Notes from the Field: On an Organic Avocado Farm in Guatemala

Yesterday, I visited an organic avocado farm outside of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. The lush and verdant tree growth along hillsides, leading to a waterfall springing into the valley below was incredible. Marco Cruz runs a cooperative of organic farmers in the region, and took us to Don Ricardo's farm, complete with corn, peaches, limes, herbs, and avocados for days.

Exciting to me is the potential for getting into business in places other than the USA, with the intention to put money into the pockets of farmers who otherwise would have turned their avocado trees that have passed on from producing, and give the wood a second life. With more money for the farmers, and the potential to work with local craftsmen and woman, and artisans alike, we might be able to evolve the vision of the Avocado Board from merely a serving vessel, to a socially + economically impactful kitchen tool.

For now, I will leave these images here, I hope you enjoy some of the beauty that we did.

Marco (left) and Jesse (right) looking on the opposite side of the creek to a hillside of avocados.

Marco (left) and Jesse (right) looking on the opposite side of the creek to a hillside of avocados.

Not quite ripe, these Hass are three months away from ripening on what is approximately an 8 year old tree.

Not quite ripe, these Hass are three months away from ripening on what is approximately an 8 year old tree.

Guatemalan avocado tree bark.

Guatemalan avocado tree bark.

Waxy tree leaves, oily and vibrant with a little bit of sun-flare, shooting towards the sun.

Waxy tree leaves, oily and vibrant with a little bit of sun-flare, shooting towards the sun.

Marco and me.

Marco and me.

RAW screenshot, getting on camera to talk for first time.

RAW screenshot, getting on camera to talk for first time.

Post-Makers@PPL

Was a great day Saturday at the Portland Public Library presenting as member of OBP and selling Avocado Boards in the library bookstore for the 2nd Annual Maker Fair. Pleasant surprise to see my East End neighbor and filmmaking peer Filipp Kotsishevskiy roll through with camera in hand, volunteering his day to shoot for the PPL. Good neighbor and GREAT shot!

He also helped load my 8' long butcher block work bench into the car last week. What a guy.

Thanks for a great weekend of maker celebration everyone who rolled through and asked questions and engaged your loca makers.

OBP: obportland.org Maker Fair: Portlandlibrary.com/highlight/makersppl-2016/ Filipp: magikmade.com

Makers @ PPL 2016

Portland's 2nd Annual Makers Fair - selling some avocado provisions this weekend.

PORTLAND’S FIRST SECOND MAKER’S FAIR!

Makers@PPL is a special event to celebrate maker culture, and bring together the talents and creativity in the community to share ideas and projects with others. Mark the day on your calendar – Saturday, April 23, 10 to 5 – and come ready to learn new skills, experiment with tools and materials, and observe stuff used in ways you never thought possible! Regardless of your background or expertise, this event will show you that everyone is a maker; after all, humans have been inventing and experimenting for hundreds of years.

Makers@PPL will highlight the importance of the STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, arts, math), and will showcase workshops and presentations that not only teach, but are fun and engaging.

Activities will be organized into tracks:

Arts & Letters
DIY
Food & Nature
MakerKids
MakerTeens
Technology & Science

Web Store is LIVE [SHOP NOW]

MISSION

I thought to design a vessel - a tray, a platter, a simple board - that would do three things: encourage avocado consumption, introduce a new experience for those who already enjoy avocados, and create a simple solution to the small problem of avocados rolling around on a plate in a service setting. By way of woodworking, product design, and materials, I had limited resources. Through a little bit of frugal innovation, asking for help along the way, and a love for story, I humbly present Avocado Boards. Designed to simply and handsomely serve an avocado on the half-shell without rolling around all over the place.

THE FIRST BATCH

This first batch of boards are made from the wood of reclaimed avocado trees, having been cut down by firefighters, over the past seven years, in the foothills of a canyon in Malibu, CA. You don't hear much about woodworking with avocado because the wood tends to split easily. It is good for carving and turning, and smells great - something close to star anise. In the off-season, many farmers sell any fallen or mature trees as firewood for a little bit of extra income.

The wood from the trailhead in Malibu sat in burn piles; heaps of stumps and limbs seasoning naturally over the course of seven years. These piles were home to snakes who took to the cool shade of the piles during summertime heat. In this area, children could occasionally be found working with educators on replanting the ground with seeds of new growth. 

CALIFORNIA AVOCADO FESTIVAL

 Much of the excitement about making avocado boards is meeting the people who love the fruit as much as I do. I found these people in droves during the 29th Annual California Avocado Festival in Carpinteria. I couldn't have been there without the support and belief from the festival -  namely my biggest champion there, Samantha Maas.

Over a month after the deadline had passed to apply to become an Art or Craft Vendor. It was the last week of July, and the festival ran the first weekend of October. I emailed regarding the unresponsive payment page to apply, and was told all spots were closed and I'd have - at best - to wait until the following year. Ms. Maas inquired about the product I would want to sell. Once I told her about the Avocado Board, I received an email within a few hours of my acceptance into the festival - what swift and fantastic news! I have sent in an application for the 30th Annual festival this year, with hopes of nabbing a corner tent space (larger) and maybe even the permit to serve avocado salads, too.

EXTRA WARES

Avocado wood is not rare in Southern California, but it is hardly used for woodworking.

Nowhere else in the country - save Florida - maintains the necessary climate and industry for growing the trees. So when milling the stumps down to usable pieces, I found myself with lots of off-cuts and miscellaneous sizes of wood pieces that I didn't want to discard. So I saved everything I could - even some of the shavings [I'm telling you, they smell great] - to work with later.

You'll find a limited selection of serving boards, bowl, and dish for charcuterie, bread, and the like. If an avocado board is not your thing but you still would like to support this venture, grab one of these cool little items to keep around!

STAMPED, SEALED, DELIVERED

The hand logo + stamp you see in the video, on the boards, and everywhere I do business is an image of my birthmark. Just like this mark, every board is one of a kind, made by my hands - the same (right) hand embalmed in a two-color stamp, somewhere on your board. After I stamp, I then individually burn the image into the wood so it stays there forever. From my hand, to yours.

DONATE!

With limited resources and materials, I have done the best I could in making as many boards and products as I could. I have only a few more provisions of blanks and scraps for a follow-up run to this first one - which don't necessarily guarantee a final product. Avocado wood is prone to splitting and checking (expanding and contracting during the drying process). This is the reason for natural figuring and unique features on each board made, thus far.

I am on the search for new resources, especially - but not limited to - avocado wood. Any fruitwood or nut wood would be a beautiful thing to get in the shop, so please, if you have any leads on people who might be willing to donate a couple trees from their orchard, some space in a drying kiln, or any type of material, I want to hear from you. If you head to the MENU portion of this site, click 'DONATE' and contribute what you can.

Thank you for your support, now and always.

Prototype #3: Home Use

All of this designing began with a specific food retail concept in my mind. Counter or wait staff would bring prepared Avocado Boards to a customer’s table. It would include Avocado halves and the mise en place for a salad dressing of their liking, so the customer has free will to customize a dressing to his or her liking.

But if you wanted to serve Avocado Salad at home, for guests or during a normal family meal, there is no need for salad dressing cups built into the vessel. Nor do you need to show off (read: highlight) the stone, because if you want dressing, you will make it on the counter; if you want to plant an avocado tree, you’ll probably start it in water after dinner. 

So there is room in the line for a no-fuss board, one smaller than the commercial size and style. That is below!

Stumptown

I went to stump-town in Malibu, in search of some more great avocado wood.

This wood maintains an interesting history, for it was harvested anywhere between 3 and 7 years ago, courtesy of the fire department. Educators and locals who know about this stockpile of wood use it for firewood.

I interacted with a group of educators, making sure it was okay I traversed the near-hiking-trail area with permission. They warned me, to my surprise, of the fact that these piles of dead avocado served perfectly cool hiding places for rattlesnakes. In fact, they assured me there were tons of rattlesnakes that I should be very careful.

Great.

But I went to stump-town and came back with some avocado wood booty to fill the wagon up.

This was all free and legal, but I likely won’t be back again. Probably not worth the future risk. Besides, the kids are there trying to revegetate the orchard. Great community news!