Q&A with Che Abrigo of Sierreza

In July 2018, Sierreza opened as the first zero-waste artisan cafe in Laguna. Our team visited the cafe and was able to chat with its founder, Cherrys "Che" Abrigo.

Sierreza supports five farming communities from which they source agricultural products every week. Even if these communities are very far and take hours to reach, Che chose to give them a hand precisely because they have the biggest difficulty in getting their products to the market.

What's behind the name Sierreza?

The name of the place was supposed to be Sierra's Table, but it wasn't approved by the DTI because it included a proper noun, the name "Sierra" was already taken, and because it sounded like a factory for tables. 

So I thought I'll need a unique name, and I came up with "Sierreza" that still includes the word "Sierra" as seen in the brown letters on the logo. The remaining "EZ" letters when turned sideways shows the Japanese characters for "mountain people."

This represents the promise I made to farmers that the store I would establish is for them. The farmers would be the highlight of this store, not me. I'd simply be a channel or avenue, but this is really to promote their products.

Why did you start this shop-slash-restaurant concept?

People in the city don't really understand how the dynamics of helping communities, thinking that they can be expected to rely on themselves immediately after a few capability-building efforts.

In my case, I've spent two years consistently going back week after week to visit communities. A lot of people have questioned why I've been investing so much time on this when there are plenty of other things I could've done.

If you look closely, you can see minimal or micro results, yet the progress is there. And when you look at their progress throughout those two years, it's really significant.

How did you get to know these communities?

After my MS, I went volunteering, which took me to Cordillera. I spent a few months going back and forth, also in Sierra Madre. I joined a church-based group led by a missionary who visits these communities regularly all by herself, and she invited me to come with her.

I had the opportunity to meet other tribes, too. But I chose Sierra Madre since I spent more time here and it's closer to the shop, so it was more practical. It takes three hours one-way, which is relatively a shorter travel time compared to going to Cordillera.

I took a short course on organic farming myself, so I could teach the farmers there.

Why do you have a lot of ginger products in the store?

There was a time when the price of ginger in the market was really high. At that time, the middlemen told farmers to plant tons of ginger, so they did.

But when the harvest was ready, the price of ginger had already dropped, so the farmers had no choice but to sell the produce at a loss, even though it took them nearly a year to grow those.

Because of that, farmers are usually worried about going through the same thing all over again. Middlemen are essential, but if they should be minimized or at least pay the farmers fairly.

How often are the produce replenished?

Items in the store are displayed for a maximum of three days. Every Thursday, I head up to Sierra Madre to get fresh stocks, which are available until Sunday. Produce that aren't sold by then are processed into other products like vinegar, etc.

The van I use to pick up the produce was shouldered by UPLB for the farmers. Since we don't have funds to pay for a driver, I do the driving myself to visit all the communities.

Our team also made it a point had the chance to try the food made from the produce available in the store. Sierreza serves a wide range of vegan-friendly fare including suman with tablea dip, black rice biko, mushroom sisig, lumpiang shanghai with mushroom and puso ng saging, red rice roasted ice tea, cassava nachos, fried mushroom siomai and free range eggs, and buchi with saba.

Sierreza is located in Los Baños, Laguna. 

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