Nominated in the top 100 list of young sustainable entrepreneurs of the Netherlands, Andres Jara is a former UNISG student that transformed the Coronavirus crisis into an opportunity to help small-scale farmers and to fight food waste. He tells us how the idea came about from his farm, De Stadsgroenteboer, and his project Jara.
I am 31 years old and come from Cartagena, Colombia. I am a part-time farmer and food producer. After finishing my studies in South America to become a chef, I returned to Colombia to continue working for my catering company. In Peru, I learned about Slow Food from one of my teachers, who taught me that a great cook is someone who works with the ingredients that are around him, knows the culture and the indigenous ingredients of a specific region, and works with local producers and is able to preserve tradition and knowledge.
So, I returned to Colombia and found that Slow Food was worldwide, so I became a member. After reading an article that mentioned the University of Gastronomic Sciences, I fell in love with the program, and, after 20 minutes, I made my application.
There, I met my new family and, after finishing my studies, I got a job in Barbaresco as a head chef in a restaurant. It was a great experience but then I decided to go to Tuscany to La Tenuta di Paganico, to learn the craft of curing meat. There, it was a unique experience, I worked as the head chef of the restaurant, but also as the head producer of the assortment of the farm, and in the garden, with animals. I spent a lot of time in nature foraging and fruit picking. There, the dream of having a farm was growing and growing. This dream was born to my classmates, when we were students, about 5 years ago when we were gathered around the table having dinner and we dreamed about the possibility of having a farm to be able to grow food for ourselves and for people that were around us… Three years ago, my ex-classmates contact me and they said that they have found land in Amsterdam: we could start our project, the De Stadsgroenteboer a CSA farm that I own with four other UNISG Alumni and where we grow food with regenerative principles.
We do this part-time because we also want to focus on other fields, mine is cooking so I was farming and on the side, I was organizing pop-up dinners once or twice a month to share with people experiences and let them know where the food comes from.
Roots, Rice & Beans project started in the middle of the pandemic in 2020 when I realized that my neighboring farmers could not sell their products since all the restaurants were closed due to the lockdown.
First of all when the HoReCa channel was forced to interrupt the business. We saw the farmers struggling to sell their products after their clients could not order from them anymore, and we decided to take action. In a situation of depression and problems, we saw an opportunity to do better at several levels.
We save and add value to unsold agricultural seasonal products, thanks to unique recipes that respect the products, extend the shelf-life, flexible business for different channels needs, and collaboration with local suppliers and retailers.
Basically, we prevent food waste from the first step is agricultural surplus is that food waste that nobody sees because it goes from the field to the compost directly. So we give work straight to the farmer and pay the fair price so we work with solidarity principles.
My project also played an important role: it was the hotbed of many preparations to avoid waste and for education.
This is how everything started, transforming crisis into opportunity.
It was not easy. I saw all that surplus, basically, all this produce was at risk of being wasted and I bought everything I could and started producing different kinds of products. I started without a business plan, I just had the knowledge of how to do the preservation process and how to make delicious recipes, I simply started, not knowing how it was going to be. I started selling to different friends and neighbors, then I started going to small shops to tell my story. A lot of people told me, no, but that did not stop me. I started doing this with the help of some Unisg friends (I, fortunately, have the Unisg network) they helped me with the labels, designs, drawings & social media. Now we are a team of 6 people that are working together to take Herbano to the next level. We received help from many people during the year that we have been running. Volunteers, interns, and people that wanted to help us because they also believe in what we are doing. Normally farmers are the ones that receive the least and are usually the ones that work the most so we need to work together and not “help the poor farmer”: once we break this thought, incredible things can and will happen.
After a couple of months and preventing more than five tons of agricultural surplus food waste, I realized that my figure in the food system has a lot of potentials: I am a bridge that connects the fields of production (kitchen) and agriculture.
In creating this connection, I realized the positive impact that we can bring with a circular system in Amsterdam.
Our whole production is handmade, so you can enjoy delicious food while supporting a more responsible and sustainable way of eating. We support, respect, and understand the importance of growing food locally, working with farmers who use regenerative agriculture techniques. As a farmer myself, I know how valuable organic matter and the composting process are to close the nutrient cycles and keep our soil fertile.
However, here in Amsterdam, there is barely a green waste collection system in place! Usually, fruit and vegetable trimmings are just burnt with the rest of the trash! This is why we continue to work on this issue. After a couple of months since our first project, we started with a pilot test with three companies to compost their organic waste and reduce CO2 emissions. The test was a success, and we began to work with more companies, helping start-ups and scale-ups to be more sustainable and circular.
Since the project began, we have reintroduced 13.500 kg of organic waste in the cycle, preventing CO2 emission by 28.250kg! – and counting.
I realized that many small and medium-sized companies want to become more sustainable, and we can now offer them a circular solution for their organic waste! It saves time and money for the companies, helps the environment, and improves soil fertility. Win-win! We are currently working with 23 companies around the city, and organic matter is collected twice a week.
The company is growing, and we are working together with many more farmers; we are also selling to bigger retailers and large-scale companies like KLM and Smilde, just to mention some of them (B2B/B2C). Now we are in the process of linking all the different aspects of the system to prevent more food waste and reduce more CO2 emissions. Imagine how much we could do if we were more people working together!
I have also discovered that people want/need purpose. They like to be part of something that is doing good to others, bringing change and regenerating our planet. And this is the perfect moment to work on this initiative as more and more people are realizing that in order to improve things we need to do change now!
And finally, never underestimate your dreams and the power that we have! If you dream it and you work for it, it will eventually happen, you need to be constant and persevere.
Slow Food Heroes is a project financed by the European Cultural Foundation, with the contribution of the CRC Foundation.