Wishing and willing.

A post from our COO, Amy Osekowsky…

My boyfriend Peter found this note on our kitchen counter last week and was perplexed about it worried about my sanity: “No amount of wishing and willing is going to get my hibiscus to me.”

I’ve taken to writing myself notes in my sleep about the things, big and small, that keep me up at night so that I can get back to sleep.

Last week started as a week filled with a lot of wishing and willing. Monday began with trouble shipping the chocolate. Then, neither the guava paste nor the hibiscus was sent by Monday night, my mental cut-off time.

The thing was that I had done everything possible to prepare for our import—I scoured the websites of the FDA, Customs, USDA, and Mexican agricultural agencies. I called every government agency possible. Twice. (But that’s another story.) I worked with FedEx and DHL to make sure everything was set-up and understand the process. I communicated the plan with our partner farmers multiple times. I had done the work, and it was time to put the plan in action and step back.

Both Tuesday and Wednesday mornings began with great promise, only to have enough problems with importing the hibiscus and guava paste to give me a headache by 11AM. It was exhausting. It was outside my control. And it left no energy to do the tough work that I actually could influence.

So, (amidst tears and lamenting to my teammates, mind you) I told myself I had done all that was within my power, and I gave myself permission to stop obsessing about it. It was relieving to tell myself that I could stop worrying, I could go back to doing something productive, and the shipment was in God’s/a higher power’s/the FDA’s hands now.

All that’s not to say that this isn’t a work in progress. After all, I did obsessively check my email between Friday evening and Sunday morning to see if FedEx sent me an update on the hibiscus. It requires practice, but I’ll undoubtedly have countless opportunities for that.

As close to organic as possible?

This past week, we gave our Liga Masiva Advocates a sneak peek of our Liga Box. Amid the excitement, one advocate asked a very savvy question. In the Liga Box magazine, we say that the products in the box are from producer relationships that are works in progress. That applies to all parts of the producers’ practices, including the degree to which they grow organically. We summarize this part of things by saying that the products are “as close to organic as possible.”

And despite our brief explanation in the magazine, it begged the question: what the heck does that mean?

First and foremost, I would just say that all of these producer relationships are works in progress. That means that at least some facets of the producers’ work leave room for evolution and improvement… while others are stellar.

Our hibiscus producers, for instance, are tirelessly (and certified organic) but have other challenges. Although the chocolate and guava producers weren’t certified organic and left some things to be desired in growing/sourcing practices, we decided it was worth moving forward because there was real evidence that we could support them in transitioning, which obviously is more positively impactful than just seeing them as a “lost cause” and moving on to more established producers. (Especially since they were so exceptional in other areas.)

Also, we’re working on creating a consistent “scorecard” that we make transparent to both consumers and farmers so that it’s clear where producers are struggling and where they’re already successful, as well as the criteria they had to meet to participate at all… and where we want to work with them to head.

Ultimately, I think the key thing to communicate is that we see our job as not simply to buy from producers that are doing things perfectly, but to make the system work perfectly for producers… and support them in evolving their practices to match.
 

The Liga Box! It’s Real (almost)!

Aside from some minor import delays and an exacto knife wound (oops!), things are going smoothly with our hand-made batch of 500 Liga Boxes. We’ve just gotten the beautiful magazines back from the printer (printed on recycled paper with vegetable-based inks, of course), and we have almost all the components needed to put them together. The rest should be arriving any minute now, and then we’ll spend all weekend weighing and labeling the products, filling the boxes and wrapping them in their beautiful sleeves.

It’s a thrill to be back in the make-it-all-by-hand phase. It’s a lot of work, of course, but a bit of music, an exacto knife and some scotch tape is making it all come together. Check out the attached pictures to see the boxes in progress, and make sure to order yours before they’re all gone!

Clearance Delay.

Try as I might to not check my email as soon as I roll out of bed, I usually end up doing just that. And what greeted me this morning as I scrolled through? Uh-oh. A “clearance delay” in the export of our hibsicus (hustling its way up from Mexico to join its other Direct Trade brethern when we pack the Liga Boxes on Saturday.) A clearance delay means that one of the thousand details that have to be in place of export has gone… askew.

We’re hustling to un-delay the clearance delay but while I’m waiting for FedEx to call, I thought I’d share the story with you.

Let me back up. Direct Trade means no middlemen.

No middlemen means that us Liga Masiva-ers orchestrate the export, import, and transport of every product we buy from the small-scale farmers we work with in Latin America. Direct Trade can’t be direct with middlemen in the way. (And, boy, are there middlemen in conventional trade! Coffee, for instance, can change hands as many as 13 times before it gets to you.)

Cutting out the middlemen is the heart and soul of what we do. It’s why we do what we do. But it’s not always easy. The farmers we work with don’t know the “ins and outs” of preparing product for export. So we’re learning as we go to make the document-prep process as easy as humanly possible for the farmers. Amy, our operational whiz-kid, has been working all day every day for the past three weeks to figure out every rule, trick, detail, and form in order to get the Liga Box products in the country in the super-short timeframe we had.

We’re not there yet, clearly, and that’s what caused the clearance delay. But we’re hustling to get there! And we’ll keep you posted. (Oh, and cross your fingers for the swift un-delay of that hibscus! It’s delicious and we want to get it to you ASAP!)

From Haciendas to Ejidos.

Last week, two of us traveled from our home-base in Zacatecas, Mexico the 12 hours or so down to  Morelia, Michoacan to meet the producers we wanted to partner with on the hibiscus for the Liga Box.

After arriving in Michoacan, we stayed overnight in the city and early Saturday morning, we drove the 3 hours out to the communities. Almost as soon as we arrived, we were swept up into the pickup truck of Marcoeri, one of the cooperative’s members, and the person elected to manage sales.

As we rattled along in Marcoeri’s truck (slightly overheated from the 100+ degree sun, but mostly in awe of the landscape around us) he shared some of history of the area.

These communities were once haciendas in which non-Spanish (or mestizo) people had no rights and existed in complete service to the owners of the haciendas. They had no rights to land, to food, to money, to build anything, etc.

When the hacienda system was overthrown via revolution in the early 1900s, ejidos were formed– self-governing communities in which the land that was formerly owned by the hacienda was now run together by the family/members of the ejido. In 1993, though, the government came in and demanded that the ejidos divide up the land among the members. The ejido continued, but the communal action and perhaps bargaining power of the ejidos was significantly weakened… and the farmers of the region (almost every family is a farm family) struggled to earn more than their cost of production for their goods (hibiscus, sesame, corn, and sorghum.) Coyotes (produce buyers) would collaborate to fix prices so low that the farmers were losing money each year.

A few years ago, though, the farmers formed cooperatives that allowed them to do some things together as well as to negotiate with a bit more power behind them. And then, about 5 years ago, the cooperatives realized that if they joined together, they would be much more powerful to sell directly to buyers, rather than going through middlemen.

Far from an academic point of interest, the structures (haciendas, ejidos, cooperatives, cooperative union) of these farmers’ community and work has been fundamental in determining the degree to which they’ve struggled or thrived.

So when we came representing Liga Masiva’s vision of Direct Trade, of no middlemen, of just prices, and of complete transparency, the farmers were enthusiastic. They approached us with the measured excitement of someone who has been working for years (decades, in this case) and is optimistic about what you might add to that work.

It’s an honor to be part of the work of Unión de Cooperativas Arroyo San Pedro Jorullo. And we can’t wait to see how things continue evolving.

Moving fast. Happily.

It’s not every day you get to make something that you’re giddily proud of.

So often, logistics, compromises, and mistakes get in the way of turning an idea into a reality.

But in the last few weeks, the Liga Masiva team has sourced 3 delicious, Direct Trade products, cultivated new relationships with amazing farmers, designed a phenomenal box, and created a pretty fantastic 20-page magazine to bring the products alive.

The picture here– blurry, in-motion, smiling, excited, and moving almost too fast– is exactly how the last few weeks have felt. (And how things continue to feel.) But we’re proud, even as we continue working hard. Proud of The Liga Box, proud of our approach, proud of our unwillingness to compromise on the things that matter, and proud of our ability to move fast to make something great.

There’s plenty of time for reflection and self-critique, but for now, we’re going to allow this small celebration.