030 – Regenerative Agriculture and Carbon Positive Products with Scott Fry from Loving Earth

For over 12 years, Scott Fry has been working with indigenous communities to protect and conserve our collective natural assets. Scott and his team at Loving Earth have worked with communities around the world. From aboriginal groups in his homeland of Australia to the Ashaninka tribe of southern Peru, they’ve used cacao as a vehicle for creating quality chocolate and a method of putting carbon back into the soil through regenerative agriculture.

Scott has a big vision and has made it his life’s mission to spread the word and enable people around the world to experience incredible chocolate that’s making a real difference.

Notes and Links

Loving Earth website
Naked Ape to Superspecies book
Kiss the Ground the organisation
Kiss the Ground Book
Regenerative Organic certification
Draw Down by Paul Hawken
Expo East event

Episode Transcript

Guy: [00:00:03] You’re listening to Good Foodies and this is episode number 30. We’re growing up. Today, we’ve got a bite size episode for you where I had a wonderful chat with Scott Fry. He’s the co-founder and visionary of Loving Earth. Essential they’re a chocolate brand, but they do much more than that as you’ll hear in this episode. It’s a little bit of a dive down the rabbit hole but Scott has got so much amazing stuff to talk about. It’s a little bit off the wall in some cases but it’s such a valuable message. And for any entrepreneurs out there who are listening, this has to be the definition of what having a big vision is all about. So there’s some really powerful stuff in here. There’s also some really really fascinating stuff about the future of farming, how sustainability doesn’t work anymore, and some really interesting kind of spins on technology and forward-thinking ways of working. So let’s dive right in to my conversation with Scott to find out where his inspiration for all of this stuff came from.

Scott: [00:01:11] The inspiration really came when I was in India and I’ve been living and working in India for probably about six years at that stage and I was coming back from Mumbai in a vehicle back into the Ashram where I was staying in a tons of alley and I was reading David Suzuki’s book, Naked Ape to Super species. And I just kind of, I had this epiphany bit sort it became clear to me that to really help marginalised indigenous farmers, I needed to have a high quality food brand in the marketplace and through having that high quality food brand I could come back and work with marginalised indigenous communities and help them commercialise their key natural assets because I guess, yeah, these farmers that I was working with in India, they were selling their topsoil to be made into bricks for the expansion of Mumbai and it was just it was like cancer. You know, I was just like watching where this amazing ancient sacred valley with just hot springs in this beautiful river, mountains, where yogis practice yoga for thousands of thousands of years. And with the whole water basin for Mumbai and just huge amount of spiritual heritage and amazing landscape. And building mafia from Mumbai coming out here and just converted the topsoil into bricks with migrant labour pollutes the atmosphere and then the land is worthless. You know, the farmers have shortage of cash and then he has no livelihood. And then the factories come in and you know the farmer becomes more than labour. And I was like, working with them to try and grow organic rice that we could market in the premium so that their topsoil would be worth more on the ground in the earth than in bricks. You know, that was the initial inspiration that was in 2000, in the year 2000. And you know, I spent three years in Mexico after that and working with quite a few amazing indigenous cooperatives, and that’s where I discovered cacao.

Guy: [00:03:39] So in all these cases when you’re working with these indigenous communities, the issue for them was the farming, the land, was not profitable enough for them to continue doing that, and so they were turning it into space to put housing and stuff like that?

Scott: [00:03:53] Not always. Actually, it’s kind of, every situation is different. For instance, I’m doing a lot of work with the Australian community in the Peruvian Amazon at the moment and their situation is completely different where they actually we’re just, yeah they were very remote and completely traumatised, you know, basically being sandwiched between the Sendero Luminoso and the government. And in the largest cocoa producing area in the world. So it kind of, a community that you have to travel seven or eight hours by canoe to access and, you know, allow cacao beans to travel 100 to 150 kilometres by canoe before they get to the nearest road. So these kind of remote communities that are in, that have been really kind of traumatised and still very indigenous, still very you know like speaking Ashaninka, are still living in the forest, still very subsistence, no cash, little bit of trading but you know all the trading happens with yeah, people are coming up and completely ripping them off you know. They call them Coyotes, Los Coyotes. In Mexico, they say Los Pintis Coyotes. There. And so it’s about how they integrate into society while maintaining their cultural autonomy, you know, and they’re custodians of hundreds of thousands of hectares of, yeah, the lungs of the planet, the Amazonian forest, you know, that’s the lungs of our plant, they’re the custodians of it, you know. So, they’re really different situation and where they, they just released I think a group of 40 actually incurred from a slave camp, a narco slave camp in August 2015. So yeah every situation is different, and then we’re working with an aboriginal community up in the Kimberley’s and we’ve been working with them 10 years, I have a very close relationship, they’re kind of like family.

Guy: [00:06:08] And that’s with you in Australia. I’m not entirely sure where it is but you’re based in Melbourne, aren’t you?

Scott: [00:06:14] Yes, so the Kimberley is one of the most remote places on the earth. It’s up in the far north west corner of Australia and yeah we’ve been helping them commercialise a bush plant. The traditional name for it is Gubinge, up there, than your name for it and it’s the highest natural source of Vitamin C on the planet. It’s the Kimberley version of the kakadu plum. It’s a phenomenal project completely different again but there is a general theme, these communities are the communities that are connected to the land and they’re the communities that have that relationship to the land and you know it’s in their culture to care for the land and that’s the only asset that they have – is the land – that’s it. If they have land and both with the Asháninka and with the aboriginal community in the Kimberley, we’ve had to establish land rights. You know, that’s the first thing you have to do is they have to have title to the land, they have to have ownership of the land. And in both those cases yeah that wasn’t the case and and now it is you know. So that’s kind of where you start you’ve got that and we were fortunate enough to be working with the Rain forest Foundation from the UK down the Amazon and they’ve been working there longer than us. So you know I’ve been sourcing cacao from that area for you know 12 years and it had some interaction with the Asháninka community and knew that I was getting Asháninkan cacao but it was mixed in with the cacao from other communities as well like the Alto and Dino communities. And then over the years I get in there morning with the Rain forest Foundation you know actually start a project working directly with the Asháninka and the Rain Forest Foundation had gotten them land rights. You know many years before, which is legal title to land. They’ve worked very hard to establish that you know.

Guy: [00:08:19] And so to bring all this stuff together in terms of the stories that you’re telling and in terms of the work that you guys are doing both further afield and closer to home in your home country of Australia, in simple terms how would you describe the brand? What is it that you guys do? Because you essentially make premium chocolate, right?

Scott: [00:08:37] Yeah. So I’ve just kind of really clearly articulated my mission in the work that we do and that is, to create the maximum long term value for our collective natural assets. So that’s really what it comes down to. That’s the essence of it. That’s really, kind of for me, in an essential way what we’re doing. So it’s really about that topsoil and the trees that are being chopped down, has more value as topsoil and trees and the better the quality of that topsoil and the better the quality of those natural assets, the more value that it has. So that’s what we’re doing and the indigenous communities are the ones that, that’s what they do. That’s their thing. And so to achieve that is to work with the indigenous communities the people who know the land, have the connection with the land you know and it’s there. It’s the essence of their culture to take care of the land.

Guy: [00:09:54] And so are you helping them do that and giving them tools and resources and support?

Scott: [00:09:59] So you know our business model is very simple. So you know what we do is and over the years you know we’ve had successes and we’ve had failures, alright? Whenever you’re trying to do something it’s out there, you always gonna have some values. Yeah?

Guy: [00:10:18] Absolutely, yeah. But it’s really only a failure if you don’t learn from it.

Scott: [00:10:22] Yeah. So I went back to India after 10 years and created the company there and to try to help them out of our seed, you know because that’s where I got the inspiration 10 years before after travelling all over the world and doing all kinds of different things. I went back and tried to to help them, you know to honour that inspiration. You know I had a deep connection to the land. You know what I really wanted to heal that land. I wanted to regenerate, you know. It didn’t work. So you know.

Guy: [00:11:00] What about it didn’t work?

Scott: [00:11:02] There wasn’t the local leadership. You know local leadership is key. And the most successful projects that Asháninka one and the Kimberly project is with strong local leadership that I can work with. So you know because I can’t be there you know and I’m not one of their community. So I need someone who’s strong within that community who I can work with. And in both those instances there’s good, strong leadership and because there’s good, strong leadership. Yeah we can partner, we can get in to the bed together you know and and do amazing things you know because you know on the other side and over the years you take one little step, take a little step out there. And if they can meet you great. Take another bigger step, they can meet you, take another bigger step and then before you know it, you’re in the same family you know you’re all just working together in the same ecosystem.

Guy: [00:12:05] And so just to, so I can get it completely clear to if you could put it in a sentence. The business model is working with these people but to and to help them increase the value of their environment and the indigenous community?

Scott: [00:12:19] Our collective natural assets. So you know the ocean, the atmosphere the great forest on this planet you know the biodiversity, you know this is a cosmic spaceship you know I mean this planet is the most amazing spaceship there is. You know it’s a living organism. That was the inspiration. Our brand was initially called Living Earth. And in fact our mother company is called Living Earth and we changed the name a couple of years in. It was the inspiration from James Lovelock’s Gaia. The lungs of the planet need to be healthy, we need to balance the atmosphere. We need to draw the carbon down at the atmosphere now you go back and get it back you know get flourishing again we need to bring back the organic matter and you know just regenerate the soils and get enough carbon. You know stop burning carbon. Just stop, stop, stop and harness renewables, you know.

Guy: [00:13:17] I think factors into I can see at the moment wearing a t-shirt which you’re currently covering it up so I can’t read it but it says “degeneration, sustainability, regeneration”. And the first two – degeneration and sustainability – are crossed out. I guess that factors into this conversation that we’re having at the moment isn’t it? Because we were talking earlier and you were saying that we have been you know degenerating the planet and the resources and everything for so long and to the point that almost sustainability doesn’t even work anymore. So you’re big thing is now about regeneration. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Scott: [00:13:54] Well you know there’s a wonderful book, well two wonderful books. One is “Kiss the Ground” they were the makers of this t-shirt that I’m wearing. And so it’s a book “Kiss the Ground” written by Josh Tickell. But it’s also there’s also an organisation called “Kiss the Ground” that’s based on disseminating the book, the knowledge of the book and if you go to their site and watch this a little story video, it’s just absolutely brilliant you know and really explains how the soil can basically reverse climate change.

Guy: [00:14:33] Wow.

Scott: [00:14:34] You know we can we can actually sequester 100% of human emissions today if we converted all of the global agriculture to regenerative agriculture. It’s been studied and there’s a thesis being written on it by the Rodale Institute. And this is the basis of the new certification that’s being launched by Patagonia and Dr. Ronna called regenerative organic and it’s basically bio-dynamic. It’s kind of I mean bio-dynamics’s a more sophisticated version but it’s through generating through healing the soil. It draws carbon out the atmosphere, right? When you heal the soil and then what did you grow in it becomes way more nutritious. It’s just about bringing the organic mask back out of the atmosphere. We’ve pumped up there through all the ancient sunlight that we’ve been burning and we just pump it back down into the soil through the plants. We got the plants to it and the microorganisms in the soil, we let not nature do it. Nature will heal itself. If we can you know, if we can just let it.

Guy: [00:15:47] Yeah. We keep we keep getting in the way though.

Scott: [00:15:48] You know it’s so simple, it’s so simple you know. And Paul Hawken, his book Drawdown, Project Drawdown. You know it’s just, we need to act. You know we need to act, we need to act quickly. The easiest way to start it and it’s just the beginning it’s not the end it’s just beginning, is putting price on carbon, which put price on carbon that’s the easiest way to kick start it. And Europe’s the furthest head at unspun. California has made some progress, put price on carbon. And then that will begin right now these natural assets are worth something. Now that soil, if we could draw the carbon into it, is you know the more carbon we can pump into that soil, the more it’s worth. So instead of mining carbon out of the soil into the atmosphere, like the oil companies and coal companies and everyone’s doing at the moment, we just flip the switch and we reverse it. We now mine the carbon out of the atmosphere back in to the soil through regenerative agriculture.

Guy: [00:16:54] Wow. This is just really blowing my mind right now. And what’s funny is I was expecting to get on the call with you today and talk about Loving Earth the brand and the products that you make and the chocolate and all that kind of stuff. But what I’m hearing is, this is the product.

Scott: [00:17:10] This is what we are commercialising now. So the idea is that chocolate bar you’ve got there in your hands, alright, one of the ingredients on there now becomes carbon credits. So the cacao in that chocolate bar was the mechanism to harvest the carbon credits.

Guy: [00:17:33] Wow it’s such a different way of thinking and it’s just incredible.

Scott: [00:17:37] We work with the Asháninka, right? So we were developing a red project with the Asháninka at the moment in partnership with the Rain Forest Foundation and we’re to finance it. We’re trialling a novel financial instrument called “Climate Smart Agricultural Development Impact Bond” and where we’re trialing this the Inter-American Bank has agreed to fund the project, so it’s gotta in the order of about two and a half million dollars. Without any pagan’s results so they’ll only pay once we’ve achieved all of the environmental and social results i.e. dynamic agro forestry regenerative agriculture, certain social objectives, certain volume of product in income and pricing, quality infrastructure and carbon credits from the rain forest, from the forest that they taken care of. So what happens with the red project is the forest has been destroyed as you know right. So we’ve got to stop it from being destroyed. Yeah?

Guy: [00:18:46] Absolutely yeah.

Scott: [00:18:48] So the U.N. developed a protocol that would facilitate that called REDD plus and that protocol is you can the mechanism for the protocol is voluntary carbon units that can be traded on the voluntary carbon market. They get certified to the standards set by the UN by independent certifying bites. So when you’re booking a flight, sometimes as you’re checking out, you get the option to offset. Yeah? The comfort of the flight. A lot of those carbon credits you got no idea where the carbon credits coming from. Do you, how it works?

Guy: [00:19:27] No exactly. And I’m not even sure if I know how. What is the measurement of a carbon credit. I mean how how does that work?

Scott: [00:19:35] Exactly. So those, a lot of those if they’re legitimate, our offset by buying voluntary carbon units from projects like the ones we’re working on.

Guy: [00:19:43] And the way that that carbon is put back in is through the like planting trees.

Scott: [00:19:49] No. What it is, is it’s a reduction, so it’s stopping carbon going into the atmosphere.

Guy: [00:19:54] Right okay. Gotcha.

Scott: [00:19:56] So what it is is they can they can throw a whole bunch of ecological protocols. You know that they measure, they can look historical data satellite imagery and different things and calculate the rate at which the forests have been destroyed. And then you design intervention. And in this particular case, it’s a growing dynamic agroforestry cacao, certified organic in the buffer zone with these indigenous communities that have custodianship of the land and because those communities are now growing cacao and we’re buying it all at a premium rate and guaranteeing it all and I’m sure it’s all you know, viable and working properly. Then we say them, we’ll pay you extra if you also agree to protect the forest. So when those different people like the Narco’s, Carm or whatever you’re not going to go with them and go into the forest then we also work with the local government, with local NGOs because you know there’s politics and then it’s complicated. So we work with a lot of players on the ground so that the indigenous communities are actually strong in how they defend the forests. And they report incursions and they’re actually helping protect the forest and they’re empowered, you know with the culturally sensitive livelihood and ecologically sensitive livelihood and then they get a second income stream through the carbon credits. So we can measure through the intervention over the years how much carbon is being prevented from going in the atmosphere through restoring forests and protecting it from being chopped down. And so the idea is that we’ve done the life cycle analysis for our chocolate bars and we’ve for instance we’re reducing our carbon footprint. We just installed 400 solar panels on our chocolate factory, 100 kilowatt hours of power. So what we do is we offset that with the carbon credits and then we add a bit extreme so that the product is actually carbon positive. But the carbon is actually being created or harvested using the cacao that’s in the chocolate from the same project harvested by the same people bundled together. Do you see what I mean? So there is that connection. And when you put it on a block chain, you’re able to then people a point of sale are able to use their device to purchase the product, they can add some extra carbon credits that they can actually keep track of how many carbon credits they’re getting because this is like currency you know you’re actually getting carbon credits to really by buying a chocolate bar. You buy carbon credits. If you keep track of, you can actually track your carbon footprint personally and if you buy enough chocolate you can offset it and you can keep track of that on your device.

Guy: [00:23:06] So basically people need to buy loads and loads of your chocolate so they can eventually offset their entire carbon footprint, is that basically what you are saying isn’t it, Scott?

Scott: [00:23:21] That’s basically it. And we can save the atmosphere at the same time. And the planet too.

Guy: [00:23:25] Wow. It’s such a different way of of working and thinking and clearly you are so passionate about it and you’ve been doing it for a long time now.

Scott: [00:23:30] So it’s a little bit kind of wonker-ish, you know.

Guy: [00:23:33] Yeah but it’s so it’s Willy Wonka. Instead of crazy chocolate, it’s this you know absolute obsession and passion.

Scott: [00:23:39] It’s all in there your know, the magical ingredient.

Guy: [00:23:46] Yeah it is really the magical ingredient. And the thing that is even more amazing about this is that this brand started as an idea in your in your house and you were working I think a night shift in a bakery to produce the first few products and 12 years later you’ve expanded into Europe and into the US and not only is it doing a huge amount of good on the ground in all the places where that source raw materials comes from. And with the carbon credits. But it’s you know it’s just flying off the shelves because people are really people craving this kind of product but also that connection to values and some deeper purpose. Would you say that’s that’s about right?

Scott: [00:24:25] Part of my challenge with communicating stuff sometimes is that I can’t when you go in you go down a rabbit hole so deep.

Guy: [00:24:34] And I feel like whether I think we’re pretty deep in the rabbit hole but in a good way.

Scott: [00:24:39] Yeah but sometimes you lose people you know they mean kind of you know they don’t necessarily want to go that deep, you know what I mean?

Guy: [00:24:47] But yeah I think this kind of brings it full circle in a way that you you started off by talking about the connection to the land and the value of the land. And now we’re talking about people connecting with the food and understanding the value of food to them and the value of flavour and quality and all of that kind of stuff and it seems that there’s just so much balance in symbiosis and all of this stuff is connected isn’t it?

Scott: [00:25:12] Yeah. It’s interesting I had had this just incredible experience two years ago I’ve been up in a Ocana party which is one of the Asháninka villages I was up there for a week with my partner and we were just you know living with the community and you know harvesting cacao and fishing and just doing what they do, you know. We just made a little video of the footage I took on my iPhone and GoPro that I’ll send you and when you’re there and you go out and harvest the cacao as a community, as a village the whole village went out. That was a whole day. There was 50 of us and it was just phenomenal you know just sitting amongst that I’ve never experienced that you know quite like that anywhere else in all the other places I’ve been. It’s something unique about something truly that only proper indigenous culture where the cacao, you know the cacao comes from this is the birthplace of cacao. You know the source the Amazon River you know the base of the Andes and you go in the forest and you see ancient cacao trees you know what i mean and they had these amazing to show you know real native Creole heirloom varieties and the feeling of that community in harvesting the cacao, the energy of that all that love and joy in community and just you know goes into the beans you know it’s just phenomenal. And then I have this is just this moment where I was thinking you know I’m really just wanna take that and I want to just tune it and then deliver it to people around the world and when they bite into one of the bars and they have an experience, I don’t know what it is, but they have an experience right. They just have this experience. They might never find out what it actually is. You know some people might. You know the whole story, the whole and actually young age we want to take people in to experience these communities and actually have the experience of you know what it is like but they taste it. And I remember when I was at Expo, at Expo East first expo east I went to where we just, was the first time in the US, it was the first show we did we just we didn’t even have product in the US that day. We just took it all in there or we just shift in air freight and we had Stand Expo East in this beautiful woman head up to the stand. And she she had some of our cheesecake chocolate and the cheesecake, the Americans just love it. And she had a shared experience she had this light quite audible mouthgasm you know where she was just she was you know making these noises and it actually started attracting quite good attention. And there was quite a crowd gathering.

Guy: [00:28:23] When Harry Met Sally moment.

Scott: [00:28:24] Yes exactly. It was it was it was phenomenal. And in that moment I was standing in front of this woman I thought she’s had it, she had the experience, she’s just had that experience you know what i mean of and she does know what it is but she’s experienced it. She’s experienced all that joy and love you know.

Guy: [00:28:48] It’s amazing. What I love about this and the things that you’re talking about is that on the surface it’s a brand that sells premium chocolate. And then you can turn over the pack and you can perhaps read a little bit of the story and perhaps I don’t know if you talk about it on pack but about these carbon credits and you read the bit that says this packaging is compostable and it’s printed with vegetable inks. And you go a bit deeper and you can start learning about the source of the products like where it came from and the fact that it’s raw and then you can go deeper and talk about the experience and then perhaps even take people to the very places. I mean just that multi layered approach to the brand, the business and everything you stand for I think is just incredible. And I guess that’s that must be what the plan is for the future are just more of that deeper further and more, more work.

Scott: [00:29:39] Like I was saying you know before we started recording about this next wave of tech that’s emerging you know the whole web free and because I believe, you know I’m following it very closely is you know within the next couple of years we’re going to have the technology and platforms to be at the really just show it all, be completely transparent and people we’ll be able to I’m really looking forward to it because there’s so many people just watering the system, just skimming the system, just smoke and mirrors, green-washing with this next wave of tech.

Guy: [00:30:20] You’ll be able to prove it.

Scott: [00:30:21] Well I think it’s exciting I think you know for me it’s actually it’s revolutionary it’s more than revolutionary you know. The whole way society is structured and operates is going to be disrupted you know it has to be in a major way you know. If we’re going to avert this sixth mass extinction of species that we’re witnessing in real time you know if we’re going to if we’re going to flick the switch on it and you know right the ship, yeah we have to be completely disrupted and turned on its head. That’s the only way we’re gonna do it.

Guy: [00:31:06] So yeah just one thing to wrap up we probably could talk for hours, days or weeks about this stuff because you have so much knowledge but also so much passion. But for those who are listening who want to do something more, do something deeper with more purpose in their business. What would be your one piece of advice on how to go about doing that?

Scott: [00:31:27] I think have a really clear intention and really clarify your purpose and mission articulated clearly. I think that’s the most important thing. And you just have to make that central to everything you do.

Guy: [00:31:45] That was Scott Fry from Loving Earth and you can find out more about them at lovingearth.co So that is all we’ve got time for today. Just a bite size episode for you today. Scott mentioned some fantastic resources in the episode particularly a number of books. And so to get more details of those and links where you can go and buy them, head to our website at goodfoodies.co.uk. And we’ll put all the other notes and links and all that good stuff over there as well. If you’ve been enjoying the show for a while we’d really appreciate it if you’d share it with your co-workers with your wider network. It’s a great way to spread the word about all the fantastic work that guests like Scott are doing and all the others that we’ve had on previously and will have in the future as well. Another way to support the show would be to leave us a review on Apple podcast or iTunes as it used to be called. To do that just head to goodfoodies.co.uk/iTunes and just click the stars and leave us a comment. We’d love to hear from you. So thank you for joining us today. Have a lovely week ahead. We’ll chat to you soon. Cheers!