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Organic in Guatemala

But Kronick made a conscious choice not to become certified, feeling that the process detracted from overall organic principles. Speaking from Caoba on a particularly sunny day, Kronick – scratching his stubble as he surveyed his fertile three-acre plot – told me,

“At first, I thought organic was no pesticides, no fertilizers, and that’s part of organic, but now there is organic farming and organic products. They’re two different things and I think that’s something people don’t understand. There are all these huge corporations that do organic, but they don’t do organic farming, they do organic products. Wal-Mart has organic products; Whole Foods is now full of organic products. Organic product doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for the environment or it’s low impact. You could grow a whole mountain of bananas and just not spray with chemicals or fertilizers but it’s not sustainable, it’s not low impact, you’re taking advantage of the community, you’re not a part of the community, you’re abusing the area. And yet at the end you still call it an organic banana.”

While Caoba might not be a certified organic farm, Kronick practices organic farming 100% of the time. “When you practice organic farming, you’re trying to be as sustainable as possible, you’re trying to be involved with the community, you’re trying to be diverse, you’re trying to be very low impact, then at the end of all that comes an organic product," he said. He prefers to grow a variety of crops (he has 150 varieties in his seed bank, and grows up to 75 at one time) so he doesn’t exhaust the soil. He never sprays with harmful chemicals or pesticides, instead choosing to use his own compost mixtures and holistic concoctions, like worm urine, to fertilize the soil and ward off pests. “I’d rather buy organic from my neighbor, I know who he is, I know his moral values, I know what water he’s using, what chemicals he’s using and not using, and knowing all that, decide whether or not I want to buy his product rather than buying some unknown [certified] organic product from China.”

Today, Caoba consists of the original farm, plus two other larger plots outside of Antigua. Walking around the grounds, growing vegetables idle patiently in neat rows and the air smells grassy. Sprays of color like fresh-lettuce-green and deep purple and snow white and lipstick red catch the eyes of visitors as they tour the farm. Today, Caoba employs 22 people, grows 80% of its crops from its own seeds, and 100% of everything grown on its property is organically farmed. It has organic chicken and duck eggs, sells free-range organic meat from trusted suppliers and has plans to start an organic rainbow trout farm, and sells to over 100 restaurants in Antigua and Guatemala City. Whatever doesn’t sell Kronick turns over to local restaurants to process into non-perishable goods like pickles and jams, feeds the excess to his animals or turns it into compost, so nothing goes to waste.

In the last ten years, however, Kronick believes the biggest impact of the farm not in the way restaurants think about organic, but in the way his individual customers, families, think about organic. The farm and its owner have opened Antigua residents’ eyes, both tourists and locals, to the benefits of an organic lifestyle. He’s seen his individual client base grow from just a handful of expats to over 200 individual clients. At first Kronick attributed this to his convenient delivery service, but he suspects there is another reason. “It’s more because of the organic practices here, and I’m now a part of the community. [Customers] can come here, I let them in, they see the workers, they walk the farm, they see how everything is grow, we’re not hiding anything from anyone, they want to meet me, and we’re very open.” 

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