UP-based SEARCA youth festival centers on Filipino food, agriculture

AS part of the 55th anniversary celebration of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), the University of the Philippines (UP)-based center held virtually the 2021Pista ng Pagkain at Kabataang Pinoy (Pistang PagKaPinoy) celebrating Filipino food and agriculture.

SEARCA Director Dr. Glenn Gregorio said the theme of the center's 55th anniversary celebration was "Sowing Seeds of Innovation for Agricultural Transformation."

Headlined by experts, advocates and youth partners, 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 New York City (NYC)-based Purple Yam; Cristina Sison, Co-Project Leader of University of the Philippines Rural High School Youth in Agriculture Program; Raymund Vincent Aaron, Banana Chief of Villa Soccoro Farm; and Melody Melo-Rijk, Project Manager for Sustainable Consumption and Production of World Wildlife Fund-Philippines.

Speakers from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) were John Bryan Lawas, University Research Associate, UPLB Edible Landscaping; and Rodmyr Datoon, faculty member of the UPLB College of Agriculture and Food Science.

"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," Gregorio noted.

Highlighting how Filipino food is linked with Filipino values, tradition and culture, Besa shared that upon leaving the country for good and establishing an NYC-based kitchen, memories of Filipino food became her lifeline to survive.

"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," she said.

The concept of food system and its current status in the ongoing health crisis was also discussed by Sison, who said everyone should be able to eat a nutritious diet at all times and that food systems should not only be resilient but also equitable.

"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," she said.

In food and business, Aaron shared his insightful story on the food industry that made him an agripreneur encouraging 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.

Also discussed was the colorful and vibrant intersections of food and arts on edible landscaping with Lawas sharing 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.

"Having an edible landscaping garden in our home is more than having a source of safe, sufficient, and nutritious food in our tables," he said.

Datoon discussed how gender and culture influence how Filipinos experience and perceive food also elaborating on the role of other cultures in the Filipino food experience that is still prevalent today.

Melo-Rijk talked on how to become responsible tourists and food vloggers pointing out that travel also has an impact on the environment and 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.

While it was a virtual event, SEARCA said the youth fiesta included bazaars to promote food and agriculture.

These were the "Tara Luto!" a cooking challenge bazaar by the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development or YPARD-Philippines; "Tara Laro!" an educational game by the Agriculture Students Association of the Philippines or Asap; and "Tara Hydro!" a learning and demo bazaar on growing food through hydroponics by Kids Who Farm.

Joselito Florendo, SEARCA deputy director, noted that what SEARCA served today in the platters was 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," Florendo said.

Gregorio said the festival aimed to promote a diverse and interdisciplinary approach to the food system where young people are engaged.

He said it was organized by SEARCA Youth Ambassadors Platform or Sayap which is part of the Young Forces for Agricultural Innovation or #Y4AGRI, SEARCA's banner youth initiative that aims to nurture young people as partners and leaders in agricultural innovation.