Food served at Sierreza, a small but vibrant store and café in Los Banos Laguna, comes with an added ingredient — the opportunity to help indigenous people and the environment and an organic food hub that aims to teach its customers the value of zero waste.
Since its opening, Sierreza, which could be the first “zero-waste” private venture in Laguna Province has counted 10,260 single-use, non-biodegradable packaging “avoided” in four months’ time. Social Entrepreneur Cherrys Abrigo explain that the goal is zero waste yet seem it is impossible for now, but in the long run its about making the better, less wasteful choice.
Sierreza joins the trend of selling organic fresh produce and serving healthy dishes. It combines the concept of the traditional “sari-sari” (variety) store where people can buy “tingi-tingi,” or in small amounts, versus bulk buying in grocery stores.
On display are bottles and dispensers with soy sauce, cooking oil, starch, vinegar, sugar, coffee and chocolate drink, and, yes, even shampoo, sold per gram. Sierreza also offers its own natural tea and spices, such as powdered “malunggay,” ginger, turmeric, hibiscus and rosemary.
People are encouraged to bring their own bottles for a “refill,” thus minimizing the so-called sachet culture of retail goods packed in nonbiodegradable sachets. Abrigo said the poor should not be blamed for the “tingi” practice. People, in many cases, cannot actually afford to buy in bulk, she noted.
While Sierreza carries several commercial brands, majority of its products and ingredients come from Dumagat farmers in Tanay town and Antipolo City, both in Rizal province, and in General Nakar town, Quezon province. These communities are all in the Sierra Madre mountain ranges.
Abrigo was involved in a project wherein Dumagat farmers growing organic vegetables, fruits and root crops and funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to train the communities on organic farming and stop the unsustainable “kaingin” (slash-and-burn) and illegal logging activities. When the UNDP project ended, Abrigo, a chemical engineering graduate from the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, used her own savings to put up Sierreza in order to establish a steady market for Dumagat products. She said she was moved when Tatay Abner, a Dumagat chieftain, died of kidney failure, basically because the tribe lacked access to hospital treatment.
Sixty families from Rizal supply the organic products and 25 from Quezon make the native baskets that Sierreza uses as plates in the café. Among the interesting choices on its menu are the tamarind smoothie, chili coffee, mushroom “sisig,” and “putangher,” a Dumagat version of the “laing,” or cassava tops cooked in coconut milk.
According to Abrigo, the store keeps its prices low by not competing with prevailing market prices. Sierreza also adjusts its menu to available produce, putting no pressure on the farmers. She said they also wanted to change the idea that organic and healthy diet or going zero waste was just for those who could afford it.
If going organic is a fad, then it’s a good trend to surf with it’s more of a direction. People by now must have realized how the world is deteriorating, with all the microplastics in the food, and that has need to do something about it.