We have structured our partnership with these farmers in a way that makes business sense for us (we get delicious, high quality dried pasilla mixe), and they get the money they need to build a sustainable farm with low to no pesticide use – helping set them up for a future where sustainable farming is more important than ever.
A Sustainable Approach to the Endangered Pasilla Mixe ChiliActing responsibly in the market is a core value of Vera Mexicana, and one that we must admit takes a lot of work and investment of time. That is why we are so happy to announce that we have started a partnership with a community of pasilla mixe farmers in San Pedro Jilotepec in Oaxaca.
Why Pasilla Mixe?
At Vera Mexicana, we aim to have a varied selection of chilies in our portfolio. The pasilla mixe is a quite special chili endemic to only this part of Oaxaca, and because the chili is so rare and the livelihood of the agricultural communities that farm it are often very precarious, we wanted to do our part to create a steady and healthy future for this chili and the people who grow it.
The pasilla mixe chili also just tastes damn fantastic! It combines a beautiful amount of smoke with a full flavorful spiciness that isn't overwhelming. Whether it is in a mole or as a salsa, pasilla mixe is definitely one of our favorites!
Pasilla Mixe chilies drying and smoking in the sun.
The Fine Print: What Does a Deal Like This Look Like?
Over the coming three years the farmers from San Pedro Jilotepec will be able to repay our investment through product deliveries, e.g. there is no money out of pocket for them, and we get the products we need. There is no interest on the initial money/loan to the farmers – we are (hopefully) going to sell the dried chilies with a profit, so we don't feel we should make money on the loan.
Finally, given a reasonable amount of sales and good deliveries of products, we hope to use some of the proceeds from our sales abroad to reinvest it with these same farmers. Today they only have ½ hectare – over time we want to help them grow, and we hope they can continue to make delicious tasting products!
A Deal Based on Trust
A contract like the one we have engaged in with these farmers is very difficult to enforce – and that is of course not the goal either way. We aim to build and maintain mutually beneficial business relationships with our partners, this means we engage in new business relationships with a high level of trust. And we acknowledge that this can cause issues for us over time, but we believe that this approach is the best (read: only) way forward to build a more sustainable and equitable business environment.
A Beautiful Patch of Mexico – Deep in the Mountains
This pasilla mixe farming community lies in a secluded village, where almost none of the villagers have cars. This means getting to the next, slightly larger, village to buy food or other goods takes 6-8 hours by foot each way. We were introduced to the farming community by Sergio, who is a family member, and lives in the village by the main road going from Oaxaca to the coast of Oaxaca (on the way to Huatulco).
Every time Sergio wants to visit his family, he must borrow a car, or drive with someone else going that way, as Sergio doesn't have a car either. With the investment we made, we are hoping they will be able to afford a car after the first harvest. This would tremendously impact the farming community's ability to sell their goods and generally access other areas so they can buy what they need.
All this to say, that when we got pictures of Victorina, Salomón, and Óscar signing the agreement with us, we knew how much work it had been to get those photos to us.
View of mountains from the Pasilla Mixe farm
So, How Do We Build From Here?
Together with our (future and very generous) customers, we hope that we can pay the farmers in Jilotepec what they deserve for their products. This means that we have agreed to a yearly price increase for the chilies that matches at least the Mexican inflation or 5% price increase – whichever is greatest.
Many companies in Europe and the US can lock in prices for years with small producers and suppliers. In fact, this is one of the more common ways small suppliers are pressed out of the market. Instead of working with them, to help them get the scale required to lower prices, large companies will force small suppliers into accepting bad payment terms or downright horrendous long-term prices.
That is not how we wish to get things done. Instead, we will put our money where our mouths are, and hopefully, be able to sustain an equitable business model that shares a bit more of the riches.
Sergio (to the right) at the Pasilla Mixe farm