A New Pair of Earth Markets on Negros Island

12 March 2021

The Slow Food Community of Negros Island in the Philippines is moving ahead in leaps and bounds this year, adding not one but two new Earth Markets to the worldwide Slow Food family.

Markets are a complex affair to set up and run, depending on the good will, ease of access and interest both of producers and consumers in order to succeed. Hence why it’s so impressive that Slow Food Negros is bringing double the amount of good, clean and fair shopping opportunities to their local community.

We spoke to the organizers of the two new Earth Markets, Reena Gamboa and Ramon Uy Jr, about what exactly the markets, at Silay and Bacolod, have to offer, and how Slow Food Negros is changing the local food system one step at a time.

Bacolod and Silay are very close together – less than 30kms – so how different will the food on offer be at the two Earth Markets?

Both markets will have different producers selling a wide range of produce. For the Silay market, we will have farmers that are primarily from the North, and for Bacolod, it will mostly be farmers from the Central and South of Negros.

What are the special products of each one?

Each farmer’s specific produce brings something new to the mix of each market. Specifically, there will be products ranging from heirloom rice, shade grown coffee, muscovado sugar, wild honey, dried fish, cacao, mushrooms, vinegar, and more. There are more varieties of rice in the south of the island, thus Bacolod market may have more choices when it comes to rice. However, Silay is known for the different transitional delicacies like ibos (sticky rice), but-ong, puto lanson (steamed cassava cakes) and more.

Rice, fish and vegetables from Negros island. Photo: Reena Gamboa and Ramon Uy Jr

Are they are any Ark of Taste or Slow Food Presidium products available?

Yes there will be Ark of Taste ingredients like Criollo Cacao, Tinigib Corn, Batuan, and Kadyos beans, to name a few. 

How many producers in total are involved, and where do they come from? All from the immediate area, or do some people come from further away?

Many producers come from the mountains or  hinterlands.  Of course, the seafood come from the coastal areas outside of Silay and Bacolod.  In total there will be around 50 participating producers at the two markets.  Most are cooperatives and private farmers who practice organic or natural farming systems.

With the markets being so close to the equator, is there much “seasonality” in Negros? Or are the same foods available all year round?

With the Philippines’ tropical climate, we have two seasons; hot and rainy. Most of the organic vegetables are available year-round with a few exceptions, and most fruits are seasonal. For organic rice, we harvest two and a half times a year. We harvest the coffee from November to February. March is the beginning of the summer season, which puts us at the right time for harvest and means there’s an abundance of organic vegetables and fruits. 

What does it mean for you both to be part of Slow Food and Terra Madre?

We are part of Slow Food because we believe in the cause and its advocacy of Good, Clean and Fair food. It is through Slow Food that our community realizes that if we don’t move now, we could lose everything. The Philippines has been “invaded” by the West and, as a result, the average Filipino of today is becoming a fan of fast food. Our traditional food and culinary practices will soon disappear if we don’t take action now.

Joining Terra Madre is even more significant today because there was not much activity last year. Terra Madre gives farmers in our area a chance to sell their produce face-to-face with their customers. Most of the farmers rely on events held in the province to be able to sell their goods. However, there were no events last year because of Covid. This is our way of trying to lessen the negative impact of Covid in our community.

All our partner farmers are very excited about this event as this is their chance for some exposure after a year without seeing their customers. We want to create shorter supply chains and direct links between the farmers and consumers.

What are your hopes, dreams and projects for the future?

Our goal, more than anything, is to strengthen our present goal and ensure that it stays for generations to come. That goal isl to become an organic island. With more than 10,000 organic farmers all over the island, and with the slow food movement gaining ground in our island, we can see that we’ve done right by our goal.

Working with the ideals of Slow Food has allowed us to see the biodiversity of Negros island, which has rich flora and fauna from the mountains to sea. We have marine reserves, forests and organic farms that highlight the Philippine’s abundant resources. That’s why we are excited to work with Slow Food on this project. As we strive to secure a Slow future, we look forward to making  good, clean, and fair products accessible to every Negrense so that we may share the same ideals of protecting the environment, safeguarding biodiversity, propagating good and ethical produce, and preserving our traditional foods.

We are also looking to make the Earth Market a regular habit, and furthering collaboration with Slow Food through the Slow Food Travel pilot project here in partnership with the Department of Tourism and the Department of Agriculture. Our goal is to constantly reinvent the island and turn it into a destination for sustainability, a model of biodiversity conservation and a network of Good, Clean and Fair producers, with our dream of someday making it a Slow Food Island.

The two Earth Markets in Silay and Bacolod which be launched on March 20 and 27, respectively. Slow Food Negros also launched a book on Negrense Heritage Cooking in January 2021.

by Jack Coulton, info.eventi@slowfood.it