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ARK 5-cent School Lunch

ARK enables rural communities in the developing world to secure their food, kids' schooling and income all on their own in just 3 years.

Photo of Ayesha Vera-Yu
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Advancement for Rural Kids, Inc.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.


Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

New York City

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The province of Capiz which has a total land area of 2,633 km^2.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Capiz is a province located in the country of the Philippines.

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

We selected Capiz because we know it well. ARK has been operating there in the past 10 years. We have a good understanding of the people’s history and dreams, the community dynamics and the structure that has disadvantaged the people and kept them in struggle.

My grandmother and mother are from Capiz. My grandmother lived there until her old age. My mother and her 8 other siblings left. They are not the only ones. Everyone in my mother’s generation until now leaves Capiz to find work. Once they leave, they never go back.

My first visit to my family’s farm was when I was four years old. My next visit was in my late 20s when I made an investment to turn it around from a chemical farm to an organic and ecological one. At that time, I was an investment banker during the day funding multi-million and billion-dollar acquisitions. Then at night, I would read about swales, composting, plant and animal life. Whatever I can get my hands on that can help me bring back ducks, fishes, and vegetables in my family’s rice farm.

Capiz is not flashy. There are no white-sand beaches. No preserved colonial town. But it is beautiful. The limestone mountains that rise from the land are stunning. The waterfalls and springs are inviting. The people are the kindest, warmest and most generous people I have ever met. They are also smart, creative, entrepreneurial and hard-working.

Capiz represents many provinces in the Philippines. A home where people do not come back to because chemical farming has made people sick, in debt and poorer. A province wherein every village there is only one buyer of rice or corn, and families eke out, at most, $1,500/year. Like many provinces, the farmers in Capiz can no longer feed their kids and send them to school. Those who stay are burning down forests and hillsides just to make charcoal to sell during dry season to feed their families. With each year, I see more barren mountain tops. I hear of more flooding in the lowland. The loss of biomass is staggering.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Capiz is a province in the northeastern part of Panay. It is bounded by waters on its northeastern corner while its western and southern flanks are bounded by rolling hills, mountains and two other provinces: Aklan and Iloilo. Capiz’ urban area is the city of Roxas which has a population of 167,003 while 594,381 of its inhabitants live in the rural part of the province. Capiz, especially its main city, Roxas City, is well known for its seafood. Roxas City along with other coastal villages and towns have farms for oysters, crabs, shrimps, all types of fish and shellfish. Fisherfolk also go out to the sea to fish. Seasonal changes in the province are not pronounced and it is relatively dry from November to April and wet from May to October.

In the mountain areas that border other provinces, the main source of income is farming. The mountains on the eastern side are still wooded while those in the south and western side are now denuded where farmers are planting GMO corn. Rice farming is practiced both in the upland areas and the lowland areas that make up the valley that lead into the coast. When there are heavy rains, the lowland or middle area of Capiz gets flooded and this now spills out to the coast and floods the fish and seafood farms.   

The people of Capiz are very warm, caring and have a zest for life. Many enjoy the village harvest festivals and coronations. They love dances and gathering together. They are very attentive and generous. Wherever you go, whichever household you visit, they will feed you. They eat everything from the sweetest and blue suso, the local escargot, that they harvest in the streams to ferns made into salads, fresh bamboo shoots, and all types of sweet dessert made of rice.

Chemical farming is practiced throughout the province. This has changed the traditions and way of life. Before in my grandparents time, farmers are able to grow a full dinner plate – rice, vegetables and a protein source – fish or chicken or legume. Now, most of the farmers are monocroppers of rice and corn and live of $3/day. Before rice was only harvested once a year. Now rice is harvested twice in the uplands and up to three times in the lowlands. The land has had no rest. People are getting sick, some with cancer at an early age. Many are diabetic.

All the parents I meet, dream of their kids going to school. All the farmers I meet, dream of a chance to live with dignity and an ability to feed their kids and have a sustainable business. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

In our partner schools in Capiz, one-fourth of the school kids are malnourished. This shows you how dire the situation is that farmers who are feeding the world cannot feed their kids.

The soil is dead after 50 years of chemical farming. Rice yields per farmer are now declining despite using more synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Farmers are using more synthetics because of the staggering loss of biomass in the area. This means a family has less to eat and to sell.

Farmers have weaker purchasing power. Since 2006 until now, farmers are only able to sell their unhusked rice at P12 to P17/kilo, $0.33 cents at the highest. To buy a kilo of mung bean is over P75/kilo or $1.50. Therefore, a farmer needs to sell 5 kilos of its rice for 1 kilo of mung bean. Families make do by eating rice with salt or sugar. In July and August, when families are borrowing money to buy rice while waiting for their harvest, families make do with one meal a day or resort to desperate acts like holdups to put food on the table.

The situation for farmers will get worse. The Philippine government continues to increase rice imports that are sold at an arbitrarily low price putting downward pressure on farmers while their input costs, pegged to the global demand of oil, continue to go up. Climate change, which has resulted in prolonged droughts and stronger typhoons, is creating more variability on the harvest and insecurity with the people.

Capiz 2050, if nothing changes now, will be in a state of despair and conflict. The mountains will be barren. There will be smoke in the air as more people burn down whatever is left of the mountains to plant. Mothers have left for other countries to find work as a caregiver to an aging population or a special ed teacher in a “developed country”. Children are left with their fathers and grandparents. More young kids will drop out of school and join the New People’s Army. There will be more “holdups” on the road even during harvest season as there will only be rice and corn growing. Only few people will grow vegetables because there is no demand locally. A generation of kids grew up without eating it. The wild spinach that a parent could forage before is now nonexistent. There are no birds to “shoot down” for lunch. Those who have stayed and who have a parent “abroad” only buys processed, branded food because that is what is marketed on Instagram and makes kids feel they belong. They are on diabetic medication. Suicide rates go up. Substance abuse, especially alcohol, goes up. There will be a lot of pain, hurt and desolation. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The ARK 5-cent School Lunch program (ARK Lunch) enables the community to come together and agree on a common goal – solve hunger, malnutrition, get kids to school and create new income. It is a school-based lunch comprised of vegetables and protein sourced 100% from parents and the local community. To start it, the community must create organic gardens in school and their backyards. By doing so, parents and community members:

1. relearn how to make compost, which they have forgotten after 50 years of synthetic fertilizer use. Because they know that the ARK Lunch will only cook what they sell and they want their kids to eat well, parents and farmers are encouraged to plant different kinds of vegetables and care for more animals. Once they do, they begin to add to the food source and biomass in the area.

2. are able to have vegetables and more food for their lunch and dinner  

3. ensure they and their kids are healthy. The ARK Lunch is 80-90% vegetables and retains the highest nutritional value. It is comprised of a variety of plants that is harvested an hour or two from cooking. This enables the community to solve malnutrition in less than 2-3 months.

With lunch in school, kids come to school. Attendance in ARK partner schools shoots up from 70% to over 90%. Teachers share that kids have more energy, are more curious and do better in class. Dropouts go down substantially and more kids advance to high school and college.

Because ARK Lunch buys 100% from parents and the local community, it provides them with much-needed income and a whole new market beyond the rice and corn trader in the village. This along with parents volunteering to operate the program, keeps lunch cost at 5 cents, which parents contribute to day one and pay all on their own after 3 years. By paying for this solution, parents and the community ensure that they can secure their food and kids' schooling for life. 

With basic needs met, parents and the community now have room to dream. They dream for their kids to finish school. They begin to dream for themselves – whether it is to have a virgin coconut oil business or to learn a new trade. They begin to feel like their horizons are so broad. Because the ARK Lunch gives them a platform to learn how to lead, organize, solve, analyze and track results, they are primed to bring on other people to co-invest alongside them, their dreams and entrepreneurial pursuits.

Their entrepreneurial dreams will enable them to have a different and sustainable income source. This will make parents and the community secure to make changes to their farming practices and “weather the potential losses” as they transition and care for the land and redesign it to be ecological and diverse, and ready to counter climate change.  

The ARK School Lunch is an aspirational and market-based entry point that gets the entire community uniting to solve a critical issue and puts them on a path to healing their land and their community. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Capiz would be vibrant, green, abundant and leading the country and the world in sustainability that comes from within. Its people would be confident, happy, positive, hopeful, adventuresome and unafraid. People would migrate back. Incubators to fuel new venture ideas would exist in big villages alongside mobile libraries and the local market.

Each home in a village has an active compost pile and a garden filled with vegetables, flowers, herbs and fruiting trees. Frogs, butterflies, dragonflies, and bees mill about. Birds sing on top of roofs. Chickens run around. Neighbors share lives, food and peaceful energy.

In each rice paddy, ducks muddy the water and fish swim about as indigenous rice grains grow thick, without the presence of weeds. Surrounding the paddies are madre de cacao and other indigenous plants that hold the “cahons” or borders and give nitrogen to the soil directly.

On the horizon, forests are beginning to grow back on top of mountains and hillsides. Protecting the forest are farmers who care for deer and pigs who forage in the forest; orchards with different fruiting trees, and swaths of hardwood trees.

Each farmer and community member plants what they love to eat, what best heals the soil, what their great grandparents ate, what is indigenous to the area and what was once lost. Each community member is a shareholder of the Cooperative, which buys what each farmer wants to sell and sells/distributes to places outside the community. As a shareholder, each community member profits as the Cooperative grows.

The Cooperative also counts restaurants, chefs and people who live in the towns and cities as members. As members, they purchase minimum units and volumes of harvest or packaged food. They too get a share of the profits.

With so many ventures, kids are going to college to learn to design sustainable furniture sourced from their forests; to build swales and design low-cost irrigation; to care holistically for people’s health and wellness. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Our vision is that school gardens and lunches all over Capiz that will heal the land and the community, fuel ventures, give hope to a nation and will send a farmer’s kid to the presidency.  

To create a regenerative and nourishing food future for Capiz, we have to start at the root and solve from within. Farmers who grow our food must first be able to feed their kids. In rural areas or provinces like Capiz where votes are bought, cousins fight over land and carry-on their parents’ disputes, we have to gather the community on a common goal. Everyone dreams to feed their kids and send them to school.

The ARK 5-cent School Lunch solves 3 critical issues – solves malnutrition, gets kids back to school (they drop-out because of hunger), and provides new and instant income to parents and community members. The ARK Lunch’s mandate is simple. It:

1.     buy 100% from parents and the community

2.     buys only vegetables and proteins that are indigenous, can be grown and foraged in the community

3.     will feed ALL kids every day there is class

4.     requires the community to invest in itself by creating and funding on their own:

       a. gardens in schools and their backyards;

       b. a school kitchen and water source

5.     is led by the community. The community comes together to set their goals and the lunch budget, solve issues with their ideas, and create an operational plan that is executed by the parents and teachers on a volunteer basis. Each parent volunteers at most 4x a year to make lunches. Teachers help organize and advise program team leaders and coordinate with other stakeholders –PTA officers, village leaders and ARK.

The ARK Lunch is a self-sustaining school lunch that parents contribute to day one and fully fund on their own after 3 years. In year 1, ARK catalyzes it and pays 80% of the 5 cents, while parents pay 20%. In year 2, ARK and parents pay 50/50. In year 3, ARK pays 20%, parents pay 80%. In year 4, parents pay 100% of the lunch on their own. To demonstrate its support, the village leadership also invests funds in the program to cover any unforeseen costs. Any unused portion will go towards the school's needs.

The results are immediate and tangible. Day one, hunger is stemmed. Within a week, student attendance jumps from 70% to over 90%. Parents are happy that their kids are finally eating vegetables. Within a month, teachers see improvement in the kids’ health, appearance and performance in class. Within 3 months, malnutrition is solved. Within six months to a year, the actual cost of the lunch is below 5 cents as school gardens flourish and parents gift excess vegetables from their gardens.

Additionally, the program gets parents more involved in their kids’ food and schooling; and connecting with each other. It is a new way for them to rebuild their relationships and trust for each other; and a program with integrity and accountability as they track every peso and impact and share that with the community.  The community proves to themselves and the world that they can stand on their own, secure their own food and kids’ schooling for life, and pay for solutions that work for them.

Once critical needs are met, parents, farmers and community members can breathe. The fact that they are operating a whole new system in their village using their ideas give them the confidence to dream and a sense that their horizons are so broad.

Farmers and rural folks in Capiz are struggling and are “poor” because no one is investing in them. There are no alternative sources of income aside from rice and corn farming and fishing. In order for them to thrive, we must invest in the communities’ dreams to advance their kids and build new industries. This is critical as it will create a different and more consistent income that will give farmers and the community the security and ease to leave chemical farming and convert to organic. It will stop the burning of the forests and other unsustainable agricultural practices. It will also retain and develop talent in the rural areas.

ARK Equity Ventures (“ARK Ventures”) come into play in the second or third year of ARK’s partnership with the communities. ARK Ventures will co-invest 50/50 with parents on scholarships that get their kids to high school and college. ARK Ventures will also invest in:

1.     a community or community member’s entrepreneurial ideas and

2.     an external entrepreneur who wants to partner with the communities and base the business in the rural areas.

The ventures must spur out of the gardens and the farms and must uphold organic and ecological practices. It can be singular such as a parents’ dream to sell coconut oil, or it can be a collective such as a communities’ dream to create the province’s first organic market, or café/canteen, and ARK’s dream of creating the first food conglomerate in the country owned by a Collective. The Collective will be comprised of farmers, fisherfolk, members of the community, restaurants, chefs and people in towns and cities who want to buy a share of the harvest. The Collective will only sell organic and natural products. It will purchase what farmers want to sell at market rate or farm gate price. It will sell to restaurants, chefs and people outside of the villages. (The food and other products sold within the village are done directly by the farmers). It will be responsible for marketing, packaging and distribution. Any profits at the end of the year are distributed back to the Collective members.

To spur venture activity, ARK Ventures will partner and consult with indigenous tribes for them to share their traditional and sustainable farming practices and land stewardship. ARK Ventures will also bring in other NGOs and the government to leverage pre-existing training and support for organic farming and other trades. From its circle of investors and business leaders in the region, ARK will create a mentor circle to support individuals and communities as they pursue their ventures. Lastly, ARK Ventures and the communities will gain partnership with the provincial government to showcase the sustainable work of the partner communities throughout the province, and to convene an international community that is solving for sustainability and creation of holistic businesses.

The creation of organic markets, new industries and a Collective will result in a wholesale change to the way people farm and live in the rural areas. It also means that the family remains intact. Mothers and fathers can stay with their families instead of going to another land or living ships for months on end out of desperation. Kids will feel loved, cared for and secure. They will dream big, go to college and aim to be the President of the Philippines or take on other leadership roles in government or business. Growing up in an inclusive world will give them the example they need to set structures and policies that will be equitable.

Once people’s futures are more clear, and the area is drawing many visitors, collaborators and investors, we will work with the provincial and central government to create a cooperative to steward the reforestation of forests in publicly-held, and now barren mountains. The biggest issue with public land is that it is managed by a national agency, the Department of Natural Resources. As an agency, they do not have sufficient funds to post “officials” on every mountain and to “police” and protect the mountains. Because it is centralized it is also subject to corruption. Because it is “public” land that does not directly benefit the community, it is easy for bands of people or swaths of a community to burn down the mountain without any personal consequence. This could be offered first to farmers and indigenous tribes who are “landless”, are committed to the restoration and healing of the land, and have brilliant ideas.

By creating a cooperative of farmers and shepherds who will be given long term license to re-grow trees, create orchards, care for pigs and other animals that are part of a forest ecology, and protect the water and springs in the area, Capiz will be able to bring about reforestation and create a safe water supply for a sustained basis. This will begin to rebuild the biomass, prevent, retain water, and prevent soil erosion and flooding, and ensure the long term health and safety of the people.

The actions above will result in more positive, hopeful and entrepreneurial people; abundant food, peace and stability, and will bring people back to the rural areas. In a globalized system and an expansive communication network, it is getting easier for one to do more than farming in a rural area.

The ARK partner villages in Capiz can be havens for artists looking for respite and inspiration; for over-stressed professionals and family in Manila and Iloilo City wanting support and community; for elders wanting fresh air, daily walks and healing food; and for young people who are innovative and love nature. It will ease a lot of the stress and strain in urban areas. It will make for better representation in government. It will connect people closer to the land and to each other.

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Photo of Archiebold Manasseh

Nice project! all the best