VEGGIE BUFFET. The Department of Agriculture in the Cordillera came up with an 'eat-all-you-can' activity at the Bureau of Plant Industry compound in Baguio City as part of the High Value Crop Week from April 12-16 which coincided with the Filipino Food Month celebration. A total of 20 different food preparations using vegetables were served to attendees who paid for a PHP100 meal ticket each. (PNA photo by Liza T. Agoot)

BAGUIO CITY – Extraordinary ways to cook and serve vegetables were shown to the public through a "veggie buffet" held at the Bureau of Plant Industry office here by the Department of Agriculture in the Cordillera Administrative Region (DA-CAR) last week.

A statement from the agency on Saturday said the event highlighted food preparations and dishes -- all using vegetables -- which the attendees partook off after paying for a PHP100 food ticket.

Joan Bacbac, High Value Crop (HVC) Development Program coordinator and chief of the Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Division (AMAD) of DA-CAR, said they wanted to show that there are different dishes that can be prepared so that people, especially the children, can appreciate vegetables.

"Other than slicing and just boiling the cabbage especially for us Igorots, there are many other ways to cook it that the children will appreciate in terms of appearance and taste," she added in Ilocano.

The open area of the BPI compound where the DA-CAR holds office was used as venue of the event, where 20 different kinds of vegetable dishes were served.

Among the extraordinary ones were the carrot salad which looked and tasted like fruit salad, the mushroom "dinakdakan" that replaced the usual pig's ear, mashed potato with eggs and other vegetables served on cabbage leaf, the crunchy potato balls with quail eggs inside, vegetable balls that tasted like the Japanese takoyaki, and carrot "ukoy" with dip.

There were also other dishes using vegetables like the classic chop suey, French toast topped with fresh fruits and vegetables, pancit, vegetable salad, pinakbet, fried rice with vegetables, boiled camote and banana, potato salad, "sinigang na baboy" and "tahong" or mussels sauteed with vegetables.

For dessert, creamy squash ice cream was served.

Bacbac said the six divisions and an attached unit of the agency joined the "eat all-you-can" event as part of the High Value Crop Week and Filipino Food Month celebration that aims to promote consumption of local and nutritious agricultural produce.

DA-CAR workers and some residents in the neighborhood attended and enjoyed munching on the delicious vegetable dishes.

Aida Pagtan, public information officer of DA-CAR, while enjoying the food on her plate, said in Ilocano: "it's good, different and enjoyable to see and eat vegetables that do not look like vegetable."

Oscar Cadellina, a local resident, said "my wife and I love to eat vegetables and we appreciate what they (referring to DA-CAR) do, making innovations to activities that promote local products and help the farmers."

Dr. Cameron Odsey, DA-CAR regional director, said in an interview the Cordillera Region has five identified HVC produce -- cabbage, wombok, potato, carrots and Baguio beans. Sayote was also added, which grows only in the upland areas of the region.

He said the DA has institutionalized several measures to assure that vegetables grown by farmers in Cordillera are of high quality and safe for human consumption.

"There are certifications like that strictly given by a third-party certifier for organic producers and the DA's good agricultural practices (GAP) for conventional agriculture," Odsey said.

The GAP, which is among the requirements imposed by big buyers on their suppliers, is an assurance that fertilizers are used properly at the proper age of the plant, farms are clean, pesticides are not very toxic, biosecurity measures are in place and plants are harvested after the lapse of the withdrawal period of the administered pesticides.

Odsey said just this month, there were 70 farms in Benguet visited by checkers from other DA regions for GAP certification.

"That is now the trend, kung hindi ka GAP certified, mahirapan ka makahanap ng bebentahang restaurant (if you are not a GAP certified you will have a difficulty looking for restaurants to supply to)," Odsey said. He added that "we are able to set the standards and farmers also know that. The more farms are certified, the more we assure the safety of the produce that we all eat. "

Aside from safety and sanitation, the DA has also come up with the program "Mentoring Agripinoyship Youth Assistance" where the agency helps agriculture course graduates by training them with allowance, exposing them to the different facets of agriculture for six months.

The program also provides a credit program payable in easy modes to help the availers become stable first before starting to repay their loan. This program is just among the government measures to address the problem on aging population of farmers in the country.

Cordillera region's agriculture plays an important role in the economy and food sustainability of the country.

Odsey said Cordillera supplies 80 percent of the highland vegetable requirement of the country, including Metro Manila. He said around 1,000 metric tons of vegetables per day are produced by the Cordillera farmers and brought to different markets in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. (PNA)