A 61-year-old civil engineer who used to construct gasoline stations for major petroleum companies gave up his construction business in 2002 to take-it-easy, so to speak, after making more than enough to maintain a comfortable life.
The fellow is Napoleon ‘Pol’ Puente who would rather want to be called ‘Farmer Pol’ today. He is now farming in Cainta, Rizal, a microalgae called Spirulina which is considered the most complete food in the world. He confesses that constructing facilities for the big companies pays very well but it is also very stressful.
For a few years after his early retirement, he used to spend most of his time in the golf course. But then, he also wanted something else that he would enjoy doing and at the same time fulfilling. And in 2008, he decided to farm Spirulina which packs a lot of protein. His Spirulina has been analyzed to contain 72 percent protein by Sentrotek, a laboratory accredited by FDA Philippines.
FATHER AND DAUGHTER TANDEM – Photo shows Engr. Pol Puente and daughter Patricia Puente-Suanino inside the Spirulina growing area of Aztec Foodgrowers Corp. in Cainta, Rizal. Farmer Pol takes charge of the production aspect of the business while Patricia takes charge of marketing. Mrs. Valerie Puente who is not in photo takes care of financial matters.
SPIRULINA DRYER – The blue green algae is harvested on different days, every four days, from each of the three growing ponds. After harvesting the algae, it is placed inside a transparent, enclosed dryer in the sun. In a matter of three hours, the algae will be dry and ready for making into granules or powder for making capsules.
A nephew who is marketing manager of a multinational company in Colombia introduced to him the many health benefits of Spirulina. Pol liked the invigorating effects of the micro-algae in granule and capsule forms. And since no one was producing the same in the Philippines, he would buy imported brands from Thailand, Australia and the United States.
MARKETING MANAGER – Patricia Puente-Suanino, daughter of Aztec Foodgrowers founder, is the marketing manager for Aztec Spirulina products. Besides capsules and granules, she is in the process of developing a Spirulina-coffee blend which could be a possible bestseller among health-conscious coffee drinkers. She is showing a 250-ml pack of granules.
Somehow, he felt that some of the imported brands did not measure to the quality of the Spirulina that his nephew supplied him from South America. He did his own research. He visited the websites of producers in different countries, and also made his own study on how to produce the blue-green algae. In 2008, he decided to grow his own Spirulina even for home consumption only.
Of course, he was not satisfied if he only grew Spirulina for home consumption. He also wanted to share the wellness benefits to his countrymen. So in March, 2010, he and his family put up Aztec Foodgrowers Corporation which was duly licensed by the Food and Drug Administration to operate as a Spirulina producer.
Although Aztec Foodgrowers is small compared to the big players abroad, being small in the beginning did not worry him. He started his production in a small way but with superior facilities to produce pure Spirulina under a system that he conceptualized as an engineer.
As of now, he grows his Spirulina in three concrete ponds roofed with imported UV resistant plastic. The structure is very durable as it is made of steel and concrete. The place is spic and span. Visitors have to wear gowns and step on a disinfectant before entering.
He observes that the big companies abroad usually produce their Spirulina in open ponds. And they harvest everything in the pond, which may include some impurities. Pol points out that Spirulina is also affected by too much rain and very high temperatures. And that is the reason why he opted to grow his Spirulina under roof, also devising a harvesting system that will only collect pure Spirulina growth on the surface of the growing pond.
Right now, he harvests from each pond every four days. The collected algae is dried in the sun in a transparent enclosed dryer. In a few hours, the Spirulina is dried and then converted into granules or powdered for making capsule. The granule takes effect immediately after taking it in the mouth. It can perk up a stressed individual right away. Those suffering from some disorder, however, may need to take more than a teaspoonful a day. The Spirulina capsule may not take effect immediately but is more convenient to take, especially for those who are working in the office.
So far Aztec Foodgrowers can produce enough granules and capsules for about 1,200 regular consumers every month. Pol says that they are just producing what they can sell to the local market. If more people will discover the beneficial effects of Spirulina, he believes he has now the expertise to produce bigger volumes. It is quite easy for him to expand although that could entail a big capital because of the first class production facilities that he is employing.
By the way, according to the book of Dr. Domingo Diaz Tapiador, the foremost proponent of blue green algae in the Philippines, Spirulina is the highest known source in the world of three vital nutrients – carotene, vitamin B12 and Linolenic Acid. They are all essential in protecting and strengthening the immune system.
Spirulina is not only for human food. It is also used in animal feeds, and in aquaculture.
by Zac Sarian