Viandas is an old Spanish word for food, most Spanish speaking people don’t really know it or maybe have heard it but never used it. Viandas is also the name of an organic grocery store I started in March 2012 here in San José, Costa Rica. I decided to call it that because for me it embodies a "back to basics" for everything food-related. It's a word that belongs to a time when all foods were whole foods, there were no pesticides, goods weren’t over-packaged and being wasteful wasn’t the norm.
Many Costa Ricans know the country exports a whole lot of organic products to North America and Europe: pineapples, bananas, papayas, cacao, and coffee just to name a few. And you would think getting all these here in Costa Rica would be easy right? Not quite. The local demand for organic produce has grown a lot in recent years, but outside of a few farmers markets it's extremely hard to get any in a convenient way.
After travelling in Europe for a few months I got back to Costa Rica, took a month-long permaculture course and ended up working with an organic farmers market here in San José. It was during this time that I had a clear vision of what had to be done: Connect the dots. Simple as that. There was this big group of people who were eager to consume organic local products who didn’t find the farmers market convenient enough and on the other side you have dozens of families and groups of farmers growing organic food who had no reliable way to sell their products.
I decided to focus on local, organic and fair trade and also jump into an uncharted territory in the country: zero-waste. Selling as much as I could in bulk became one of my main goals. But bulk-shopping here is even rarer than getting organic produce so it became quite a challenge right from the beginning.
I asked for some financial help and advice from my brother and very soon Viandas was open, shortly after that we started with our delivery service which so far has been the backbone of the business. The first months were a great experience, but we are still figuring out how to meet our customer demands, the initial investment was pretty modest and most of the time it is a one-man operation so there is a limited number of things we can do right now.
The safe thing to do would be to take a few steps back and close the store indefinitely to focus on deliveries. But I refuse to do so and I’ve been told many times by clients how much they enjoy having a place like Viandas right in downtown San José.
We had to do something to save and reboot the store, which is why in early December we launched an IndieGoGo campaign. We gained a ton of attention around the country but converting it into actual contributions has been hard.
Perhaps the pitch is too "abstract" in comparison to other Costa Rican crowdfunding campaigns (a couple of movies and a couple of games). Maybe the timing was bad, Christmas and New Year's Eve were halfway through the campaign. Or who knows, maybe the Costa Rican market is not ready for our project. We were also forced to close the store when the campaign started so we might have lost a bit of momentum there.
But we want to keep supporting our organic local farmers at all costs and become the link between them and the people who want to consume in a truly sustainable way. Whether we make it or not with the campaign, we will continue to work on our delivery service and our soon to be "pick-up" points for people outside of San José. But we would love to keep the store open to offer a space where people can get responsible products on a daily basis and most importantly a place where people can interact with us, have a nice chat over a cup of coffee and maybe learn a little bit more of where their food comes from.
Is the project way ahead of its time for Costa Rica? Was I aiming for way too many things at once? I’ll let you guys be the judges.