog that shares delicious and nutritious recipes that rely on local produce. In partnership with MovEd, a local program that aims to provide pre-school and childhood educa­tion to children in underserved communi­ties, “Mesa Ni Misis aims to encourage others to eat plant-based food by creating yummy dishes that people actually want to try, and by using locally-sourced ingredients so it won’t be expensive,” Juana said.

In order to encourage the youth to con­sume healthy food, Juana gets invited by differ­ent schools to conduct talks about the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, especially those that are endemic to the country, as these tend to be cheaper, more abundant, and not to mention delicious. “The youth are easy to convince because you can leave an impression on them because they can see what’s going on around them and they know that they can do something about it,” she said.

The challenge, according to Juana, is convincing the parents. “It’s not easy because our parents and us grew up… eating processed food,” Juana said.

Juana advises that it’s important to go slow­ly in order to avoid any relapses in the process. The transition shouldn’t be done in the blink of an eye, but rather a gradual development that can soon become a regular practice.

When it comes to feeding kids, Juana said to go about it little by little so it will become a habit that they won’t mind in the long run. “I first introduced vegetables to my kids by using purees, sauces, or by introducing them into their regular meals through small pieces here and there,” she said.

Once her kids got used to the taste of veg­etables, Juana then shifted into serving them meals where the vegetables are visible and in chunks for her children to enjoy as they would any other dish.

One of the many myths that Juana wants to dispel is that eat­ing healthy can be expensive. “The meals or recipes in Mesa Ni Misis are actually below P250 and can feed around four people which is already a lot of people to feed at that amount,” she said.

She added that purchasing more plant-based products for meals helps in cutting down the amount of money spent on buying meat. “When I started buying vegetables, I noticed that food bill went down because it’s cheaper now when it’s just sayote, or kalabasa, and not chicken and sayote, or chicken and kalabasa,” Juana said.

To get recipe ideas and for more information, check out https://me­

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