SEARCA youth festival centers on Filipino food and agriculture

A fiesta celebrating Fiipino food and agriculture headlined by experts, advocates, and youth partners of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) was the essence of the recent 2021 Pista ng Pagkain at Kabataang Pinoy, or “Pistang PagKaPinoy,” held virtually.

The youth festival featured lessons, stories, and concepts on food and how it intersects with business, nutrition, arts, gender, culture, and tourism.

The speakers were Amy Besa, Owner of NYC-based Purple Yam; Cristina Sison, Co-Project Leader of UP Rural High School Youth in Agriculture Program; Raymund Vincent Aaron, Banana Chief of Villa Soccoro Farm; John Bryan Lawas, University Research Associate, University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) Edible Landscaping; Rodmyr Datoon, faculty member of the UPLB College of Agriculture and Food Science; and Ms. Melody Melo-Rijk, Project Manager for Sustainable Consumption and Production of World Wildlife Fund-Philippines.

SEARCA Director Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio noted that “Food is something very basic yet very essential for our health, for our life, and for you, young people. Activities like this fiesta are our way to promote mindset transformation in agriculture. We want to change the perception and mindset of the youth in agriculture.”

He added that Pistang PagKaPinoy is part of SEARCA’s 55th anniversary celebration themed “Sowing Seeds of Innovation for Agricultural Transformation.”

Ms. Besa highlighted how Filipino food is linked with Filipino values, tradition, and culture. She shared that upon leaving the country for good and establishing a New York City-based kitchen, memories of Filipino food became her lifeline to survive. She said “There is nothing like Filipino food because of Filipino hospitality and generosity in general. Filipino food becomes more delicious and exciting to eat because of the manner we share and package it to others.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Sison discussed the concept of food system and its current status in the ongoing health crisis. She said everyone should be able to eat a nutritious diet at all times. She said food systems should not only be resilient, but also equitable. She stressed that “the youth can aspire for better nutrition and better food system. As the future generation, you have the responsibility to take care of the environment. Be aware and be involved today because the future is in your hands.”

In food and business, Banana Chief Aaron shared his insightful story on the food industry that made him an agripreneur. He encouraged the Filipino youth to continue finding their “sweet spot” in life and never be afraid to face challenges. “Never be afraid to start small and establish a long-term vision for your business,” he said.

On the other hand, Mr. Lawas discussed the colorful and vibrant intersections of food and arts in his talk on edible landscaping. He shared concepts and principles of edible landscaping and how they apply it to ornamental arrangements of vegetables, fruits, medicinal plants, herbs, and spices in a garden. To sum up, he said “having an edible landscaping garden in our home is more than having a source of safe, sufficient, and nutritious food in our tables.”

For her part, Mr. Datoon discussed how gender and culture influence how Filipinos experience and perceive food. He elaborated on the role of other cultures in the Filipino food experience that is still prevalent today.

How to become responsible tourists and food vloggers was the heart of Ms. Melo-Rijk’s talk. She pointed out that travel also has an impact on the environment. She called on young Filipino tourists to “support and respect support and respect policies in preserving tourist destinations equally as how we respect food, culture, and people” for a sustainable food and tourism industry.

Albeit a virtual event, the SEARCA youth fiesta included bazaars to promote food and agriculture. “Tara luto!” is a cooking challenge bazaar by the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) – Philippines; the second bazaar. “Tara Laro!” is an educational game by the Agriculture Students Association of the Philippines (ASAP). “Tara Hydro!” is a learning and demo bazaar on growing food through hydroponics by Kids Who Farm.

At the close of the event, SEARCA Deputy Director Joselito G. Florendo said “What SEARCA served today in your platters is just a glimpse of the problems and solutions on the ground when it comes to food and agriculture. We hope that on your way home from our fiesta, you also brought with you not just food, but also all the lessons, stories, and inspirations on food and what the Filipino youth can do to contribute to the agri-food sector.”

The festival aimed to promote a diverse and interdisciplinary approach to the food system where young people are engaged. It was organized by staff comprising the SEARCA Youth Ambassadors Platform (SAYAP), which is part of the Young Forces for Agricultural Innovation (#Y4AGRI), SEARCA’s banner youth initiative that aims to nurture young people as partners and leaders in agricultural innovation.