SOCIALITE fashion designer Minnie Yuvienco seems to have dropped out of Cebu’s social scene. Whatever happened to her Best of New York, which was among Cebu’s top style shops? In an interview with her, one finds that she is now into dairy farming.
Minnie recounts that in school, she was always at the top of her class, so her parents thought she would, like them (Dr. Suga Sotto Yuvienco and the late Dr. Merito Yuvienco), become a doctor. But she said, “I was more inclined to the arts.”
She did not take up arts though but business management at Maryknoll.
Sometime in the ‘80s, she took up fashion design in New York’s Fashion Institute and came back to set up her dress shop: Best of New York. It was a made-to-order shop but as the malls opened, she opened shops there, too, and produced high-end ready-to-wear women’s clothing. She said she was so involved in the creative process that she would sometimes sleep with fashion magazines around her.
She recounts that her father, despite his successful practice, was a farmer at heart. He had bought farm land in Bayawan, Negros Oriental, but eventually gave that up as it was too far from Cebu City. In 1995, he bought a seven-hectare mango farm in Guba which was more manageable and where the family would sometimes go for picnics. On occasion, neighboring farmers in financial need sold them milking cows.
In 2010, they had two cows and she said she learned from the farmers that the cows—Holstein cows from New Zealand—were distributed by the National Dairy Authority (NDA). The NDA would give a farmer a pregnant cow and he was to pay it back in five years with another pregnant cow which the NDA would then distribute to another farmer.
Minnie got very interested in this and in 2010 decided to close Best of New York.
“I was at that stage where I was getting tired of socializing. And I really enjoy farm life. When I realized there really was a future in dairy farming and a market for fresh milk, I decided to shift. Fashion is very demanding in terms of labor plus manufacturing. Our labor laws are not encouraging for manufacturing,” she explained.
Her mother, Dr. Suga, was wondering how and where she would learn about dairy farming. Minnie said she bought books and looked the subject up in the internet from where she learned a lot. She also went to Thailand, Australia and Metro Manila to visit farms, and she mentions in particular the farm of Ed Soriano in Meycauayan, Bulacan, as the most modern dairy farm she saw locally. Every time she goes to the United States, she would make sure to visit dairy farms there and on her last visit, she attended the International Dairy Farmers Expositions and Convention in Wisconsin.
She now has 350 cows and 50 employees. The farm is labor intensive because the cows are not allowed to graze: they are fed forage in their sheds. To get this forage, her people have to plant Napier grass, harvest them, chop them and bundle them. These have to be transported to where the cows are.
Though Minnie is not in the farm every day, she makes sure she would be there every time a cow would be in the throes of parturition, that is, giving birth. And every time a cow gets sick and dies, she sees to it that the carcass would be necropsied to make sure if any communicable disease was present, that preventive measures would be made so other cows would not be contaminated.
Her staff, she reveals, come mostly from Leyte, graduates of VISCA (the Visayas College of Agriculture). Though they have an agriculture background and know a bit about animal husbandry, their knowledge about dairy farming is very little and she had to train them herself: she is that hands-on with her dairy farm which now is the biggest supplier of fresh milk to the Cebu Federation of Cooperative Farmers which distributes the milk to malls, hotels and coffee shops. She adds that fresh milk is really very good to drink and recommends it to everybody especially those with allergies.
Minnie says she has not given up all socializing. She has quit all other clubs she belonged to except Zonta and Women’s Club because her mother was the founding president of those clubs. She still dresses fashionably even if what she has on are her working clothes for the farm. Minnie Yuvienco, basically today, is a quintessential gentlewoman farmer.