The ‘accidental’ farmer

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Her husband Samuel’s health issues introduced the former auto accessories entrepreneur to the challenging, but fulfilling world of organic farming. She hasn’t looked back, trusting in God to help her expand her business that is now thriving in Cebu — and hopefully in Metro Manila once resources are sustainable and the right time comes.


Gigi Ang Uy Owner, God’s Grace Farm

It’s amazing how a personal crisis can lead to unexpected life choices.

Cebu City-based entrepreneur Jessilyn “Gigi” Uy would never have entered organic farming if her husband Samuel had not undergone surgery in 2013. That health scare instilled in her a determination to change his lifestyle and diet and push him to go vegetarian.

A relative who was merely growing vegetables in pots in her backyard inspired Gigi to follow suit and plant some greens of her own in her home garden. She started with kangkong (water spinach), followed by other vegetables.

Greenhouse, not handbag

However, when Supertyphoon Yolanda wreaked havoc on her efforts in November 2013, she went ahead and built a greenhouse with a deep well that cost P400,000. “When I spent that amount, I said I would just think that I had bought an Hermes handbag,” Gigi says.

Gigi shows how her garden grows, holding up finger chili (above) and Chinese cabbage (below). CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

Initially, the crops that Gigi grew and harvested were distributed to relatives and friends until a cousin advised her to make a profit from her labors. The owner of the Gaisano Mall in Cebu, also a vegetarian, encouraged her to display her products in its stores. Robinson Cebu also offered her produce space in its supermarket. In addition, she began to promote her produce on Facebook.

In 2015, Gigi established God’s Grace Farm, a six-hectare expanse in Tal-ot village in Barili town, 58 kilometers southwest of Cebu City. She is proud of the fact that the facility is the only one certified “organic” by the Negros Island Organic Certification Services (Nicert) and Organic Certification Center of the Philippines (OCCP). Both are the two private companies, accredited by the Department of Agriculture, to do the job.

Organic farming is hard work, according to Gigi. She is hands-on in the business and visits the farm at least three times a week. “We have 20 farmers in Cebu [and] store employees numbering 40, including drivers, merchandizers, packers, dispatchers and those who receive our harvest.”

Assessing God’s Grace Farm’s accomplishments these past years, Gigi says: “We now serve 15 outlets in Cebu. We expanded production to Negros, which has a highland like Benguet [province], although not as cold. Eventually, if the Negros supply can sustain me, in one or two years, we can distribute our products in Manila.”

Preparations to establish a presence in the country’s capital are being delayed by paperwork. “It involves a lot of red tape to acquire certification whenever your product is organic,” Gigi laments. “The Department of Agriculture has appointed two private companies, Nicert and OCCP, to do the certification. It’s also [required by law] for the product to be ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certified.”

Overused term

According to Gigi, the term “organic” for rice, meat, and even milk and bread has become overused these days. Even if their food are really not organic, many companies insist on classifying them as such. The Department of Trade and Industry has discovered such cases to be on the rise. “When you label your product organic, that should go with a certifying logo,” Gigi explains. “The batch number and traceability should also be displayed. Otherwise, how would a consumer know if the product is really organic?”

Farm site in Victorias, Negros Occidental (below) with farmer-partners and provincial agriculturist Dr. Samson Garzon (back row, far right).CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

God’s Grace Farm is proud to carry 70 kinds of produce all year round. “We have ingredients for pinakbet (okra, talong, kalabasa, ampalaya, siling espada and kamatis) and chopsuey (cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, string beans and broccoli),” Gigi says. “We also grow kale (leaf cabbage), spinach, carrots, celery, cucumber, ginger and turmeric. And fruits like papaya and pomegranate, and herbs like basil and rosemary.

“We have vegetables for baby food (squash, sayote, kamote, potato), as well as salad items (different kinds of lettuce like romaine, red and green lettuce; salad and cherry tomato; and arugula).” Before the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic prompted community lockdowns, these were available at farmers’ markets in Banilad and Banawa villages, both in Cebu.

Initially, Gigi did not want to include livestock in her inventory. “But since we had so much waste, we decided to add chicken and pigs, and the compost we used. We don’t throw anything. Nothing is wasted,” she says.

Gigi was initially tempted to call her business “Gigi’s Farm,” egged on by well-meaning relatives and friends. But somehow, she was not convinced. “Small seeds grow into plants — you’d be amazed. If it (the seed) has no blessing from the Lord, even if you plant more than a thousand seeds, nothing will grow… Everything is in the hands of the Lord.” Hence, she decided on the name God’s Grace Farm.

Samuel — the reason Gigi began the enterprise in the first place — is not involved in the farm. “He doesn’t contradict my decisions or help me run things, which is fine,” she says. “If he meddles, we will just end up fighting.”

The daughter of Bona and Cristina Ang graduated with a marketing management degree from the Philippine School of Business Administration in Quezon City. She was running her own auto supply business when she met Samuel, who managed an auto shop with his brother on Banaue Avenue in Quezon City. “I was one of his suppliers,” Gigi recalls. They tied the knot in 2000, after which they relocated to Cebu City. Samuel is still involved in the auto trade.

The couple are parents to Giah, 15, and Noah, 13, who are still quite young to be taking interest in their energetic mother’s enterprise.

For now, God’s Grace Farm remains solely Gigi’s passion that sees her leaving the house at 5 a.m. while the family is still asleep and consumes her attention until very late at night, with the commissary also in their house.

Gigi is aware that it’s not an ideal situation and vows to try to work at striking a balance as soon as she can. Missing out on significant events in her kids’ formative years is something she does not relish. Who knows, one of them may want to join her in growing the business in the future.

Now that would indeed be a blessing from God.

ABOUT ME

ROLE MODELS
My mentors and staunch advocates of organic farming, Christopher Fadriga and Josephine Gamboa. They introduced the Korean way of natural farming to the Philippines.

GOAL
To bring our business to Manila and sustain it there

FIRST PAYING JOB
I have always been involved in the family business.

MORNING RITUAL
I check Facebook.

SPECIAL SKILL
Combining marketing and production skills

TIME SPENT ON SOCIAL MEDIA
About 10 hours on Facebook

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