Coming Home

DSC_0662Cita Maignes moved from her native Philippines to the United States in 1980. Four years later, she relocated to the cold and foreign north country in Comfrey, Minn.
“The mentality of people in 1980 to now is entirely different,” she says. “They weren’t open to diversity, but diversity is very much alive here now. I’ve found a lot of friends here in this community who embrace me.”
Maignes found her niche and made her home in southern Minnesota, earning a degree in Family and Consumer Sciences and a master’s degree in Counseling and Student Affairs from Minnesota State University, Mankato. All three of her sons graduated from Minnesota State Mankato, and for the past seven years, Maignes has worked in the University’s Office of International Affairs.
Coconut processingIn February 2014, Maignes visited her birthplace in Cadunan, a small village in the southern region of Philippines, to assess the damage from the typhoon that devastated her native land in November 2013. Though her tribal group, Mansaka (“people of the mountain”), was left relatively intact by the typhoon, Maignes learned during her visit home that her mother had been diagnosed with dementia.
“In our culture, we’re supposed to take care of our elders,” Maignes says. “We don’t have nursing homes; we take turns, and now it’s my turn.”
Nearly 35 years after she left home, Maignes sold her house in Mankato and took a leave of absence from the University to care for her mother in Cadunan and oversee a sustainable farm, once owned by her grandparents, that she purchased 15 years ago.
“I’m having the time of my life,” she says. “It’s really wonderful to be able to get out of your comfort zone and do things. You can see your work is being appreciated and people express it from the heart.”
Maignes was in Minnesota for two weeks in September for the first time since taking her leave of absence to celebrate her son’s birthday.
DSC_0039 - Copy“I had come back (in February) and told our president and dean about my situation, and they were so supportive,” she said. “I’m so grateful to Minnesota State Mankato for embracing my needs and giving me a chance to do this, because I was really thinking about it a lot when I found out about my mother.”
Last  May, Maignes started the long, arduous task of putting her farm in working order. It has been a difficult yet rewarding undertaking.
“It had been very slow, because I had not been there to manage it,” she says. “I believe that agriculture is the backbone of the country, so why not start from there? And that’s how I’m trying to make a difference.”
Maignes consulted with local agricultural experts, employed about 50 workers and, with technological assistance from the internet, set to cultivating a sustainable farm.
“We learned how to butcher a cow with Google’s help,” she says, laughing. “I’m so excited—I know how to butcher a cow, woodshed a pig, milk a goat. I have done everything with Google, and the people are now following what I’m doing.”
Water buffalo, chickens and turkey also roam the property, and the farm grows corn, coconuts, pineapples, sweet potatoes, papaya and peanuts.
Maignes smiles proudly when she reveals that all of the food from her farm will be staying within the Cadunan community.
“This will be marketed to the local market,” she says. “I noticed in the Philippines, most of our products are being shipped to somewhere else, and the people who are producing it are eating the leftovers. I don’t like that. I want my people to eat good meat.”
Schooling has also been one of Maignes’ top priorities during her return to Cadunan. She remembers the hardships of growing up poor and in dire need of education, and says she sees the same yearning in today’s Filipino youth.
“I’ve bonded with them because a lot of these kids are exactly like me,” she says. “I have so much compassion for them. We were poor too, but I believe education is the means to get out of poverty.”
Maignes’ dream is to combine her two passions—education and nutrition—by establishing a food school service in the Philippines.
“Food is my business,” she says. “I nourish the soul and also nourish the physical body, and I’ve found this is my calling.”
Maignes plans on staying in Cadunan until March 2015, when she will return to Minnesota State Mankato. By that time, she hopes to be able to pass the managerial duties of the sustainable farm over to the locals.

Establishing Spring water in our village

“I’m going to pick and train those who want to step up as leaders,” she says. “You can tell when a person is passionate and the talent is with them. If you identify those talents, you will be more successful moving forward.”