DAVAO CITY—Four farm workers in green shirts, masks and face shields stepped out of the farmhouse, carrying small crates, which they filled with freshly picked red tomatoes from a garden. Soon, baskets of other vegetables arrived.
The crops were loaded onto a waiting van for delivery to the doorsteps of clients.
At this time of the coronavirus pandemic, when most people are wary about the source of food they’re eating, this simple video on Malagos Homegrown Produce website sends anxious households a reassuring message.
Another click on the website opens to the page displaying the day’s harvest. “What’s fresh?” reads a teaser next to the bright red cherry tomatoes, another product of Malagos farm, on the page that offers a selection of seasonal harvests ready for delivery.
While the site also features Malagos’ signature dark chocolates and a variety of gourmet cheeses, the sight of newly harvested carrots, bananas and cauliflowers offers a healthy alternative to a diet of canned goods during the public health crisis when movement in communities and access to markets have been restricted.
Charita Puentespina, the matriarch of the family behind the award-winning Malagos Chocolate, said they quickly turned online to sell locally grown fruits and vegetables at the start of the lockdown in March when their Malagos Garden Resort on the slopes of Calinan District here had to close down, threatening to displace most of their workers.
“We feel we have to do something because of the lockdown,” Puentespina said. “We have a lot of workers and even if the resort stops operation, we still have the birds and animals to maintain.”
In February, just when the COVID-19 outbreak raged in China, the company’s representatives just came from an international conference in Amsterdam that gave them a peek into a potential big market for the Malagos brand of chocolates.
“All of a sudden, the market is gone,” Puentespina said.
When hotels and restaurants shut down during the lockdown and demand for chocolates and cheeses went down, the family came up with a homegrown online grocery. The idea was to tide them over while the resort remained closed and to provide employment to their staff, who would otherwise have been displaced.
But the switch was not that difficult because Malagos Agri Ventures, the family-owned company, has been selling chocolates and cheeses online to chefs all over the country since 2015.
Farm fresh goods
“There was brisk demand for farm fresh goods because people could not get out of their houses, so they needed goods to be delivered,” she said. When farmers in the village of Balutakay in Bansalan, Davao del Sur, could no longer market their produce because of the lockdown, one of their employees inventoried all unsold vegetables in the area and tied up with Malagos to sell these online.
“It allowed us to widen our selection of vegetables and at the same time, help the small farmers,” Puentespina said.
Most of the people who ordered online used to frequent their restaurants and resort, she said.
“They sought the Malagos flavors and started ordering them online,” she said. “Besides, our kitchen staff who used to prepare our buffet before the lockdown were the same ones preparing the food, so they never disappoint,” she said.
Among their online bestsellers were the vegetable lumpia and dimsum selection.
The online store also offers a selection of homegrown flavors, including frozen meals and DIY (do-it-yourself) meal kits, allowing families to enjoy Malagos’ farm-to-table dishes in the comfort of their homes.
But Puentespina said she does not think the online grocery would last. “The sales have gone down dramatically after the lockdown, owing to lots of competition,” she said.
The government has also distributed vegetable seedlings to encourage people to plant so they will no longer buy vegetables anytime soon.
Puentespina said the online store helped the family cope with the crisis and pay the displaced staff at the resort during the lockdown. “But when all of this is over, which I think it will soon be, tourists will come back and our resort staff will be going back to work again,” she said.
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