All of us were forced to reset our lives because of Covid-19. Life in the new normal is the opposite of what we were all used to and what our children have grown up in. But we have to adapt in order to survive, otherwise, this virus can wipe a big chunk of humanity. Some of us, however, are better than others. They thrive better in this pandemic by finding creative solutions to their situations right now. One of them is Bacolod mom Arlene Infante who, together with husband Ricky, has founded Farmtory.
Struggling and Surviving the Covid-19 Lockdown
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
That’s what the old adage says and it is very true. If we want to survive this pandemic, that’s exactly what we should do.
Bacolod mom Arlene Infante is an adventurer who loves the outdoors. Her husband, business partner, and fellow adventurer, Ricky, would go hiking, camping, mountain climbing, and biking on weekends.
As nature lovers, they both enjoy the outdoors and want to preserve it as much as they can.
But during the weekdays, they are serious businessmen—the creative geniuses behind the brand Azatri Souvenirs. They make Bacolod pasalubong souvenirs like shirts, masks, as well as customized apparel.
Since what they do is connected to the tourism industry and events, they were badly hit when the government-imposed lockdown was declared. Most of travel in relation to leisure were stopped.
And even when the ECQ was lifted, the thread of Covid-19 made it impossible for their garments factory to resume normal operations.
How The Farmtory Was Born
The witty name, The Farmtory, was conceptualized as a social enterprise. “I got this epiphany while cooking and washing the dishes during the quarantine,” Arlene reveals.
“The Farmtory is in itself, the name I gave to Azatri’s factory in Greensville 2 (in Bacolod City). It’s a factory and farm at the same time,” this Bacolod mompreneur says, revealing that “at least that’s how I imagined it.
But because of busy lives like everyone else, the empty space of their lot was filled with cogon grass and some lemon plants. “When lockdown hit, I toyed with the idea of developing The Farmtory as an Urban / Demo / Insta-friendly novelty farm,” Arlene discloses. She envisioned it with tourism potential once the lockdown is lifted. It would be an added attraction to the Souvenir Showroom at the factory, as it was getting popular with visitors to Bacolod City before Covid-19 happened.
But the pandemic officially froze their tourism souvenirs business. “Everything just stopped like a suspended animation. Yes, we have the machines for garments manufacturing and we could have used this for sewing PPEs and masks. But I couldn’t risk the safety of our employees who were composed of 100% women. Most of them are mothers,” Arlene explained.
Thankfully, they all received assistance from the DOLE and SSS of the Philippines. Otherwise, all of them were basically jobless.
“We will definitely re-open the business with all our staff on board once it’s safe and tourism arrivals have resumed. The best thing about this is that our inventory is non-perishable. But if the Farmtory needs more staff, our Azatri staff will be first priority to handle the tasks,” Arlene thinks wishfully.
The Serendipitous Tauge
During the ECQ, Arlene’s brother and sister-in-law stayed with them. They set out to be productive so they started a vegetable garden. After all, they had a spacious empty lot overgrown with weeds.
“I planted a few veggies on some parts of the lot, but they’re mostly native varieties that can grow on their own,” Arlene quips. Most of the time, she pulled or clipped weeds. The real green thumbs were her brother and his wife.
“I was the designated cook in the house. One day, my sister-in-law brought me a small packet of monggo. She asked me to make sprouts for some dish or something.” And as they say, the rest was history.
Studying the Science of Making Tauge
Arlene’s first tauge production was acceptable. The next time she did, it didn’t turn out so well. On her third try, it was good again. “I got so challenged how a no-brainer sprout can have different outcomes while always doing the same process all the time. So, I got obsessed with sprouting. While they planted their vegetables, I was sprouting tauge over and over again,” Arlene reveals.
After a while, Arlene decided to make her tauge production scientific. “I started gathering data like weight, time, volume of water used, places where I keep them, growth, and yield.” She also watched DIY tauge production on Youtube.
“I wanted to sell branded, beautiful tauge that I know will be different,” Arlene gushes. What followed was an obsession in the technical aspect of sprouting with the help of her equally OC hubby. They carefully systematized sprouting with experimentation and data gathering.
“There were times when we just threw away like 15 kilos of harvested sprouts because they were not pretty enough. We are obsessed with the looks, color, and height of the tauge we produce. We’ve never been more passionate about a product since we started Azatri 25 years ago,” she recalls. Thankfully, the ECQ gave them a lot of time to experiment.
Arlene thinks that one factor that got them hooked is seeing the outcome of an experiment and harvesting in under 3 days. They practically created hyperspeed tauge farming.
Marketing their Farmtory Branded Tauge
Eventually, Arlene got curious if there were people who sold tauge on Facebook. “Vegetables were big during the quarantine because mothers wanted to prepare healthy homecooked meals for their families. But I couldn’t find a single online commercial tauge seller.”
During this time, the busy couple were already brainstorming on what food to produce in order to sell online. Food is the only thing that is most in demand nowadays.
But Arlene didn’t want to just “jump into the fray but I also wanted to sell something food related. Tauge was a perfect fit. I’ll be the only branded tauge seller on FB.”
She had to ask her cousin Malou Legaspi of Crem Shawarma as to the pricing and packing of tauge in the market. Just to see if tauge was viable as a legit produce to sell commercially, they a friend who was managing a Korean restaurant if they needed a tauge supplier. That was the start of their foray into the business of tauge.
Basically production happened during the ECQ in April and they started selling online about the last week of May. The Farmtory is also available in some local grocery stores.
Steady Tauge Production
Arlene and Ricky have designed their own effective tauge production process from scratch. “We couldn’t follow the commercial production shown in Youtube like they do in Thailand. But we set up our area and produce tauge on the second floor of our factory. We converted part of the factory printing area into a tauge production area,” Arlene narrates.
At present, they germinate monggo seeds everyday. Production is limited to what two people, namely Arlene and Ricky, can handle. “We are making the process more efficient. We would like to see the production capacity per person. This is in preparation for hiring people to do this in the future.”
Mommy Arlene further explains that everything “is scalable in a matter of days. Capacity can be demand driven. Right now, we are exploring time-motion process of harvesting, cleaning, and packaging. We also designed and 3D-printed some of our tools. Presently, we are designing a mechanical but automatic circular watering system so that we can further save on water.”
To make their tauge farming sustainable and with minimal waste, the Farmtory is composting the tauge “waste” materials like shells and roots. “Eventually, we plan to re-use the tauge waste water for our vegetable garden.
Experimenting with Dishes Using Tauge
Tauge, or mung bean sprouts, is a popular side dish or addition to many dishes. Arlene, who had been a really busy mom, businesswoman, and adventurer, hasn’t been really cooking at home for about two decades. Their small family, which included only daughter Isabelle, ate out all the time.
The quarantine for Covid-19 drastically altered their lifestyles so now, Arlene often finds herself in the kitchen. She says that they eat tauge up to twice a week only. So far she has prepared the following dishes using tauge.
Perhaps the easiest way to prepare tauge is by stir-frying it. You can add meats, tuna, and season with salt. It’s easy and very cheap, plus, packed with nutrition.
You can extend your tauge and make it healthier by adding green leafy vegetables. This is tauge fritter with some chopped kangkong leaves.
Tauge with Spinach
This is stir-fried tauge flavored with oyster sauce. The dish is made more nutritious with the addition of spinach.
Tauge Burger Patties
Since tauge is rich in protein (comes from mongo, remember), it can be a replacement for meat. Interestingly, Mommy Arlene has been experimenting with making tauge burger patties, which she might market separately.
Husband Ricky also has a contribution to their tauge recipes. He toasted tauge and dusted them with salt. Pretty good, no oil!
Right now, Mommy Arlene is experimenting on tauge burger patties. “Tauge is very rich in protein, vitamin C, and iron. It has world-hunger-problem-solving potential as a super fast-growing high-protein and nutrients food source. But this is another obsession-level experimentations for the future,” she laughs. But this is not a far-fetched dream.
Making It Through the Lockdown with Tauge
In a way, Arlene’s obsession with tauge became the source of their current income at this time. Despite their limited reach due to pandemic, the earnings from tauge is enough to support the living expenses of three people.
But Arlene says that this time is “the practice stage for The Farmtory to really come on its own. I’ve already registered it with DTI and when it’s safe for everyone to do business again, we will go full swing.”
The tauge will just be one of the products they will be offering. The Farmtory will also have its own blended native coffee sourced from within the Negros Island. It is their way of promoting local produce. Since they are avid coffee drinkers, they know that Negros has some of the best tasting coffee beans in the Philippines.
The Farmtory will only sell what the couple is passionate about. “We plan to sell other passion-project products. There will be natural and organic products as well as gadgets that we will manufacture ourselves. (We will offer all that) except cooked food,” she laughs.
All of are affected by Covid-19, albeit at different levels. “I realized that Covid-19 is not something that will just evaporate. So I made up my mind not to dwell on the unseen but use the downtime to conceptualize what has been bugging me for a long time. I wanted to create a social enterprise aimed at benefitting marginalized women, trees, and nature,” Arlene says.
She says that one of their focal points is nature because “I’m a mountaineer. It finally hit me what this product would be. It’s still undergoing prototyping right now but this is going to be the product that will define the purpose of all other products under The Farmtory brand.”
The main product will be given for free to marginalized women. Meanwhile, part of the proceeds from the rest of the products under The Farmtory brand will pay for it. “Will this work? I think so. I believe so,” declares Arlene.
With her plans and attitude, Arlene’s plans will soon come to fruition.
“Covid-19 is not something that will just evaporate. So I made up my mind not to dwell on the unseen but use the downtime to conceptualize.”~ Mommy Arlene Infante
Get in Touch with The Farmtory
For orders, inquiries, or collaborations, visit their Facebook page: TheFarmtory
Or you may call them on Tel. No. (034) 709 1913.
Note: Unless otherwise indicated, all photos used in this blog were from The Farmtory. Published with permission from Ms. Arlene Infante.
Resilient Pinay Moms
Meanwhile, here are more stories of resilient Pinay moms related to Covid-19 in this blog.
- Mommy Cleth and her Homemade Kare-Kare with Love
- Mom Helps Battle Hubby’s Liver Cirrhosis During Covid-19 ECQ
- Prudent Quarantine Birthday Ideas for Pinoy Families | Covid-19 Crisis
- How a Bacolod Mom Changed the Philippines with Barter
- Mommy Power: The House that Barter Built
- Tips for a Successful Barter Experience
- Bacolod Mompreneurs Distribute the M2 Health Drink in NIR