A fresh start

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By Danny B. Dangcalan

A Walk in the Park

Monday, June 2, 2014


AFTER Ramon ‘Chinchin’ Uy Jr. and Francine Marañon got married in 2005, they went back to Negros to start their new life together.

They wanted to venture into business but they didn’t have enough savings. Chinchin’s dad gave them a shredding machine while Francine’s family gave them a piece of land. With these, they built “Fresh Start,” starting with producing organic fertilizer through vermin-composting.

“We started collecting agricultural and biodegradable wastes as our raw material to make organic fertilizer,” Chinchin recalls.

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“Producing tons of organic fertilizer was easy. But selling our product was difficult. Chemical fertilizers were cheaper; organic fertilizer was almost unheard of then,” he adds.

In 2006, oil prices in the world market rose dramatically, causing the prices of chemical fertilizers to also go up radically. Soon, sugar planters and farmers who were using chemical fertilizers were forced to look for alternatives to survive.

The crisis presented an opportunity for the couple. They increased production of organic fertilizer to be sold to farmers. To convince customers, they started a demo garden to show to them that organic fertilizers really work.

Word soon got around, and several magazines, TVs and newspapers featured what they were doing.

“This opened doors for us to sell our high-value organic vegetables and culinary herbs,” he says.

One day, Robinsons Place Bacolod invited the Uy couple to sell their organic products during the mall’s Entrepreneur’s Month.

“The results were encouraging. And scary. Right there and then we were faced with the decision—to remain selling from the farm, or to take advantage of this opportunity and reach out to a larger market,” he recalls.

Without hesitation, he says, they took the risk despite the high regular mall rental, compounded with the reality that most consumers hardly knew then what organic was all about.

In due time, a small but loyal group of customers who subsequently changed their diets and lifestyle kept buying from our small kiosk, giving us the boost that we needed, he said.

“Soon, demands rose and we realized that the supply from our farms was not enough. This led us to partner with other small organic farmers who, during that time, were also being organized by the provincial government for its island-wide organic program,” he said.

It was during working closely with organic farming communities that opened our eyes to the socio-economic injustice happening at the countryside, Chinchin says.

“We saw that small farmers were exploited and forced to accept whatever prices middlemen and financiers would offer just to save their crops from going to waste,” he reveals.

The middlemen were getting richer while the farmers who did most of the hard work ended up still being poor, he says.

At that time, it became the mission of the Uy family to take over the role of middleman between the growers and consumers.

In order to achieve this, my father and I established a foundation to assist organic farming communities by providing them with the appropriate machinery and technologies in sustainable organic agriculture, he says.

“Fresh Start is committed to producing only the safest quality food for our consumers while providing fair prices to our farmers and helping preserve our environment,” Chinchin stressed.

Moreover, he shares, over the years, the Uy family has been working closely with chefs—supplying them with all their organic ingredients and encouraging them to try out “traditional menus with a twist” in the hope that they could come up with organic, wholesome, real food.

These menus were highlighted at the opening of Fresh Start Organic and Natural store and café at The District North Point in Talisay City last Friday.

One of the highlights of the store’s opening is a cooking exhibit by Chef Richard Ynayan and Chef Guido Nijssen, with the assistance of the students of Institute for Culinary Arts (ICA) of USLS, that showcased Fresh Start’s organic cuisines.

Guests were treated to a food tasting of nachos (a healthy version of nachos using taro and camote chips topped with Fresh Start’s organic salsa), triple decker sandwich (Fresh Start’s version of club sandwich using banana bud as patty), squashetti (squash-based spaghetti), piaya (a Negrense delicacy made with muscovado minus the lard), green smoothie (malunggay-based smoothie), and halo-halo (mixture of local organic ingredients like banana, beans, langka, camote candied using organic muscovado), and freshly pressed organic sugarcane juice.

“Fresh Start has become a better food choice for consumers especially those following a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. It’s where the good things are,” co-owner Nikki Marañon says.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on June 02, 2014.

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