Creative Conservation, All For Artisans

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Authentica opened the first of its two shops last week, and this post is a quick statement of what occurred to me while looking across the shop once all the displays were set up. Back in early June I thought that two words simultaneously riffing off the concept of creative destruction, and our two decades of practicing entrepreneurial conservation, was enough of a tag line for saying what we are doing.

But now three more words seem worthy of adding to the mix. Because across this room it is clear that the pursuit of creative conservation is contextual and very specific; we are doing this all for artisans. I do not mean that just in the sense that we are completely motivated to do what Authentica is doing, for the sake of artisans, though that is true. The variety of items on display–colorful totems of Costa Rica’s culture, design-forward textiles, sensuous ceramics and turned wood objects, specialty coffees and artisanal chocolates–made clear now that Authentica should be more explicit. Say clearly that all proceeds from every sale in Authentica get reinvested back into building a better economy for artisans.  Maybe it can be said in fewer than five words, the way 100% Forward says all that Organikos needs to say. Brevity is the soul of wit, and wit is a powerful currency. I will work on it in the days to come.

Authentica, Organikos & Escazu

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In the photo above, the view is from our home up to the home of a friend who grows coffee in the upper reaches of Escazu. He is an agronomist whose foremost specialty is bananas, which he has helped farmers grow more effectively throughout Latin America. AuthnticaLogoI mentioned his coffee at the start of this year when we were meeting farmers, chocolatiers, and local artisans, knowing we would launch Authentica, and its sibling Organikos logoventure Organikos sometime this year.

We ended up not choosing that particular coffee as one of our 12 offerings, but every tasting, every artisan meeting, every event we have attended to find things that offer “taste of place” and that look and feel like the essence of Costa Rica–all have been helpful in establishing our product line.

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Escazu, where we live, where the idea for Authentica started and also where Organikos is situated is an ideal location for what we do. The festival of masks, organized by the community, is an example of why: local pride, sense of place, sharing with others.

Organikos Single Estate & Single Origin Coffees

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When we introduced Organikos coffees early last month at the two Authentica shops in Costa Rica, we were conscious that single estate coffees, highly prized among aficionados around the world, have not been visible in the country where they are grown. The names of regions are more recognizable thanks to big coffee retailers like Starbucks who have promoted them. So we included the region of origin on the single estate labels. We offer three estates now, and will add more after the next harvest.

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We also offer three single origin coffees. These three were chosen because the regions are widely considered by coffee experts to have the most consistent quality, year after year. The beans chosen for these single origin blends are from a mix of farms that, taken together, are best representative of the characteristics the region is known for.

Brunca.jpgCupping notes on all these later. For now, a puzzle. The name of the coffee company, Organikos, harkens to an older and broader set of meanings related to the word organic. Not strictly the certification for all-natural food production, but a wider selection of good outcomes. We chose only one certified-organic coffee among our twelve coffee offerings. It happens to be from one of the less well known regions, Brunca, in the south bordering Panama. To our surprise, this has been our top-selling coffee so far. We promoted it only as organic, but it is also a single estate (Hacienda La Amistad).

FairTradeIt is not surprising that organic coffee sells well, but it is puzzling to me that it outsells by such a large margin a certified fair trade coffee from Costa Rica’s most recognizable region of origin. Not to mention that this fair trade coffee is produced by one of the country’s most respected cooperatives.

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First and foremost, we have been developing Organikos to offer “taste of place” coffees so that you can sense the amazing diversity of Costa Rica on the palate.

hand-organikos.jpgThe commitment of Organikos to invest 100% of its profits in conservation is no less important, but this is clearly going to be a bi-product of offering the best taste of place options. This is the puzzle I will be working on going in to the holiday season, which coincides with coffee harvest in Costa Rica, which also coincides with the time when more travelers will be visiting the country. So sales data will be one element in the puzzle-solving.

Authentica & Organikos & Responsible Coffee Consumption

This last week we have been busy opening two Authentica shops (at long last). Both shops sell Organikos coffee. So today, another day on the run, I will suggest a very brief reminder on how and why the way you consume coffee matters. Lots more to say on that, and we will, but this is about as succinct a summary as you will find.

Creative Conservation

capitalism-socialism-and-democracy-joseph-a-schumpeter-first-edition-1943-signed.jpgI just checked the index of my dissertation to see if this book to the right is listed. It is not. Strange.

Rarely has a single idea had so much impact on me. Creative destruction, a concept that Joseph Schumpeter is most famous for, comes from that book. I will not try to explain it here because either you already know what it means or else you should really read it from the source.

In my dissertation I was interested in the impact of the efforts of entrepreneurs–specifically every single one of the thousands of entrepreneurs that started up a hotel business from the 1880s to the 1980s on both the Canadian and US side of Niagara Falls–to join together to develop a mutually beneficial solution when facing a collective threat. In this century-long story I had metrics to determine how those efforts impacted the likelihood of a hotelier’s staying in business after starting up. Niagara Falls was at risk of being ruined as a natural attraction. Hoteliers on each side of the border joined one another, cooperating with their direct competitors, to find a solution to that risk. Hoteliers, independently of the actions of those on the other side, jointly invested in conservation initiatives. The rich quantitative data show that on the side of the border that invested more heavily in conservation, over the course of 100 years hotels had fewer failures (permanent closure) overall. Bravo, Canada. Continue reading

Restoration, Inspiration & Conservation

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Organikos has been described in these pages in relation to its commitment to treat nature respectfully and its aspiration to inspire. Above is land that will be restored to its previous condition as an arabica coffee plantation. It looks green enough, to be sure. And the trees are poro (Erythrina Poeppigiana), planted sometime in the previous century when the last coffee trees were planted. So that is encouraging. The agapanthas and lilies and the bushes and the bamboo are all lovely, but not as lovely as coffee. Coffee inspires.

FernTree.jpgAnother type of inspiration altogether is the tree fern, a primordial plant. The one to the right was photographed a few days ago about 250 miles south of the photo above. It is in the restoration section of a large land holding belonging to Osa Conservation. Its location is important to me because it is where our company developed its first understood the deeper implications of our work.

This abundant stand of tree ferns with new shoots inspires because Osa Conservation has succeeded where others have not succeeded in getting these ancient plants to propogate. It inspires more broadly due to the success of the organization to protect the land in the region.

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InsectBook.jpgOur team was in the Osa with some friends from Colombia who are in the process of planning the next stage of a large scale conservation initiative. They came to Costa Rica for inspiration on new methodologies for conservation, and they found what they were looking for in the Osa, most impactfully during their visit at Osa Conservation. That impact was on display at a book fair in the form of this gem of a book. You can be sure it will be on the shelf at Authentica, along with that coffee we keep mentioning.

Authentica, A Few Of Our Favorite Things

FransCoffee.jpegYesterday’s coffee sample from the Brunca region got us thinking about our interest in foods and beverages that represent the taste of a place we have gotten to know through our work. Today I am sampling a friend’s coffee grown a few hundred meters away from where I sit typing this.

It is an arabica varietal, known as Castillo, that has resisted the rust plaguing Central American highland coffee farms. And this glass of freshly brewed Castillo makes me realize that Authentica is also an outgrowth of the much broader array of work that led to our original interest in taste of place.

In 1995 Crist gave a lecture based on some ideas that came out of my doctoral dissertation, ideas which I now simply refer to as entrepreneurial conservation. Costa Rica had recently committed to the then-new sustainable development model. I made sure that the ideas from my dissertation could be clearly understood within Costa Rica’s framework. Based on the lecture he received an offer to lead an initiative, based in Costa Rica and serving the countries of Central America, that would facilitate the adoption of sustainable tourism development strategies in the region.

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In 1996, tourism was limited in Costa Rica but there was enough of an industry to analyze its component parts. This highlighted pre-existing strengths on which to build a national tourism strategy. One of those components was handicrafts. We have not gone back to look at the findings, but memory tells us that handicrafts were a small but thriving sub-sector of tourism, and some of it was spectacular. The bowl to the left was the first we had seen made of the local wood called cocobolo.

Pia pitcherIn the 2+ decades since that analysis, times have been difficult for the artisans of Costa Rica even as the tourism sector as a whole has grown dramatically. It is enough to say that something must be done in Costa Rica to valorize the artisans who have been able to hang on, and to likewise showcase the remarkable renaissance of artesania in this amazing country. The campesino in the photo to the right is from an artisan who carves coffee wood, with coffee farmers his primary subject. We received that carving as a gift in 1998 and we recently met the artisan who made it. He has managed to hang on.

On that same shelf is a small ceramic pitcher made by an artist of the next generation, who is a perfect representative of the renaissance we see, now that we are visiting Costa Rica after many years living in other parts of the world. A platform is needed to share these things that we see and love about Costa Rica, things which we believe represent this place well, and put them in a place where they can be purchased, in order to valorize the artistry and craftsmanship.

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Above is a hand-painted silk scarf made by a local artist whose life on a coffee farm inspired this particular image, and the one below. We will be more specific about these and other artists in future posts. For now it is just enough to say that we believe in local artists, artisans, farmers, roasters, chocolatiers enough that we have formed Authentica as a marketplace for their products, to be sold mostly to visitors who want to take home with them a sense of the place they have visited.

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Looking Forward Requires Rethinking

Olympia1The new morning, the first of the new year, started just like any other. Coffee. But a theme related to looking forward was set in motion yesterday, and so it was time to taste this new coffee. Drinking mostly coffees from the Tarrazu region for all of 2018, today’s coffee is from the Brunca region.

Olympia2It is organic, washed (as opposed to natural process, or anaerobic or other new fangled methods) and medium-roasted. I use a nondescript filter brew machine, and I grind the beans slightly on the coarse side. Maybe we just woke up ready to enjoy the new year, but this tastes like one of the best new coffees we have sampled in the past 12 months. We have lost track of the count, but certainly we have tasted several dozen varietals. This one stands out, perfect for my palate. The fact that it is organic, selected and roasted by friends for their own cafe, makes me think that we will have more of it before too long.