By Nathan M. Walters, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Organically grown produce is integral to the concept of sustainable business by reducing harmful pesticides, which are often toxic for the environment and can lead to health issues passed on in the food we eat. There are several organic farms supplying progressive retailers and restaurants in Rio, and many say you can taste the difference.
With the Rio+20 conference now in Rio, the issues of sustainability and food are being debated on a global scale. UN literature defines Agriculture as: “[T]he single largest employer in the world, providing livelihoods for forty percent of today’s global population. It is the largest source of income and jobs for poor rural households.”
One local organic farm in Rio de Janeiro is doing its part to both promote the ideas of sustainability and growth now being discussed at Rio +20. For twenty years, Celina Vargas Amaral Peixoto (the granddaughter of former Brazilian President Getulio Vargas) has cultivated the land at Fazenda do Cafundó situated in Brejal, in the Petrópolis region, in an effort to better serve the culinary needs of chefs in Rio.
“We now work with around forty chefs in Rio, our approach to the farm is influenced by their approach to cuisine. Our relationship with local chefs shapes how and what we grow, they understand what we are trying to do.”
Madame Cocinelle’s, chef at Centro’s Coccinelle Bistrô, tucked away in the historic Arcos do Teles, relies on Cafundó for produce and other organic products to ensure the quality taste and health benefits that are at the foundation of the of the dishes prepared at the bistro.
Yves de Roquemaurel of Coccinelle discusses the restaurant’s approach: “We built the concept for Cocinelle on the philosophy of healthy and tasty food. For the taste the difference is obvious between freshly picked vegetables and farm chicken versus vegetables that have stayed in the refrigerator for a long period of time, and industrial chicken.”
But taste and healthiness are not the reason Roquemaurel focuses on a sustainable business model: “As we buy better products from small local producers, we avoid higher transport costs and, thus, higher consumption of fuel. This helps maintain a local economy and provide healthy products to our consumers.”
The premium on the quality products that come from Cafundó and other organic producers cause some hesitation in restaurant-goers in Rio.
“Brazil also has the sad privilege to be in the top ranking of countries to use chemicals in agriculture. When you know about this it becomes obvious that the premium on organic products is justified.” Roquemaurel explains, considering the issue as a pay me now or pay me later dilemma.
“It’s difficult for people to have a long term health benefit perspective when buying food, but to put it simply, we’d rather pay more for better food ingredients and avoid prescription drugs [needed later for conditions resulting from poor eating habits].”
For Amaral Peixoto, Cafundó is working toward the solutions now being discussed at the Rio+20 Earth Summit. ” To ‘Think globally, act locally’ used to be the mantra for the environmentalist movement. That’s what we are doing here, trying to make a difference with our own hands. We have waited too long for governments to make the necessary decisions. Civil society has the power to make the necessary change now. At Cafundó, we are working with our hands to make the change happen.”