With its big sky and sweeping landscape, Argentina’s Entre Ríos province is the perfect environment for a man like Ricardo Lande, a third-generation rice farmer who thinks, dreams and builds on a grand scale.
Visitors to his farmland are invariably impressed by the vast panorama, endless rows of green shoots converging beyond the horizon, until Ricardo gestures toward something even more immense and wondrous below: “These organic rice fields sit 100 meters above the Guarani Aquifer,” he says, “one of the largest pools of fresh groundwater in the world.”
The aquifer is more than geological trivia, more than a source of water and pride. It is a metaphor for a family business whose values run deep, and whose wellspring of opportunity has helped sustain many small farms in Los Charrúas and beyond.
“My family has cultivated rice here continuously, for as long as I can remember,” says Ricardo. “From an early age, I loved being with my father in the fields. At every opportunity I accompanied him as he tended the crop, and I was always eager to be able to help with the work. By the time I was 20 I already knew almost everything about growing rice. Gradually my father gave me more and more responsibility on the farm, making way for the transition to a new generation.”
The business grew to include a mill relied upon by scores of regional farmers. As the Lande family prospered, so did the surrounding community. “When I was born, this village had about 500 people, and now it has 5,000,” Ricardo explains. “The agricultural development is why Los Charrúas has thrived. Agricultural development leads to community development. The more the farmers improved their lives, the more work was needed and so more people came to the area.”
The growth created a path forward to new opportunities. His family had long cultivated conventional rice, but in 2009 Ricardo set out to shake up the industry by introducing an organic variety, pure rice grown using veganic methods. Forbes magazine took note of the new quality product on the market, observing in its Argentine edition: “This niche opened the doors of international markets such as the United States, Canada, Italy and Belgium.”
That exciting path forward ultimately led to a crossroads, an intersection promising only a change of direction and two undiscovered destinations. “We realized that we needed a very large investment to continue to grow,” Ricardo told Forbes, which defined that key moment of decision: “Thus, the entrepreneur faced two possible choices: to put together a financial structure to seek out needed capital, or find a strategic partner in order to realize the investments that would be required to continue with the development of the company.”
The solution was to sell the milling operation to a Brazilian rice producer, after receiving guarantees that the employees would be retained. Forbes noted that the new owners soon found they had inherited more than a successful mill with loyal workers: The management systems put in place by Ricardo “generated a change of culture: from the care processes and improving customer orientation to the quality and organization of the company.”
In what would prove to be a classic understatement, Forbes added: “By no means the sale resulted in the retirement of the entrepreneur.” Freed from the responsibilities of running a mill, Ricardo set out to create a new network of local farmers dedicated to growing organic rice. With the immense acreage planted each season by his partners, the enormous reserve of goodwill banked over the years, and the cavernous store of fresh water pooled in the earth below, this next phase was sure to be boundless, and magnificent.
One Degree is proud to be part of this inspiring new chapter. In turn, Ricardo is fascinated by the way our unique devotion to ingredient traceability promises to open his harvests and story to the world. “The idea of transparency is spectacular, allowing a consumer anywhere in the world to know the farmer who grew the crop, and how it was grown,” he says. “With this idea, the first person in the supply chain can meet the last person. It’s fantastic.”
We think the world can learn a great deal from a man like Ricardo. Through transparency, the world can know of the generosity of his management style, including the everyday acts of kindness that have won him respect and loyalty from so many farmers. And organic growers everywhere can find an example in the special inner compass that guides him to great dreams.
Looking back on the magnitude of his achievements to date, Ricardo told us: “The most important thing is believing these things are possible. And here I found the perfect environment where it was possible, where everything became true.”
— Charlie Dodge