Sierreza champions zero waste lifestyle, patronage of farmer-sourced produce

by Jonel Biscocho

The zero waste movement strengthens in Los Baños with the opening of Sierreza Zero-waste Store and Artisan Cafe last July 28, 2018.

Proprietor Cherrys “Che” Abrigo explained that Sierreza, the first zero waste shop to open in Los Baños, aims to encourage the community members to reduce waste and support Filipino farmers. The establishment of the shop is borne from her advocacy of promoting a more sustainable zero waste lifestyle and greater appreciation and patronage for produce from indigenous farmers, particularly from Rizal and Tarlac.

Dumagat farmers from San Ysiro in Antipolo and Daraitan in Tanay pay a visit to the Sierreza Zero-waste Store and Artisan Cafe, where their cultivated organic products are showcased. Abrigo (center) introduced the Dumagat tribe members to the UPOU’s Organic Agriculture class who was also in the cafe for their field trip last August 11.

Sourcing produce from the indigenous farming communities from Daraitan and Antipolo in Rizal requires up to eight hours of traverse for Abrigo to personally purchase the farmers’ produce every Thursday. The cafe is open from 9am to 9pm daily except for Thursdays.

After a seven-hour of travel from Antipolo, Rizal, members of the Dumagat tribe arrives at Sierreza for the first time to personally deliver their organic produce.

Abrigo’s personal advocacy can be traced back to her exposure in community work back in 2004, when she volunteered for the Ugnayan ng Pahinungod, the volunteer service arm of the University of the Philippines, during her college days. While Abrigo secured a corporate job after graduation, she sought “something more”.

It was in 2012 during Abrigo’s immersion in various indigenous communities in Mindoro, Abra, and in Puray, Rizal that she recognized the limitations of various volunteer initiatives –and in the process, identified possible ways to improve on the existing initiatives for farmers. In June 2016, Abrigo proposed an end-to-end livelihood project proposal for the local farmers to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The project involved trainings, lectures on marketing and strategies, and provision of farming tools and equipment to the indigenous farmers in Daraitan. The livelihood project was approved for one-year funding that started last December 2016. Abrigo explained that the UNDP grant covered a limited scope, which allowed the implementation of the proposed project in one site.

Abrigo also established links between the Daraitan farmers, as well as to the farmers of Antipolo in Rizal,  to prime markets in Metro Manila like Good Food Community, a market that support the sustainability of farming, and Healthy Options, the first and largest all-natural products store in the Philippines. While establishing such linkages can be considered an accomplishment, Abrigo was aiming for a more consistent and sustained transactions between the indigenous farmers and establishments.

It was for such reasons that Abrigo decided to set up her own shop Sierreza. She purchased the indigenous farmers’ organic products at market price. Abrigo also meets with the farmers to discuss the price of their produce and goods. This way, the farmers will set their own price. “It’s just like [they already have a stall] in the market. It just like [they already transported it] without them having to pay for it and even having to spend time for it.”

Marilyn Virtudes, a 55-year-old farmer and a mother of nine children from San Ysiro, said that their way of living was improved. She is able to send her all children to school because of their partnership with Sierreza.

Aside from helping the indigenous farmers, Sierreza also aims to contribute in decreasing the waste generated by the Los Baños community. In 2008, Los Baños banned the use of plastic bags and styrofoam. Six years later, the municipality prohibited the use of single-use plastics like straws, cups, plates, spoons, and forks. These ordinances on reducing the use of plastic were later adopted by other cities and municipalities.

Abrigo hopes that the Sierreza setup will also be replicated by other business establishments in Los Baños as Sierreza alone cannot make an impact. Emil Climaco, assistant course coordinator at the Department of Organic Agriculture in UP Open University (UPOU), believed that there will be other shops that will follow Sierreza’s lead eventually.

After nearly a month of operation, Abrigo has received offers for Sierreza franchises and she has remained firm in her response. If people want Sierreza’s name, they should have a community in mind to help and partner with as Sierreza’s business model is strongly linked to advocating for sourcing produce/products direct from farmers and adopting a sustainable zero waste lifestyle.

As emphasized in her discussion with UPOU’s Organic Agriculture’s class during their visit, “whatever your advocacy is, people should see it in your life.”

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