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.

Organikos Coffee From The Southern Tier Of Costa Rica

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Two weeks ago we were visiting the southern tip of the Osa Peninsula, one of our long-time favorite places in Costa Rica. This weekend we made a journey to one of the few spots in Costa Rica where we had never been before, the center of the southern tier, bordering this part of Panama. Seth’s visit to Boquete was one made by many visitors to Costa Rica who either for coffee or birding reasons see this cross-border excursion as a must. We made that excursion from San Jose to Boquete 15 years ago as a family, and my recollection of the coffee sampling, including of the geisha varietal before I knew how important that would become, is a highlight.

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Las Mellizas is a village created decades ago by the owners of Hacienda La Amistad, which is where Organikos sources its single estate organic coffee. The farm uses bananas and other fruits, plenty of including avocado, to shade the coffee and add value to the farm’s cash crop activity.

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I will have more to say when we are back on grid, but for now I share the image at the top, with the widest view I could find on the farm yesterday, sent using a cell phone connection and electricity from the hydro-electric plant that this farm runs on, shown here.

Organikos, 100% Forward To 1,000,000

6555On July 5th I first read the news about what planting a trillion trees might do for the fight against climate change. One week later this magazine cover drove the point further home for me with the Woody Guthrie reference. Organikos already had ideas and imagery for the commitment of 100% of its profits to conservation, and by the time I saw this cover I knew our focus would be on planting treesComing back to this magazine cover now, I am struck by the power of the number referenced in the scientific study.

One trillion.

1,000,000,000,000.

How long would it take Organikos to plant one million of those trees?

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.

Organikos & Fair Trade

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Fairtrade tea producers in Malawi. Photograph: Chris Terry/Fairtrade

We are weeks away from launching two shops that will carry a dozen varieties of Organikos coffee, a fair trade selection among them. Fair trade coffee has been selling well to the people who visit Costa Rica and want to support its sustainable development. We will also offer an organic coffee, which sales data show to be approximately twice as popular as fair trade among these same visitors. We are committed to these two forms of certification for reasons that should be clear from the eight years and thousands of posts on this platform.

But we also believe that all our coffee selections should be chosen by us using ethical criteria, and that the people buying these coffees care more and more about these criteria precisely because those certification programs have had an impact. The Guardian on occasion publishes an article like this one by Samanth Subramanian, who has an eye for important puzzles, that challenges our assumptions in very useful ways:

Is fair trade finished?

Fairtrade changed the way we shop. But major companies have started to abandon it and set up their own in-house imitations – threatening the very idea of fair trade.

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UK supermarket with Fairtrade bananas. Photograph: Sean Spencer/Alamy

It wasn’t very long ago that a banana was just a banana – just a curved, yellow fruit. All you knew, if you bought a bunch in 1986, was that they cost around 97p per kilo. You weren’t told if they were organic or pesticide-free. You didn’t know if they came from Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic. And you certainly weren’t invited to worry about the farmers who grew them – or if their children went to school, or whether their villages had clinics. You just picked up your bananas and walked to the next aisle for your coffee or tea or chocolate, none the wiser about where they came from either, or about the people who farmed them.

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Fairtrade cocoa farmers in Ghana, Africa. Photograph: Karen Robinson/The Observer

Back then, the countries that grew these commodities and many others were still known as the Third World, and the habit of not caring about their farming conditions was a legacy of their colonial past. For centuries, trade propelled the colonial project, and exploitation was its very purpose. The farmers of Asia, Africa and South America were forced to raise the crops that the empire’s companies wanted, to work the crops in abject conditions, and to part with them at ruinously low prices. In the last century, the empires melted away but the trade remained lopsided – with the imbalance now rationalised by the market, which deemed it “efficient” to pay farmers as little as possible. In the 1970s, a Ghanaian cocoa farmer often received less than 10 cents out of every dollar his beans earned on the commodities market; as a proportion of the retail price of a chocolate bar, his take was smaller still. Child labour was common. The chocolate companies prospered and their customers shopped well; the farmers stayed poor.

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Human tea bags protest outside Sainsbury’s AGM. Photograph: Andy Aitchison / Oxfam

Then, in the late 1980s, you began to hear more about these farmers, encountering their stories on television or in newspapers or even on the labels of the packages you bought. The reasons were manifold. Environmental awareness was on the rise. The prices of some commodities were crashing, placing agricultural incomes in even more acute peril than usual. There had already been small groups pushing for more equitable trade: “little do-good shops scattered in cities around Europe, selling products … bought at fair prices directly from small producers abroad”, as one pioneer described it. By the early 1990s, these disparate initiatives began to coalesce into a larger international struggle to radically reform our relationship with what we bought. Trade had long been unfair by design, but now there was a growing movement to make consumers care about that unfairness, and even to help rectify it. Continue reading

Rwandan Charismatic Megafauna (& Honey)

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Seth sent a few more messages, in the form of images, from Rwanda. One day soon I will describe what he is doing there, but for now the images say more than enough.

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While elephants are a childhood favorite animal for Seth, he had seen Asian elephants in the wild, so that probably made seeing giraffe the charismatic topper so far.

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Once zebra is added to the list of species seen, it might start feeling like all is well in the wild (even if we know it is not).

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Waterbuck with African Fish-Eagle

One of the few photos that had any words to explain was this one, which is to be expected of a birder in the realm of charismatic megafauna.

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But of all the photos, the one that caught my eye was the one above, which I do not yet have an explanation for but it is in surrounded by the following photos which put it in some context.

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That gives a hint.

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This answers the question.

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And this makes it crystal clear. Seth had already sent an image from an earlier field visit that he knew would catch my attention.

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The origins of Organikos can be traced to a project I led in 2005 in Paraguay, where I had the idea that wild-hunted honey from the Pantanal region could share the taste of place with the world while at the same time providing much-needed cash infusion to the honey hunters and the protection of their wilderness areas. Seth knows that story and knows to send me photos of honey from wild places as a polite indication that the idea was a good one, if not original.

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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.

Nature Is In Our Hands

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NiagaraPostcard.jpgBefore moving to Costa Rica in the mid-1990s I was working for a few years at a desk with images like the one above taped to the walls around the desk, and postcards from the previous century, like the one to the right, scattered about for inspiration.

Inman1.jpegOn the desk were drafts of a dissertation whose summary, on page 131, states: “…the results of the first hypothesis suggest that lodging firms in a tourism destination, such as Niagara Falls, should be directly involved with the strengthening and support of the institutional environment in which they operate.”

In other words, if you benefit from nature for your livelihood one of your best investments will be in building and strengthening institutions that protect nature. It may now sound like stating the obvious, but Nobel laureate economists made claims to the contrary that were treated as gospel truth twenty five years ago.

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So 132 pages, not including bibliography, were used to make the point. Ever since, members of our team have wondered whether it could be summed up more simply. Meeting recently with graphic designers to discuss how to communicate more effectively about Organikos, we think now maybe the answer is yes.

Hand+TreeWhen we saw this hand and tree side by side in that meeting, we had a reaction that was related to what the graphic designer intended, but not exactly.

Hand+ OrganikosWhatever his precise intent was, someone’s mouth opened and blurted out: Yes! Nature is in our hands. And so we have come upon a way to say a little more simply what Organikos means in addition to what Organikos does.

Organikos & Coffee Restoration

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The image above shows where coffee can be planted on land that currently has grass cover. For most of the last two centuries that land had high grade arabica coffee growing on it, but two decades ago the coffee was removed. The residential value of the land was seen to be greater than the agricultural value, and a large plantation was subdivided into parcels between 3 and 10 acres.

Org100That was then, this is now. Coffee is more valuable than grass. And the value of coffee that is as world class as what Seth planted at Xandari and also resistant to the challenges brought on by climate change is even greater. The trees that will be planted to shade the coffee will be of greater value–to birds as well as to the coffee–than the view of undulating hillside. The image above is a first step in the planning process of this restoration initiative. Organikos will start selling coffee in August, and the proceeds of those sales will pay for the restoration and ongoing improvements of this lot. That is an example of what we mean by 100% Forward.

Organikos & Coffee Circa 2019

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Organikos2.jpgWhen we returned from India in 2017 we mentioned the word organikos in the context of coffee. Just prior to moving to India, in early 2010 we were completing our second year assisting the Patagonia Expedition Race–we not only assisted with their contracting a title sponsor, but Organikos was itself a Race sponsor. Somewhere we have photographs of our team serving coffee to racers, Race staff, and with our logo displayed at the finish line where we also served coffee (even as champagne corks were popping in the pre-dawn darkness). I will post those photos another time, but the reason those images come to mind is that we had developed a graphic statement of how we wanted Organikos to look on a coffee label, and it is very different from what we want today. 2019 is starting out with its own equivalent of corks popping, as last evening we finalized the first draft of what our first coffee shipment, from a roastery in Austin, TX USA is going to look like. You saw it here first (label feedback welcome):

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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.

Taste & Experience

organikos 100% (png)17 years ago, the word organikos crept into our vocabulary. Our company had recently been transformed from an advisory service to a management company. We were one year into the process of establishing protocols for “hospitality with sense and sensibility” and some generalizable principles for entrepreneurial conservation.

We were, in the year 2000, focused on rainforest conservation in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, leveraging the economics of lodging and guided nature immersions. We used organikos as our codeword for an initiative that we would get to when we had time. This initiative would provide the tastes–from beverages, spices, foods–associated with the places we had been working in recent years; it would provide those tastes as pre-experience of those places. Our first thought was coffee from Costa Rica.

HLMQualCertLOGO_ColoredCherriesWe did small experiments over the years since then, starting with a single estate coffee from Costa Rica’s Tarrazu region; then wine from the Croatian island of Hvar; then monsooned coffee from the Malabar coast of India.

Now we are back from India, for the moment based in Atlanta. And we are encouraging everyone to visit our onetime and future home country, Costa Rica. First, how about some Tarrazu single estate coffee? Let us know. Hacienda La Minita was a pioneer in single estate coffee, an early inspiration for us in terms of tasting the place, and it continues to be one of our favorites. We can get it to you. And if you want to visit the estate, or get to know any other place in Costa Rica, we can help with that as well.