Laura Jones

Defining alternative: Guayaki Yerba Mate

In Uncategorized on October 3, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Coffee or tea? Paper or plastic?                                  Guayaki

How about organic yerba mate in a biodegradable packaging?

We’re living in a fairly precarious time socially, politically and environmentally. The nature of the state of global affairs necessitates that we the people to turn the mirror on ourselves, to evaluate our lives, our decisions, and our conventions if we are to find solutions to the problems we share as a global community. Guayaki is a story about alternatives and what happens when you step outside the box in philosophy, in business, in lifestyle.

David Karr, co-founder of the company, held a belief in sustainable business as he studied in college but became quickly disillusioned with American big business methods. He went traveling though Europe for two years, perhaps to do some soul searching, returned to California and started a business in the computer industry. Enter Alex Pryor.  An Argentine native, Alex had made fast friends with David when he moved to California to study food science, talking in Spanish of which David is fluent, enjoying an asada- the traditional Argentine barbeque, and yes, sharing a mate gourd.

Guayaki Founders Alex Pryor and David Karr

Guayaki Founders Alex Pryor and David Karr

After only a couple months of sharing a mate gourd with Alex, David experienced a dramatic relief from allergies that he’d suffered since childhood. He was motivated to improve his diet, his energy and mental clarity skyrocketed and he became impassioned with mate and its naturally invigorating properties. So, he decided to team up with Alex to create a unique, sustainable business model that would bring mate to the United States.

Let me remind you that this is all occurring in the mid 1990’s, an era of the dot com boom, the fast paced rat race and copious amounts of coffee to see everyone through. The health costs of coffee were just beginning to come into discussion, the benefits of green tea were being championed and concern about rainforest destruction was in the air; David said he saw a clear market opportunity. Yerba mate, grown organically in Atlantic rainforests, had the potential to simultaneously provide indigenous tribes a living, enable them to steward their native land through reforestation, and energize the American public with a healthy alternative to fit their lifestyles.

So back to the coffee or tea question.  There are conventional choices, and there are revolutionary alternatives. Consider the mission of the Guayaki company: To restore 200,000 acres of South American Atlantic Rainforest and create over 1,000 living wage jobs by 2020.  They have created a unique business model called Market Driven Restoration that enables consumers like you and I to actively participate in social uplift of indigenous tribes and reforestation just by ditching our Red Bull and opting for mate.

By their model, each person who drinks two servings of Guayaki Yerba Mate every day helps protect approximately one acre of rainforest a year. There are some 100,000,000 coffee drinkers in the United States who spend upwards of 17 billion dollars on the product every year. Imagine the possibilities if…

Well, it’s hard to turn a college student off of their cappuccino if they’re set in their ways. But, Guayaki is giving the mighty bean a run for it’s money with their full product range of bagged and loose leaf mate, bottled flavored teas, matte latte concentrates, energy shots and this really unique coffee-esque  Java mate, not to mention the delicious new canned Lemon Elation.

The organic Rainforest grown yerba mate at the core of these products is chock full of goodness, offering 24 vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids and abundant antioxidants along with caffeine that equates to ¾ a cup of coffee per serving. In short, it’s good for you, and it’s good for the people that grow it, too.  Like many indigenous groups, the Ache Guayaki people suffer from the deforestation of their native Atlantic Rainforest that spans Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. Habitat destruction led to food scarcity and the Ache were led to find other sources of sustenance including rancher’s cattle which resulted in hostility and genocide. This tragedy reduced the Ache population to just a few hundred who now live in six communities on a 12,000 acre parcel of government granted forest. Growing the native yerba mate plant empowers the Ache Guayaki to once again be stewards of their land and to earn a profit from the fruits of reforestation that will allow them to once again prosper in their home forests.

The beauty of Guayaki mate products is that they reach across cultural boundaries to connect and empower both indigenous and American people to create change. Karr emphasizes the importance of voting with your dollar as we walk through Stowel Lake Farm, the small organic farming community on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, Canada that he calls home. His lifestyle and his business speak to the power of choice and the importance of accepting responsibility for one’s life, one’s impact and one’s ability to make a difference.

Stowel Lake Farm Greenhouses

Stowel Lake Farm Greenhouses

Traveling to Stowel Lake Farms is a little bit like traveling back in time. You take a long ferry ride from Vancouver that helps shake the bustle of the city from your consciousness and a couple hours later you disembark onto a picturesque island with a bustling little square where artisans abound and friendly hitchhikers walk the calm, woodsy roads. Behind the red gates of Stowel Lake Farm is a veritable utopia and I enjoyed a little giggle at the hand painted sign requesting you drive slowly because there are children everywhere. The grounds are beautiful and bountiful, with flowers overflowing their beds, hand crafted stone walls, and bubbling ponds that Freddie, the farm’s resident Goldendoodle wanders into for a swim at will. Five of the farm’s 120 acres are farmed organically and the remainder houses amenities for weddings, events and yoga retreats and the close-knit collection of families and children that make up the community.

If the movement for sustainability is about bringing back the old school style of life, then David Karr is literally walking the walk as he moves about the dirt roads that run through the farm. There’s a very present sense of calm and quiet satisfaction among the Stowel Lake residents. This is a place where meals are made with fruits and vegetables harvested that very morning, where kids run about barefoot, building forts out of bales of hay and where people would simply rather make something themselves before going out and buying it. The healthy bodies and shining faces around the large farmhouse table as everyone shares their weekly community meal is testimony to the benefits of this slower pace of life. Adults and children alike seem more grounded in general, with their family roots as securely set in the fertile soil of the land as their crops. And, in the middle of it all is David Karr, a self-proclaimed businessman who’s graced the cover of Money magazine and even during my short stay, spent hours on the phone with Time discussing details of an upcoming feature in the magazine.

Farm Lunch

Farm Lunch

This modernly unconventional yet timeless agricultural way of life mingling so easily with the business world makes me shake my fists at the widespread acceptance of business as usual. It also makes me want to cheer and celebrate the pure progress that ensues when a couple of college students in California forge their own path to profit that defies big business in defense of humanity and respect for the environment.

Guayaki’s story is a shining beacon of independent thought and passion for responsible business in a murky marsh of the cutthroat profit driven economy. It’s beautiful how closely Karr’s way of life mirrors that which Guayaki Yerba Mate is providing for the indigenous Ache Guayaki people. It’s inspiring to see success reflected in a way of life that is based in simplicity, slow, natural growth, health, family and community. And, it’s incredible to think that all this positivity has grown from a refusal to adhere to convention and a dedication to doing right by people and the planet while you make a profit.

The innovation behind this company’s business model should spark a little fire in people’s minds to think past the confines of convention and reach deeper to find sustainable solutions in a world built on options between paper or plastic. After all, you won’t find either packaging a pound of Guayaki Yerba Mate- you’ll find NatureFlex biodegradable and compostable films printed with water-based inks.

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