21-year-old student establishes hydroponics business with only P1,000 

With the rising prices of commodities today, a thousand pesos can only go so far. 

Though in the case of a 21-year-old student, a thousand pesos led to the discovery of a new passion and the establishment of his first hydroponics venture.

Armed with knowledge and background in business from academe to field, John Harold B. Zapata saw an opportunity in the convenience and minimal requirements of hydroponics.

After stumbling upon a video on hydroponics with his father in April 2021, he decided to try his hand at soilless farming. 

With less than P1,000 in starting capital, he bought plastic scraps, seeds, cups, and coco peat. The other materials he used early on were repurposed, including the grape boxes he got from a friend who’s a market vendor. 

Humble beginnings: This is Zapata's first DIY hydroponics setup, which cost barely a thousand pesos to build.

Due to a lack of resources, he and his father constructed his hydroponic greenhouses themselves. After repeated harvests, the young farmer is increasingly confident of the venture's potential.

A budding young agripreneur

Zapata’s late grandfather, a traditional farmer, also played a big part in his interest in farming.

Although his grandfather discouraged him from being a farmer due to conventional beliefs and practices, this did not hinder Zapata from taking the same path.

Zapata has been involved in business from a young age. Prior to entering the field of agribusiness, he sold dim sum and parols (Christmas lanterns), and even appeared as an extra in a movie. 

These experiences have greatly contributed to his growth as an entrepreneur and as a person, which in turn helps him manage his current project.

At this point, he is still pursuing his bachelor’s degree in business administration, and the soilless farming route allows him to run a business without compromising his studies. 

Four-digit capital to six-digit projected income

Zapata’s hydroponic farm, known as Plant Habitat, can be found in San Fernando, Pampanga. It is divided into two greenhouses: one in the front yard and the other in the backyard.

In less than a year of hydroponics farming, Plant Habitat managed to gain public awareness, allowing it to flourish continuously. 

The young hydroponic grower started with nine grape boxes filled with lettuce and earned P700 from his first harvest. 

His father also offered him extra money to sustain this endeavor, which he utilized in purchasing five tuna boxes that helped boost production. 

From growing 72 heads of lettuce, his hydroponic farm now holds 2,000 heads of three lettuce varieties: Romaine, Lollo Bionda, and Crystal. 

Zapata's 150-square-meter hydroponics farm centers on hydroponic lettuce.

The price of one lettuce cup ranges from P25 to P35, depending on the market. This means he could earn as much as P50,000 each month if his produce sells out. 

This does not include other products and services he offers such as seedlings, seeds, consultancy, and greenhouse construction.

Zapata cultivates hydroponic lettuce using Kratky and Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) methods. The former is a low-maintenance hydroponic technique that does not use electricity, hence it is used by many beginners. The NFT, on the other hand, requires more materials and costs. 

Selling along the highway is one of Zapata's marketing strategies for reaching a wider clientele.

Hydroponics is a low-maintenance growing technique that can be less expensive to execute than other farming systems.

This, however, does not exempt one from hardships. According to Zapata, the most daunting challenge in hydroponics is one that no farmer can control: adverse weather.

Intense heat, for example, increases humidity, which attracts diseases to plants. To minimize humidity, Zapata advises hydroponic farmers to water the ground and spray water into the air.

The temperature in the greenhouse must be kept below 30 degrees Celcius to ensure optimal yields, says Zapata.

In building his business from scratch, resourcefulness is king. Zapata admitted that many doubted him for having a P1,000 starting budget, but his growing farm business proves that hard work and savvy farming and business skills can mean a steady profit. 

Photos courtesy of Harold Zapata

For more information, visit Plant Habitat

Read more about farming and gardening at agriculture.com.ph