Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Flavors of Love and Work

By Kean Andrei Bagaipo | The Sillimanian Magazine

Embedded within Silliman University’s (SU) rich tapestry of food production and preservation is a narrative woven with care, passion, and perseverance, transcending the bounds of the school community.

From the classic cheese bread and ube pandesal to locally grown eggs and pasteurized milk, the paramount of campus flavors undeniably captivates not only Sillimanians but also local foodies and businesses. Hidden in these staple products are the storied history, love, and work of the university’s cafeteria and agriculture farm. 

From kitchen to community

The Silliman cafeteria began as a humble kitchen for two student dormitories. It was moved in 1941 to the old library, later expanding to serve more students, faculty and staff, and external patrons through its catering services.

Famous for its Laura’s Products Corner, the cafeteria also offers a wide range of breads and pastries, including crinkles, baked siopao, oatmeal and butter cookies, among others. It was named after Dr. Laura Hibbard, SU professor emeritus in 1938 and dubbed as the “university’s first teacher.” 

According to SU’s Food Services Manager Ana Vee Riconalla, it is the love and dedication that they put in their work that “serves as the main ingredient” for the products and services that they provide to their clients.

“Preserving food products involves a blend of passion, craftsmanship, and tradition,” she said. 

As the university’s food service forefront, Riconalla admitted that the work is “rewarding yet challenging,” encompassing tasks from menu planning and preparation to staffing and budgeting.

However, Riconalla stressed that “contributing to the well-being and satisfaction” of the Silliman community “makes their role gratifying” despite the heavy work demand. 

At present, the school’s cafeteria is a home to over 60 employees composed of “efficient, responsible, and hardworking individuals” committed to serve the Silliman community and the general public. 

From poultry to school portals

Cultivated in more than 30 hectares of agricultural land, the Silliman Farm is known for its diverse array of crops and poultry products such as eggs, milk, Darag native chicken, and fresh vegetables. 

Farm Manager Rafael Nepomuceno traced the farm’s pivotal journey as a school garden for elementary pupils to a demonstration project area for agricultural education and rural development in Negros Oriental.

In 2021, the SU Farm inked a significant partnership with the Department of Education (DepEd) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) through a Milk Feeding Program supporting thousands of nutritionally challenged learners around the province.

“We are proud to report the delivery of 834,809 bottles of Pasteurized Milk, each containing 200 ml, directly benefiting a total of 31,408 nutritionally challenged students across the region,” Nepomuceno asserted. 

He added that this effort reflects their “commitment to addressing malnutrition and supporting the health and academic success” among daycare and public elementary students. 

Moreover, engaging in “diverse agricultural collaborations” has been vital for the farm to expand its ventures, including banana and sugarcane plantations as well as inbred rice seed production, supplied to local communities and industries.

Stepping into the shoes of a manager at a young age has “always been difficult” for Nepomuceno, especially in responding to the changing needs of the agricultural sector.

“The pandemic underscored the critical importance of sustainability and self-sufficiency in food production,” he said. “This period highlighted the essential role [that] SU Farm played in ensuring food security during times of crisis.”

To guarantee food security and quality, the SU Farm also focused on the multifaceted approach of education and capacity building to impart essential skills and knowledge on sustainable farming practices among its workers.

Love for local business

Bannering its motto “Committed to Producing Farm Fresh Food for Every Negrense,” the SU Farm is also a key distributor of milk products to selected market stalls around the city such as Don Roberto and Kapeng Lokal. 

Julieta Paltingca, owner and manager of Kapeng Lokal, shared her sentiments on their continued patronage to Silliman milk which became a cherished companion in their coffee’s signature brew for three years.

Dako jud kaayo og tabang ang Silliman Agriculture sa Kapeng Lokal since sila ang among kuyog sa among pag-start,” Paltingca expressed. “Usa pud kay affordable ra sila [milk].”

[The Silliman Agriculture is really a great help since they have been with us since we started. Also because they sell affordable milk.]

According to Nepomuceno, endeavors like these don’t just promote SU Farm as their “trusted supplier” but also reinforce its commitment to providing fresh, quality, products to our community.

Continuing the narratives

“In the cafeteria business, this dedication translates into a commitment to offering delicious, nutritious, freshly made goods that delight customers and uphold the reputation of the food services department as a whole,” Riconalla said. 

For Silliman Cafeteria, it is the profound love, meticulous work, and rich history that are infused into the creation and preservation of their delectable recipes handed down through generations—a narrative deeply intertwined with the story of evolution and innovation of Silliman Farm.

“The work that sustains the production and distribution of agricultural goods can be framed as an embodiment of the values and principles that SU Farm holds dear,” Nepomuceno cited.

More than the love and work that are shared to every piece of delicacies, it is the people, the communities, and a common vision that drives these forward, reflecting the same values ingrained within the Silliman community.

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