- Associated Press - Monday, October 20, 2014

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) - After more than 30 years in the United States, Cita Maignes says she feels more American than Filipino. But that hasn’t stopped her from returning to her roots and immersing herself in her native culture.

And it hasn’t quelled her desire to give back to the community she grew up in.

“The blessings I have, I can pass onto people like me who are struggling and want to move on,” Maignes said, explaining how she grew up in poverty then left her family and the Philippines to pursue a better life.

That’s just one of the reasons Maignes is taking a year off from her job as an international recruitment/retention specialist at Minnesota State University. The 58-year-old is using the time to create and manage an 80-acre self-sustaining farm in the Philippines, The (Mankato) Free Press (https://bit.ly/1wdYBGs ) reported.

The operation employs 50 people from Maignes’ home town who would not otherwise have employment. It also has a small grocery store and will one day be the site of an English learning center for children.

The farm is in Cadunan, a village on Mindanao Island in the southern Philippines.

It is built upon land that once belonged to Maignes’ grandfather, a pioneer and one of the nearby village’s first residents. The property was sold after his death, but about 15 years ago Maignes bought it back with hopes of starting a farm.

She has since done so, with moderate success. Though she has hired workers and planted several crops, the farm is far from its goal of self-sustainability.

“I try to go back there so I can create a well-managed farm, but when I look at it … The progress is very slow,” Maignes said. “It’s very frustrating.”

Overseeing operations from afar worked for a few years, but now it’s time to take a more active role, she said. That’s why in May, she headed back to the Philippines, rejoining the niece and nephew who have been watching over it for her.

“My goal is to create a community that is healthy because I am a nutritionist after all,” she said. “The farmers are healthy and the people are healthy. The community is healthy.”

Maignes thinks the farm’s future is bright. Though the Philippines are rich in natural resources, the country is poor at managing them, she said. There’s a market for reasonably priced produce and other farm products throughout the Philippines, partially because the best fruits and vegetables are sold overseas leaving little for residents.

Agriculture workers in the Philippines are typically overworked and underpaid, she said. Many farms are owned by public officials, who are corrupt.

Maignes said her workers trust her because she is not associated with the government. She has also adjusted their hours so they are not laboring in the sun or over the weekend, as is typical in the Philippines.

Now that Maignes has taken a more active role managing the farm, she plans on expanding it. Its primary crop is coconuts, though the farm is also home to almost every type of tropical fruit imaginable, Maignes said. She also owns cattle, fowl, pigs and goats, which she plans on butchering and selling to her workers and local residents. Meat is typically very expensive, she said, and few rural Filipinos can afford to eat it.

Eventually, Maignes hopes to also open a small beach resort that could be used hold destination weddings. Staff from the farm would help run the resort and do catering.

Maignes said her goal is to keep expanding and diversifying so she can continue to hire staff and employ people from the village. Some are afraid the farm will fail, but she is positive it will be a success.

Hopefully her presence on the farm will help convince them, she said.

Tom Gjersvig, director of International and Student Services at MSU, said Maignes’ commitment to the farm is born out of a desire to connect people and give them opportunities to succeed.

She’s taken an active role doing the same at the university’s international center, working to re-establish a program that matches international students with local families during the school year and heading up several student groups.

“It’s definitely a testament to her interest in helping humankind,” Gjersvig said.

Though Maignes only took one year off from MSU, she said it’s impossible to tell what the future will hold. Her three children are adults, she has a successful career and there is, after all, “only so much you can learn” living in Mankato.

Her future may very well lie in the Philippines.

“If you’re a leader, you really need to be with your people,” Maignes said. “You have to lead them, not to fail, but to succeed.”


Information from: The Free Press, https://www.mankatofreepress.com

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