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The Metro Green Thumb Club: Paco Magsaysay Transforms His Home's Free Spaces Into Farm-To-Fork Pocket Gardens

The entrepreneur behind Carmen's Best ice cream embraces his new, quarantine-friendly hobby!


Just like the best entrepreneurs, green thumbs aren't always born; they can be made, too!


Take the case of Paco Magsaysay, owner and founder of homegrown premium ice cream and milk brands Carmen's Best ice cream and Holly's Milk, who took on an entirely new activity during quarantine: gardening. The business owner who at first knew only the bare minimum of gardening isn't just a casual grower these days, but someone who boasts of cultivating tanglad, algubati, kang kong, pechay, eggplant, tomato, bell pepper, and okra among other veggies and herbs, then incorporating them into some of his favorite meals. (Tilapia with coconut milk and kang kong, or nilaga with pechay, anyone?). 


He beams at the fact that the okra he planted just two months ago is now almost 10 feet tall. 


"Gardening is a 'lifestyle.' When you really get into it, your mind starts to wander. I get a lot of good ideas while I’m gardening," Paco begins.  


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Photo courtesy of Paco Magsaysay
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Speaking of beginnings, the best part of this story is how Paco's newest passion might have budded from an accidental start. 


As the owner of ice cream and milk brands, Paco was no stranger to the piles of pint and single-serve containers as well as plastic milk gallon and litre bottles accumulating in his home. Wanting to repurpose the sturdy containers—and having unlimited lockdown-made free time on his hands—he went from one idea to the next, never once considering using them to create a backyard garden until much later. 


"When the lockdown took place in middle March, it was not really gardening that I had in mind... This journey led to me 'cutting' the plastic containers a certain way to reuse the discarded bottles as pots for plants, vegetables, and herbs," he explains. 


It was all experimental at first, for both Paco and his plants. But sooner than later, he found himself applying some of the business principles that helped his brands thrive in making sure that his pocket garden would enjoy the same success.

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Photo courtesy of Paco Magsaysay
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First, he researched. You can't embark on a project you want to see prosper without knowing the ABCs and 123s behind how things work, after all. 


"Like starting a business, you need to do some research first. What do you want to grow? What is it you want to achieve? You need to narrow down what type of gardening you want to do. Do you want to work on bonsai? Grow orchids? Start a vegetable garden? Seek and understand yourself first," he advices. 


Second, he learned to live with some amount of discomfort that comes naturally with starting something unexplored and unfamiliar. Being a person with obsessive-compulsive tendencies (i.e.: the tendency to entertain thoughts or engage in behaviors that could cause anxiety), it was a challenge for Paco to just let go and enjoy the organic, often free-flowing nature of backyard gardening. 


"It’s hard to be OC when you are gardening as mixing different plants in one pot is actually encouraged. Doing this makes me use a different part of my brain I don’t normally use," he shares. 


Third, he treated it as a way of doing some good in these times, of nurturing living things in his own personal way (think of it as a business doing CSR work). What started as a desire to rid his home of discarded food containers turned into an activity that not not only helps lessen non-biodegradable waste, but also teaches the value of self-sufficiency and caring for the little spaces in our environment that could yield nutritious, life-sustaining produce. 


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Just a few months back and Paco's biggest gardening problems were figuring out which plants grew best in which containers, how to position his veggies properly so that they all got the right amount of sunlight, and essentially, how to grow anything to begin with. 


Fast forward to today, nine months after Paco potted his first set of veggies, and he's preoccupied with an entirely different concern: he's run out of space to grow things in.


He's grown a whole lot of love for growing his own greens in a short span of time that he's now leveling up his plantito game. 


"Since I’m just planting around, in front, behind, and the the back of the house, I don’t have much space left," he shares.


"I would like to narrow down the vegetables that I will grow to two or three varieties, keep the plants to a minimum (as I’m not so much into the visual appeal, but more into the practical side of gardening, meaning eating the vegetables I grow), and continue with my herbs and just grow a few varieties. I’m more into quality, not quantity," Paco explains. 



This rookie gardener's favorite part of the process is, of course, making the rounds prepared with garden cutters in one hand and a basin in the other for the next round of harvest. 


"The highlight of the gardening is harvesting! It’s a great feeling and eating it is even better! There is nothing like eating vegetables you grow in your own backyard," Paco smiles. 


His favorite veggie to harvest is pechay. That's going to be a mainstay, he says jovially. 

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For anyone and everyone hoping to embrace the joys of home gardening, Paco shares everything he's learned from his own experiences:


#1: The sun is your friend

Use your powers of observation and figure out where the morning and afternoon sun shines in which areas of your house. That should help you figure out which plants go where (and in fact, which plants your garden can sustain). 


"Check around your property if there are trees that block the sunlight. Also, what percentage of your garden gets the morning sun and afternoon sun? Plants and vegetables that flower and bloom will need the afternoon sun (more exposure to the sun), while plants that don’t have flowers will do well in areas that don’t get that much sunlight (but still needs some sunlight)," Paco shares.


#2: Don't shun pesticides—use them sparingly 

Using, or not using, chemicals in your home garden is a matter of deciding on one thing: how willing are you to lose some of your produce to pests every time? If that's a scenario that doesn't bother you, then feel free to forego pesticide. If it does, worry not. 


"...Use a little bit [of pesticide] (as agreed in GAP, or Good Agriculture Practice) to keep the pests away," he advises.

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#3: Don't water uniformly

Each veggie, herb, and plant may require different amounts of water to thrive and it's very much possible to drown them by watering too frequently! Aside from learning about your garden's sun and shade specs, be ready to take note of watering schemes for your potted veggies. 


#4: Enjoy gardening

It's meant to rewarding and relaxing. 

"You are supposed to enjoy gardening! I’ve kept myself busy and productive since the lockdown in middle March. It’s a way to keep me preoccupied, kept me in decent shape, and I’ve even come up with some ideas (while gardening) that has helped our business!" Paco ends.


Although gardening now has a special timeslot in Paco's day-to-day, that's not to say that he hasn't been working on his primary business.


In fact, Carmen's Best lovers, rejoice! There's a totally new line of alcohol-infused, adults-only ice cream waiting for you to dig into!


"We have come out with an alcohol infused ice cream called J&M Naughty and Nice Cream. J&M are the initials of my two sons, Jaime and Mikey. Now, I have ice cream brands named after my three kids! With only four flavors, and sold in single serve cups, J&M is alcohol for adults. We don’t sell to anyone under 18 years old," Paco shares. 


Who knows? Paco could delve into growing calamansi, sili, basil, mint, and even rosemary—all of those would make great ice cream flavors and infusions, don't you think? 


In the meantime, we'll let Paco go on with business as usual, both with ice cream and his garden, and for sure, he'll be ready to reveal a handful of delicious surprises when the time comes. 


Photos courtesy of Paco Magsaysay

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