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One veggie that Filipinos should plant and eat

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By Zac B. Sarian

  • EAST-WEST FOUNDER AND CHAISIM PLANT – Simon N. Groot, founder of East-West Seed, holds a young Chaisim plant which he believes that more Filipinos should learn to eat. It is nutritious and tasty. It is also easy to grow. He knows that Filipinos are not eating Chaisim because East-West has not been able to sell seeds in the country whereas tons of seeds are being sold in Indonesia and Thailand.

  • CHAISIM UP CLOSE – This is a close-up of a young Chaisim plant grown at the Hortanova Research Farm in Lipa City. This is a very popular vegetable eaten in Thailand, Indonesia, Hongkong and some other places.

  • SITAO SELECTIONS – East-West Seed does not have hybrid sitao but they have high-yielding open-pollinated selections. Some are light-colored while others are dark green. It is observed that regions in the country have their own color preferences. Photo shows Rutger Groot, eldest son of Simon N. Groot, posing with an outstanding sitao selection. He is head of the company’s Knowledge Transfer Group.

  • NEW TOMATO UNDER FIELD TRIAL – Researchers of East-West Seed are continually developing varieties with desirable characteristics. They are not only looking for high yield but also for varieties with excellent eating quality, good shipping quality, longer shelf life, good resistance to pests, diseases and other stresses. They are also looking for crops that could be grown during both wet and dry seasons. Photo shows a new tomato under field trial.

  • INTERVIEW WITH EAST-WEST FOUNDER – The editor of this page (left) is shown interviewing Simon N. Groot who founded East-West Seed in 1982. Although the company had a rather modest beginning, in 35 years it has become one of the Top Ten vegetable seed companies in the world. At right is Ard Groot, a lawyer son to whom the responsibility of charting and navigating the next phase of East-West’s journey to greater heights has been turned over during ceremonies at the Hortanova Research Farm on January 24, 2018. Hortanova in Lipa City is East-West’s birthplace.

  • LUNCH TIME – Photo shows some of East-West’s top executives during lunch time at Hortanova. At extreme right is Bert van der Feltz, East-West president and CEO, while at extreme left is Henk Hermans, general manager of East-West Philippines. With them are experts who are members of the Supervisory Board. East-West has become an international company with offices in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Latin America and Africa.

    While going around the vegetable plots at the Hortanova Farm in Lipa City last Wednesday, the founder of East-West Seed called our attention and pointed to a vegetable that was growing among the plots of pechay, amaranth and other leafy greens. He asked us if we knew its name.

    Well, we said it looks like a mustard although we were sure it was not. We were not really sure what it was called so he told me, he was not surprised for my not knowing its name because it is not being consumed in the Philippines like they do in Thailand, Indonesia and Hongkong. He mentioned the botanic name as Brassica campestris, one of the many cousins of cabbage, pechay and the like. Its common name among the Chinese is Chaisim. In Thailand, they call it Kwantong while in Indonesia, the name is Sawi.

    The founder, of course, is the venerated Simon N. Groot, the Dutchman who started East-West Seed in 1982, rather modestly but which has grown to become one of the Top 10 vegetable seed companies in the world today.

    Mr. Groot mentioned a number of reasons why we should eat Chaisim. For one it is very tasty and nutritious. It tastes better than pechay or mustard, according to him. He asked us to taste the fresh leaves and we did. We really liked the very agreeable taste and mild flavor.

    We told him that perhaps the reason why Filipinos are not eating Chaisim is that we don’t know how to cook or prepare it for our meals. Well, he said it is very simple to cook Chaisim by stir-frying. But he hastened to add that in doing so, the oil before putting in the chopped leaves should be really hot and then quickly taken out from the frying pan. He added that Indonesians love to cook noodle soup with Chaisim. On the other hand, in Hongkong they use the flowers as vegetable.

    Mr. Groot said that Chaisim is also very easy to grow. It is planted like pechay. It can be grown in plots mulched with plastic sheet, or it could be planted in plastic cups or some other containers and grown in a vertical garden like what is now being popularized in Metro Manila and other urban areas.

    Chaisim grows very fast. In five weeks, 35 days, one plant can weigh 200 grams. So stir-frying four plants will already suffice as one of the viands for a family of five during regular mealtime.

    To popularize growing and eating Chaisim, maybe a planting contest among groups of school children could be organized by schools in their garden. Then when it is harvest time, the harvested Chaisim could be cooked and served to the students and teachers.

    Cooking demos and tasting could also be done in events like Agri-Kapihan, in weekend markets and other events. Chefs could also be invited to concoct dishes that use Chaisim as one of the ingredients. There could be many creative ways to promote the consumption of Chaisim. If we may suggest, the Sipag Farm School of Sen. Cynthia Villar should spearhead the growing of Chiasim in every batch of training classes that they hold.

    Oh, by the way, how come we were at the Hortanova Farm last Wednesday, January 24? Well, we were invited to witness the turnover of the management of East-West Seed from the founder to the next generation. Now, it is the turn of Simon’s lawyer son, Ard, to bring to even greater heights the company that his father founded. This could be achieved by continually bringing to the marketplace better seeds through research so the farmers will continue reaping the benefits of improved planting materials.

    The turnover ceremony was witnessed by special friends and executives of the company’s offices in Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, Africa, South America, India and elsewhere. The Netherlands ambassador to the Philippines was also there to personally deliver her message.Those who were not able to attend sent their congratulatory messages in the form of videos.

    The occasion must have been a most fulfilling moment in the life of Simon N. Groot. For lack of space, in succeeding articles, we will write about new offerings of East-West to improve the income of farmers, especially the underprivileged ones.

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