02 July 2012

Organic: To be or Not to be?

Last Tuesday I went with four of the marketing students to Asunción to sell our products at a market called Agroshopping and in a wealthy neighborhood in front of Fundación Paraguaya's main offices. (An exhausting day as we left the school at 3am and the first group got back at 6pm, the second at 11pm.) The market the school targets is definitely the wealthy Paraguayans in Asunción. Agroshopping is in one of the most expensive shopping malls in the city and caters to an elite crowd. The difficulty is that all of the other products look prettier than ours - huge red peppers, tomatoes, apples, etc - but ours are the ONLY organic products in the whole market and the only ones being sold by the people who produce them. All of the other vendors buy their products from large whole-sale dealers, usually from Brazil, and then resell the products at Agroshopping for a higher price. It creates an interesting dynamic as we try to balance our prices with the quality of our product and how it compares to the other stands around us. It is at least a good way for the school to get attention and start to build it's base. Part of my job here is to give recommendations as to how the school can expand it's market and achieve a more stable financial base. The vegetable gardens bring in the least amount of profit, compared to the animal products and hotel.

In our mandatory Agroshopping uniforms with our beautiful 100% organic produce and Fundación Paraguaya banner!

The excitement around the 'organic' label is not as strong, honestly barely existent, here in Paraguay. This makes marketing the school's products more difficult, since there is almost nothing to distinguish them as a specialty item other than the mission of the school and students that the profits support. They do have a customer base nearby and some regulars at Agroshopping and Fundación employees. I have my work cut out for me!

As I spend more time here at the Escuela Agrícola I become more connected to the students and staff and more invested in the work being done here. It is NO easy task to be a completely financially self-sufficient entity, especially for a boarding school of over 160 students. Sacrifices are made on all sides in order to ensure that the school continues to survive and thrive, but no one complains any more than the average human being. There is an obvious difference between the students that are from Asunción and transferred from expensive private high schools, drawn by the Escuela Agrícola's reputation, and the students from poor peasant families. The ones from the city complain more to be sure, though it is hard to blame them since the school is quite isolated and far from the craziness of the big city. (Which I LOVE!) The nearest town of Benjamin Aceval is really only a couple hundred houses lining the main highway that runs north-south through the country. I went to Asunción for the weekend because I had a meeting at the main office, and the exhaust, noise, and busyness of it all overwhelmed me.

Here's to living in the campo!

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