Meet Charlene Tan, founder of Good Food Community, an organization that links organic farmers directly to urban consumers.

By Yvette Tan

Food has become a hot topic, and with it, agriculture. As more and more people dive into the food culture, it’s only reasonable that also more and more people as the question: where does our food come from?

Charlene Tan is the founder of Good Food Community, an enterprise that links food producers with consumers—not only do you know that your vegetables were grown without chemical pesticides and fertilizers, if you want, you can also get to know the actual farmers who grew them! “Good Food Community is about a new way of growing and sharing food that nourishes everyone (the farmers, the consumers and generations to come),” Tan says. “It’s about shifting our lifestyles and our diets to treat our farmers fairly, to respect our ecosystems and to feed our families well.

The organization does this by “running a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) program, holding a plant-based local community market called Good Food Sundays, and by encouraging engagement by activities such as dialogues (Food for Peace), community kitchens, and farm trips.”

Charelene Tan (L) with collaborator Mabi David cuddling puppies in a farm in Rizal.

Living Well, Responsibly

Tan has always been interested in new ways of living responsibly. “CSA was an invitation to move from individual lifestyle changes to making a whole new alternative available not just for myself but for everyone else,” she says. “A friend from Engineers Without Borders told me about it as the way he would source his food weekly– and how he learned to be creative in the kitchen as a result. I thought the idea was brilliant and would benefit a lot of our farmers here.”

Tan likens finding partner-farmers to starting a relationship. “There’s a different story for every group we work with but it’s a lot like any relationship or friendship. First we check if there’s enough common ground (in our case, organic farming). Next we see if we are in a position to work with each other. Can we both bring something to the table? Can we meet halfway? In most communities there will be early adopters and many wait-and-seers so it will take time to demonstrate and evaluate change.”

Working with Good Food Community has been a boon for partner-farmers, who Tan and the GFC members have close ties with. “In the seven years we’ve put into this venture, organic diversified agriculture has become a viable option for many of our farmers,” Tan says. “To be able to earn a decent income (and not go hungry every lean season), to do just and honest work (and not poison the soil w chemicals), to be with one’s family (and not work in the city or abroad)— this has become a reality for a number of our farmers because of the alternative we’ve built together.”

Good Food Community works closely with several smallholder farmer groups in different farming contexts. “However, all have rights to their own land whether it be landholding or ancestral rights,” Tan explains.

Weekly Veggie Subscription

One of the things the organization is known for its vegetable subscription. Customers ‘subscribe’ to a weekly order of vegetables. What they get in their bayongs depend on what the farmers have produced that week. “For every community, we agree on prices once a year and align on a seasonal calendar of produce. We also commit to a certain minimum volume to purchase, no matter what the market is like,” Tan says. “In turn, we invite people to share in this commitment by subscribing for a share of the harvest. We confirm with the farmers weekly and deliver on Wednesdays to pick-up points and doorsteps. Subscribers are requested to return the pandan box for reuse upon each pick-up. In leaving the choice of veg to us, we are able to support the growth of diversified and seasonal local produce from different farming communities.”

There are different bayong types for different lifestyles. There’s a bayong type for home cooks and families, one that’s for people who are more salad-driven, and another for folks who like to juice their veggies. Not only are the vegetables organic, they’re delivered fresh from nearby provinces as well.

Some of the seasonal fruits and vegetables available from Good Food Community.

Good Food Sundays

Good Food Community also runs a Sunday bazaar that’s become a weekly ritual for some and a community for many. “Good Food Sundays is a plant-based zero-waste community market in Mandala Park, Shaw Blvd. It’s about creating and enacting an alternative economy whereby we can be responsible about our food choices, whether it be growing, cooking, serving or eating it,” Tan explains. “We have a table of naked produce that comes from our different farming communities, small-batch processed items made from excess produce such as kimchi and jams, vendors serving whole food plant-based fare and pantry supplies, refillable environmentally sound personal care and household products, vegan cheese, smoothies, etc.”

While it didn’t start out that way, the bazaar has slowly morphed into a bastion for the plant-based. But just as important as what people put in their mouths is the philosophy that they leave no trash behind. “All vendors adhere to the zero-waste policy and most offer a discount for returned jars and containers,” Tan says. “We have vendors who started out as consumers and between vendors gifting and trading is not uncommon. It’s just become a lovely intimate community of producer-consumers or makers who enjoy sharing good food.”

Food for Peace

In an effort to share its philosophy of responsible living even more, the organization started the Food For Peace series, which “brings together different voices of the food system for a shared meal and honest discussion.” Tan says, “this table offers a conversation that cannot happen online– the presence, participation, questioning and shared experience that lead to informed action in our food system.”

The next in the Food For Peace series is called Rise for Rice, and will happen on April 29 at the weekend market. “…we will engage with farmers, advocates and breeders on this political and staple crop. Vendors will be serving local organic rice and there will be a simple rice tasting of different varieties,” Tan says.

Anyone Can Live Responsibly

Tan’s success in building a community dedicated to living responsibly and supporting farmers has given her hope that small things can make a big difference. Just the simple act of choosing to understand where our food comes from and using our forks and wallets to signal our desire for a more equitable food distribution system can be painless for us, but can go a long way to helping our farmers. “I want Filipinos to know that they can make a powerful change in the lives of our farmers by choosing where, how and what food they eat. I want them to know that they can end hunger and soil poisoning by choosing local, seasonal ecological produce. We can grow a new generation of farmers by becoming a better generation of eaters. Every peso spent on food grown responsibly is an investment in a better world,” Tan says.

Being more aware about how our choices can impact others takes a bit of planning, but does not necessarily have to take a lot of effort. “All love requires some sacrifice. I think that’s the truth. The good news is one need not focus on the pain or what one loses. It can be a pretty fun and creative journey, especially with the communities forming around DIY, vegan lifestyles, gardening, sustainable living, etc.,” Tan says.

Her advice: “…be gentle with oneself and with others. Habits can be sticky so persist, but gently. The other would be to keep moving. I think there is also pain in complacency. And blindness. Moving out of our comfort zone into deeper and more critical engagement is a way of life. And the skills we learn in living together this way would be well worth passing on to our children as they deal with the consequences on our planet.”

For inquiries about bayong subscriptions, go to https://goodfoodcommunity.com/pages/community-hubs

This story appeared in the April 8, 2018 issue of the Sunday Bulletin April celebrating modern day heroes.