This month, we are excited to take some time to introduce our new FoodFutureCo program coordinator Ana Ojeda Osmena. Ana is an entrepreneur and Food Studies Masters candidate at NYU. She tells us about the amazing farm and fast-casual restaurant projects she co-founded in the Philippines, as well as her work in the Food Studies program.
I believe that immediate positive change can be made in the food system though innovation and entrepreneurship.
Tell us about your background, and what you did prior to joining FoodFutureCo?
I was born in New York, but I grew up in the Philippines until very recently. In the Philippines, I spent almost 6 years working for the government. I was a director in the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the government agency responsible for poverty reduction and hunger alleviation. While there, I got to work with farmers and fishermen, and was exposed to structural and social issues that they faced. These included poverty, as well as unpredictable occurrences, like man-made and natural disasters and climate change.
While in the Philippines, I also founded El Dorado Farms (@Eldoradofarmsph) and Gusto Fast and Fresh (@gustofastandfreshph) with my sister. We founded the farm in 2017 because we were interested in growing organic fruits and vegetables for our family and friends. I wanted to know, first hand, what it would be like to farm, to grow your own food and to make a living out of it. It turns out: it is difficult. Our first season was hard—we really needed to get to know the land, the soil, and the rain, and learn more about what grew best in the land. We even needed to learn more about the insects on our farm. At the same time, we needed to know the market: what did people want to eat, and buy, and in what quantities?
I used the experience with El Dorado Farms to talk about the situation of agriculture, farming and food in the Philippines today. The Philippines is agricultural country with 30 percent of its work force involved in agriculture. Of that 30 percent, 90 percent of them live under the poverty line. It is a sad and troubling irony that the people producing our food oftentimes do not have enough money to feed themselves and their families. Farmers often also do not have access to capital, technology, markets, and opportunities to improve their living and working conditions. All they have are their land and their hands. Their dedication and commitment to continue to plant and work the earth is what keeps the rest of the country sustained with enough food. We hope to continue working with and supporting those farmers in our area to provide markets for their produce and promote sustainable farming practices. We also hope to encourage other young people to get into farming.
About a year ago, my sister and I also opened Gusto!, a fast casual farm to table restaurant. The goal of Gusto! is to provide diners with naturally grown food and promote local ingredients such as Adlai (“jobs tears”)—an ancient indigenous grain. We re-thought the Filipino diet, and how we might recreate some of its dishes to represent a more balanced diet and a stronger focus on vegetables.
We all eat, which means that we are all part of the food system, and we can all play a role in shifting it. El Dorado Farms and Gusto! are avenues for people to ask and think: Where is my food from, who grows it, and how is it grown? We hope to encourage people to be more conscientious consumers, while, of course, enjoying the food at the same time.
What are you currently focused on in your master's degree at NYU?
I just completed my first year in the Food Studies Program in NYU, and I am focusing my degree on policy and entrepreneurship. A recent project that I worked on was centered around jellyfish as an ingredient. One of our courses examines how climate change will affect the food system. Climate change encourages jellyfish to bloom in the ocean, which can disrupt existing oceanic ecosystems. There have been studies on the nutrients and benefits in consuming jellyfish, among other research on other incredibles uses of jellyfish such as in biotech, so I created a jellyfish granola bar as a snack that reflects the changing ecosystem.
Why were you interested in joining FFC as a fellow?
I wanted to learn more about the different ventures and entrepreneurs in the food space, and especially the areas they seek to disrupt or the issues they want to address. I believe that immediate positive change can be made in different segments of the food system though innovation and entrepreneurship.
Where is your favorite place to eat in the city and why?
My favorite place to eat in the city is in my own kitchen—where I get to cook and eat Filipino food. I have it almost everyday, and love to have friends over to share my country though its food. My favorite Filipino dish at the moment is chicken and pork adobo—a chicken and pork stew cooked in vinegar and soy sauce, best eaten with rice.
What food product has you proselytizing to friends and family right now?
Vegetables! All kinds. I have been enjoying eating vegetables that are not in the typical salad form, as well as discovering different tastes, flavors, and textures of different nuts and herbs I’ve found in the city.
What would your last meal on earth be?
A dish called inasal—a Filipino style, charcoal-grilled chicken marinated in vinegar, calamansi and lemongrass, served with white rice and coffee ice cream for desert.