Ten years ago, the international food scene in La Antigua, Guatemala was quite narrow. Caesar salads were made with iceberg lettuce because romaine was impossible to find. Italian restaurants relied on spicier local basil rather than the classic Genovese variety associated with pesto and Caprese salads for the same reason. Arugula, baby greens, kale, lemongrass, edamame, rainbow chard, free-range eggs, fennel and radicchio were nowhere to be found. But Antigua became popular with expats and medical tourists and missionaries and backpackers, new residents who started looking for diverse, healthy food options. Alex Kronick saw a unique business opportunity and opened Caoba Farms in May 2004, where he began to grow fresh, organic and slightly exotic (for Guatemala, anyway) produce.
Kronick, a lean and tanned man in his early-30s, wasn’t always drawn to gardening. He grew up in Antigua, but at 14 he left to attend boarding school in Colorado. Students were required to do work-study, but assignments were based on seniority. Because he was a freshman and didn’t have stellar grades, he was assigned to the gardening crew, where the mothers of day-students ran an organic garden that provided the school with some of their produce. He tried several times to switch his assignment, but always ended up back with the gardening moms, and eventually he began to like it.
It wasn’t until Kronick graduated from college with a degree in entrepreneurship that he delved into farming headfirst. He took over a small plot of land lent to him by his family just inside Antigua town limits, as well as the salary of the one attendant working there. The land was previously used to grow roses and coffee, but Kronick had been speaking with local restaurants about their needs, and he immediately set to work growing romaine, Italian basil, and arugula. He knew he wanted his products to be organic because of his early gardening experiences, and because he saw what a movement organic was becoming in the United States. Plus, he ate from the farm as well, and he didn’t want to put out a product he didn’t feel good about consuming.
Next, Kronick talks about the future of organic farming...