Gerardo Jimenez of Malipayon Farms is planting a different shade of green these days. Not the one he’s been used to all his life, but one that involves a brush, watercolor paint, and a blank canvas.
His love for gardening started when he was still young. “I’ve always loved plants,” he says. His hobby is getting his hands dirty and living life with a green thumb. “When I was newly married, everything just came together. We planted stuff around our house in Sta. Rosa and tried selling our excess herbs and lettuce in a weekend market in Alabang. We didn’t even sell a single pack on our first day. I think people were not aware of the event. Also, a lot of the people found our produce nice, but they had no idea how to use them, especially the herbs.”
Even so, the hiccups didn’t stop them from planting fresh vegetables, especially since they needed to supply for their children.
“We found that our kids are predisposed to diabetes so we had to alter our diet. We had to have more veggies in our meals. And that was the main reason why we started planting more.” Three years in and the idea of doing it full-time came. “I told myself that I’ll give it a go already since this is my love. I’ll turn it into a business and take a chance. I even took a masters in entrepreneurship in Asian Institute of Management to support this major career move.”
In full bloom
In 2007, he and his wife found a one-hectare lot in Brgy. Paliwagan in Silang, Cavite. They sold their house and moved to a townhouse so they have funds to pay for the necessary installations. They started selling produce in 2008 and though they were already sowing the fruits of their labor, farming didn’t prove promising and profitable from the get-go.
“It was a struggle. The first part was very hard,” he said. Whereas before they were selling mostly to families, this time, they could supply bigger quantities and consequently cater to restaurants, which demanded leg work and much convincing, something he definitely had experience on. “I grew the customer base by getting one restaurant at a time. And the way I sold insurance was how I approached the business. Somehow we were able to build a name and people would refer us.”
It helped that the food industry was beginning to get hooked into the whole healthy living and farm-to-table culture since he was employing sustainable ways of growing produce. “I was looking for something meaningful to do. I combined the best means we could apply—organic, permaculture, biodynamic—and also base the process on the materials available in the area. It ended up using a mixture of different things. It was important that it was organic and we stayed true to that the whole time. No chemicals. What we did was prove that it can work. We lived out our advocacy.”
It took four challenging years before Malipayon Farms became stable. “We eventually got a feel of what it takes to run that kind of business. We knew better by then. We standardized the process, especially the logistics.”
One thing remained the same though, Jimenez was the one who delivered the orders himself, from day one until the last. “It was definitely tiring but I got to see and chat with the chefs themselves. To get to know the leaders in our culinary world was the best thing to come out of it. It was so satisfying for me. The best of them really made me feel like I was collaborating with them. There’s trust involved there. The chefs made me feel like we’re partners and not just suppliers. It’s also satisfying to see their creativity with the things I was growing.”
Back in 1999, Jimenez would spend whole afternoons honing a different craft. “I would join a group of professional artists weekly and we would spend whole afternoons just painting. But when my third child was born, I needed more time to work because our family was growing.”
He stopped doing art and had all his materials gather dust—up until December 2015 when his family was on vacation and they got bored towards the end of the trip. “I just started drawing. I got encouraged. And somehow I seemed to have gotten better at it.”
“I also found a group in our area that was being mentored by a British guy. We would have Wednesday morning sessions. He was a good resource and guide, especially with the technical aspects of painting. I gained confidence. I got better in my craft.”
“We figured that this will just get more difficult in the future. In farming, the older you get, the tougher it becomes physically. In art, the older you get, the better you become,” says Gejo Jimenez.
In between tending to his farm and delivering microgreens and baby vegetables to restaurants like Wildflour, Toyo Eatery, Hey Handsome, The Test Kitchen, and Grace Park, Jimenez would find time to paint.
For a while, that setup worked for him but later on, the yearning grew stronger. In addition, farming became a lot more trying, from the rising costs of inputs like seeds and gasoline to unpredictable weather. “We figured this will just get more difficult in the future. In farming, the older you get, the tougher it becomes physically. In art, the older you get, the better you become.”
The dire situation got the couple talking about their business. With their lease renewal coming up, they were forced to study the numbers and decide what to do by year’s end. But Jimenez was already itching to get his hands on paintbrushes. “I came to a realization that my art can’t wait any longer. I wanted to do more.” That’s when they decided to officially close the farm. “We have already accomplished what we wanted with it,” he said. On August 13, they had their last harvest.
Jimenez sees organic farming and painting to be no different from each other. “Both are dependent on light. You discover how the most ordinary things look beautiful because of how light touches it. Plus, in both crafts, you let nature complete the work for you. You don’t need to spend for the process. You’ll be surprised by how nature turns things around and gives you something unexpectedly better.”
He would know. His career is living proof of it.
Gejo Jimenez will have an exhibit of his works in Prism Gallery on October 13. His paintings will feature different local restaurant interiors.
Originally published in F&B Report Vol. 15 No. 4