One of the brand values of PIZZA 4P’S is “Authenticity”. It is a spirit not to imitate and view things superficially, but to ask ourselves “what is being authentic?”, think deeply and continue to gain detail insights to execute a project. This time, we’re featuring a Mr. Nguyen Quoc Thang of Thien Sinh Farm in the third round of the series “Attitude of Authenticity” where we interview with those who have such spirit above.
On the journey to serve fresh and safe ingredients directly from ‘Farm to Table’, Thien Sinh Farm is one of the valuable partners who help us realize our dream. However, Thien Sinh farm is not merely a place to produce organic food. Their goal is that their sustainable agriculture spreads and expands amongst farmers around them, eventually leads to an increased availability of high-quality products for reasonable prices in Vietnam. That is the story from the owner of Thien Sinh farm, Mr. Nguyen Quoc Thang.
（Mr. Nguyen Quoc Thang）
Pizza 4P’s: When and how did you start this farm?
Thang: This farm originates from a predestined relationship. In the beginning, I was also a regular non-organic farmer. But after a while, I found it toxic to myself, to workers, and especially to consumers. Right at the time that I was thinking about how to limit the usage of chemicals, I had a chance to meet a Japanese friend who was an expert in organic farming. It was around 2007. Then, I began to set up my first research on organic agriculture. And four years later, in 2011, I officially developed Thien Sinh Farm.
Pizza 4P’s: At the beginning of the farm, did you encounter any challenges?
The first difficulty of organic agriculture was the lack of knowledge when establishing a large-scale business.
The second was the limitation of the market. Not many people were familiar with the ‘organic’ concept, and thus, our products could not be sold widely. The third was our unstable ecosystem on the farm. Pests and diseases increased, but I did not have the experience to handle any agricultural epidemic.
Last but not least, I struggled with ‘How do I earn my living?’. Because when we shifted to this concept, there was no harvest yet. Nothing to sell. So I was indeed under financial hardship to make ends meet. It was the biggest challenge for me and also for any newcomer to organic farming.
Pizza 4P’s: What makes Thien Sinh Farm different?
The most significant difference here is our self-contained farming. We minimize the external influences on our gardens, which has two benefits. Number one, we can prevent the price increment from our input. Number two, we can take advantage of the waste on the farm and its surrounding as fertilizer in a complete process. Some farms still have to import some other items. Here, we even make the tools ourselves. Thus, gradually, the business can develop its capability; workers also enhance their skills. That’s how we grow with sustainability.
Although the farm is self-contained, it is open for students or other farmers or companies who want to visit, discuss, and learn from each other to advance organic agriculture in Vietnam extensively. And this is also an educational activity. Young people will realize a lot about the nature and the purpose of promoting organic farms. Families who take a tour here will know what is beneficial for their health, and they will see the value of the food they eat from which they will appreciate it.
Pizza 4P’s: In your experience, how can consumers distinguish natural from non-natural food at stores?
It is difficult, but it is possible. One way is looking at the color. The color of organic produce is more natural. Another approach is to taste. Organic fruit or vegetables have a diverse pallet with separate taste, which can be bitter, can be sugary, depending on the type of plants. That is their authentic flavors. For instance, non-organic guava can only taste sweet or light. But organically grown guava will taste slightly sour and then sweet. That means organic flavors are richer and more diverse. The third difference is hardness. Organic vegetables are always soft because they do not contain chemicals. Under conventional cultivation, the substances used had increased the thickness of the cell walls of the plants, making them tougher. Therefore, chewing non-chemical greens feels softer and more natural.
Pizza 4P’s: How about your projects with Pizza 4P’s?
I find all projects between Thien Sinh Farm and Pizza 4P’s are meaningful. The reason is, our employees can collaborate competently. Pizza 4P’s understands how difficult and rewarding it is to cultivate a farm. Thien Sinh’s growers also understand the market and specific restaurant needs at Pizza 4P’s. That enables a more profound connection between both of us.
A real example is’ Whey’ (the extracting liquid after making cheese). We recycle 100% of the whey liquid from the factory, which is equivalent to about 2000 liters a day. TSF should process whey with additional bacterial for fermentation to be good for Cow’s digestion. (without additional fermentation, whey makes trouble with cow’s digestion)
(Whey recycle tank)
The second project is ‘Herb Garden＝Farm 4P’s’ at Pizza 4P’s restaurants. It is a meaningful project that shows cooperation between both parties to demonstrate the consistent management of agricultural production from farm to table. It is very realistic, and I hope it can thrive in the future. In parallel with this project is the ‘Earthworm Project’ to minimize the amount of food waste. Seeing the processing of the leftover to reproduce soil right at the restaurant, people can realize that the treated waste in the restaurant is critical to the living environment of the city, which is the prerequisite for a smart city. Community garbage is already excessive. The government spent a lot of money to handle it but could not follow. Customers coming to Pizza 4P’s will understand the problem, and they will immediately implement waste disposal right at their apartment, which will make society a lot better.
（’Herb Garden＝Farm 4P’s）
The fourth project, Rocket leaves, is a self-contained partnership. Because Rocket leaves are 100 percent grown for Pizza 4P’s, and the restaurants also serve 100 percent from the farm. Consumers will know where the leaves come from. If it is unclear whether the product is organic or not, at least they can recognize the manufacturer address and the manufacturing process. This transparent information between both sides helps reduce intermediary layers. Therefore, the price the farmers enjoy will be higher, and farmers can re-invest into their farm. Doing so is much more sustainable and far better than when farmers receive low, and consumers pay high.
Pizza 4P’s: Can you share a little about the working and living conditions of the workers here?
Currently, the farm has about 30 people. Firstly, people are working here not because of the best living conditions, but because the farm does not use chemicals, which is better for them. Secondly, their incomes are equivalent to or maybe more than other farms. Thirdly, when they work here, they will learn some techniques such as mechanics, raising cows, planting trees, etc. These are some of the skillsets they can apply in their locality.
Some workers or the employees who have experienced with the farm, they can develop potential so that they can work in other markets. For example, in Japan, some work for coal mines, operate a machine or handle some techniques for the factory. When they learn, they also equip themselves with a skill for their own life.
What special is that about 90% of the farmers are ethnic, with two peoples, the K’Ho and Chu Ru. This also helps stabilize the society by providing jobs and technology for dwellers to produce for themselves. If we only use skilled staff, it can be challenging. But if we train people who may be struggling, in order to make our community better, it is what society desperately needs.
Pizza 4P’s: Future farm development plan?
We still have a lot of rooms to improve. At the moment, Thien Sinh Farm is also helping some ethnic groups in the neighborhood with the methodology as well as experience to produce organic vegetables. We advise and assist them with some of the barriers they encounter. That’s what I want to contribute to an increasingly sustainable society.
For 4P’s, the farm wants stronger cooperation. This means that we will not just settle over a price for a particular product. I want us to deal with the root cause when facing difficulties. I think that really is the solid partnership.
In the future, fresh food must gain more recognition. Organic vegetables must be more and more common, especially when the environmental issues are now very alarming. So if we can expand the organic agriculture with sustainability, it’s the best for society. That’s also the modest desire of this farm.
Not only in Vietnam, but in the world as well, We think it is unusual for an organic farm to take such a social role so seriously. We got a lot of great inspiration from the story of Mr. Nguyen Quoc Thang. And I am proud to work together.
Vegetables from Thien Sinh farm can be eaten at Pizza4P’s. You can feel the splendor when you try it. It’s actually really delicious. Please come to Pizza4P’s to eat vegetables from Thien Sinh farm.
Text by Hac Tran Interview by Ngoc Nguyen(Nelly)