Abbottagra is a very small company consisting of myself, my wife, Maud, our two kids, Lula-Jane and Guillaume, our dog, Sally, two cats, Guinness and Domino, five hens (Mella, Omnibel, Legs, Roxanne and Kallia) and a rooster, Coqulicot.
We all have the same surname, Abbott, and our business is agraculture, hence the company name, Abbottagra. No, agraculture is not a mispelling. Agraculture is different from agriculture: agriculture has an « I » in the centre – self-centered and self-serving; agraculture has an indefinite article in the middle – « a » thing is one of several indistinct things.
In agraculture the farm is a living super-organism with a diversity of complimentary animal, plant and microbial species all working for the well-being of the whole. It's just a slightly more humble way of looking at the relationships between us humans and our symbiotic non-humans. Hey, our crops are quite happy to have people around because plants can't drive tractors; on the other hand, we humans aren't good at photosynthesis so… who is really taking care of who ? Who is « exploiting » who ?
Our farm, 20 hectares of marginal land, is an experimental farm dedicated to trial and error. What we produce is crop diversity in the much larger farming community. That is, giving large areas of land the chance to interact regularly with plant species other than wheat and maize. Increasing crop diversity requires three things:
- first, well-adapted potential-plants in little packages called seeds
- second, information about how a farmer can help the plants reach their full potential
- third, large numbers of enthusiastic consumers who encourage the farming community – through direct communication with farmers and indirect communication in the form of food purchases – to expand production of the crop.
When we started the Abbottagra project in 2007 we decided to focus on quinoa. Lula-Jane was diagnosed with coeliac disease in 2006 so we were eating massive quantities of quinoa.
We figured that by focusing on quinoa we would at least end up with a lifetime supply of our favourite staple food in the event our experimental farm venture turned out to be a total failure.
Now, we did not invent quinoa, we were not the first to grow it in Europe, we did not select the first varieties of quinoa adapted to our local conditions, we did not discover how to grow it here.
What we have done is help make quinoa a serious and significant crop in some parts of Europe, with professional, reliable supply chains capable of producing more quinoa than Europe will ever be able to consume.
Thousands of tons of great tasting, very healthy quinoa, with consistent quality and stable prices. We simply made our experimental farm a center of quinoa gravity in our part of the world, drawing in partners who have organised themselves into a team.
The two star players on the team are Wageningen University, doing fundamental research on quinoa, and the Cooperative Agricole des Pays de Loire (CAPL) whose farmer members followed us fearlessly into the unknown, pooling their resources to build a multi-million-euro gluten-free grain cleaning facility dedicated solely to quinoa. Since 2009 these crazy farmers have sown serious acreage to quinoa with little motivation other than passion for novelty and challenge.
We are on track with genetics and know-how, but Abbottagra's experience trying to develop the consumer base for our partners' quinoa has been frustrating. It would seem that a few food-industry giants and food retail giants are largely indifferent to consumer health and intelligent farming.
Some bad-guys are clearly abusing the ignorance of millions of food producers and consumers. Nobody likes to be misled or see others manipulated. Especially when the result is mutual distrust and dislike between those who grow food and those who eat it.
Eventually a man gets angry. Can I count on the Big Food cartel to « add value » to my quinoa ? By the time it got to your mouth it would likely be diluted with cheap, overly-processed ingredients from tired, over-produced crops ; it would likely be over-sweetened, over-marketed and otherwise ruined. After « fruit » drinks, breakfast « cereal » is probably the most obvious and hurtful grocery swindle of our time. Enter Quinoa Crack. We're trying to sell something so honestly good it makes the breakfast cereal industry ashamed of itself.
Also, here at Abbottagra we eat cold cereal and milk every morning and often as an afternoon snack. By focusing our quinoa consumer-oriented project on ready-to-eat cereal we'll at least end up with a lifetime supply…