San­dra So­ri­ano bal­ances coun­try and city liv­ing

After see­ing the world, San­dra So­ri­ano now rules her own roost


A two-hour drive from Makati is the So­ri­ano fam­ily’s dairy farm, Ha­cienda Ma­calauan. Here, the air is sweeter and fresher; the La­guna breeze car­ries the moo­ing of cat­tle and is tinged with the scent of milk. Even the sky is of a richer blue, still un­tainted by the smog of the city. It’s a wel­come es­cape, where the over­growth of trees and shrub­bery re­place the ur­ban jun­gle.

At the door­way to the ha­cienda’s Casa Nina, we are wel­comed by San­dra So­ri­ano, the head of mar­ket­ing for the dairy prod­ucts pro­duced by Ha­cienda Ma­calauan Inc. She leads us on a tour of their home up un­til the vast gar­den out­side, which her mother, fam­ily ma­tri­arch, Menchu-Men­chaca So­ri­ano tends to daily.

It’s been a lit­tle over a year since San­dra re­turned from Lon­don with a mas­ter’s de­gree in food pol­icy from the City Univer­sity in tow. Since set­tling back home, she finds her­self ready to start mak­ing waves, start­ing with the fam­ily busi­ness. San­dra shut­tles back and forth be­tween work­ing at the com­pany’s Makati of­fice and meet­ing and tour­ing clients and part­ners at the La­guna dairy farm. It’s a full-time job that gets her the best of both worlds.

The work­ers say they see a woman in white walk­ing around the house and the grounds at night; Menchu quips that the staff prob­a­bly just spot­ted her daugh­ter walk­ing to the kitchen for a mid­night snack. San­dra emerges from her dress­ing room in an en­sem­ble rem­i­nis­cent of the ru­mored specter. She walks bare­foot across the plush grass, and in the golden haze of dusk, she al­most glows in her Carl Jan Cruz dress.

An old map from the Span­ish era hangs in the foyer of her bed­room. The fine etch­ings on aging li­nen plots the whole area of La­guna as it was known then. The So­ri­anos have owned their prop­erty for gen­er­a­tions, but the dairy farm be­gan in 1995, con­tin­u­ally ex­pand­ing in reach and in­no­va­tion.

Soon after San­dra shows us around her home, we all take the golf cart to see the cows be­ing milked. The cat­tle live in an en­clo­sure five min­utes away from the ha­cienda. They un­dergo the milk­ing process twice daily, first at around eight o’clock in the morn­ing and later at four in the af­ter­noon.

“We want the cows as com­fort­able as pos­si­ble,” San­dra ex­plains as she walks us through the plant. There’s a sick­bay and a team of vet­eri­nar­i­ans at the ready should one of their mares be feel­ing un­der the weather. The cows herd off in groups, al­most like cliques eat­ing to­gether and chat­ting in their own lan­guage. “It’s about keep­ing them cool, keep­ing them fed. You want them not on their feet, not look­ing for food, not look­ing for wa­ter, [be­cause] when they’re re­laxed and rest­ing is when they’re mak­ing milk.”

Three years ago, the dairy farm be­gan im­ple­ment­ing the Is­raeli sys­tem for milk­ing. “Think of it like a Fit­bit but for cows,” San­dra de­scribes it. The cows have pe­dome­ters that mea­sure their health and weight, the steps they take, and the qual­ity of the milk they pro­duce. It’s kind of sur­pris­ing to see this tech­nol­ogy on Philip­pine soil, and it’s com­fort­ing to know that the an­i­mals are treated with ut­most care.

It’s an idyl­lic life, it seems, on this side where the grass lit­er­ally grows greener. But while it’s the per­fect place for a get­away, to the So­ri­anos, it’s the cen­ter of their liveli­hood as much as it is their home.

When we meet San­dra again, it’s in a cof­fee shop in the mid­dle of Makati. Later that week­end, she will be fly­ing out to see the Shang­hai Con­tem­po­rary Art Fair. She keeps her­self busy co­or­di­nat­ing meet­ings and work­ing on the brand­ing of their prod­ucts. The milk car­tons, the pack­ets of cheese, and the tubs of yo­gurt in vi­brant blocks of color are eas­ily rec­og­niz­able in groceries.

“We want to stream­line every­thing,” she says of her up­com­ing project to unite both brand­ing and pack­ag­ing of the dairy goods. She is def­i­nitely no stranger to the busi­ness of food, choos­ing to work not in the more pub­lic restau­rant in­dus­try, but rather be­hind the scenes in farm-totable pro­duc­tion.

“When you say ‘food in­dus­try,’ it cov­ers every­thing from agri­cul­ture to gov­ern­ment,” she says. “When I got my de­gree, a good por­tion of my class­mates worked with the gov­ern­ment, so there are gov­ern­ment ad­vo­cacy poli­cies and then also nu­tri­tion and pub­lic health [in­volved in what we do], which peo­ple don’t think about. Peo­ple al­ways think, ‘Oh you're in the food in­dus­try, like restau­rants?’ but it goes way be­yond that.”

“Peo­ple al­ways think ‘Oh, you're in the food in­dus­try, like restau­rants?’ but it goes way be­yond that.”

She re­mains pas­sion­ate about im­prov­ing lo­cal food poli­cies to cre­ate some­thing sus­tain­able and more at­tuned to pub­lic health. South­east Asia is rich in food pro­duc­tion, par­tic­u­larly in agri­cul­ture, and yet it’s dif­fi­cult, not to men­tion pricy, for the masses to gain ac­cess to fresh pro­duce and health­ier op­tions for food.

“All of these things grow nat­u­rally here,” San­dra says. “The ironic part is that it’s ac­tu­ally so hard to buy [fresh pro­duce]. There’s also this per­cep­tion that im­ported is bet­ter, even if it’s more ex­pen­sive. We’d love to change that, though I think peo­ple are [al­ready] chang­ing.”

The Manila scene is di­ver­gent from that of Lon­don, a city San­dra had called home for eight years. “I’m used to walk­ing ev­ery­where,” she says, in­stantly de­bunk­ing the myth that it al­ways rains in Lon­don. “That’s what I miss, walk­ing to the parks ev­ery morn­ing. It would never rain the same there as it does here. When it rains [in Lon­don] it’s like it’s mist­ing.

“It feels a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent,” San­dra con­tin­ues. After 10 years of ab­sence, she’s ready to use her knowl­edge and pas­sion to make changes back in her home coun­try. “Manila, I guess, is grow­ing a lot. But it’s ex­cit­ing. The en­ergy is chang­ing.”

San­dra So­ri­ano wears Carl Jan Cruz, carl­jan­ Makeup and hair Diana May Q. Na­log Styling Melvin Mo­jica

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