Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Graphic Design For Quinoa-based Beauty Products in Colombia

Written by Melissa Delzio, Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer in Colombia

I am visiting Cali, Colombia on assignment with Partners of the Americas’ USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program. Partners pairs American volunteers (typically farmers) with producers, farmers cooperatives, agricultural universities, in developing regions of the Americas for a cultural and professional knowledge exchange. The company I am working with, Zen Naturals, has previously hosted technical and agricultural volunteers that have helped the start-up train Indigenous farmers from the Paez tribe to harvest ingredients that become the foundations of their products. Currently, Zen Naturals has developed a line a skin care products called Zue Beauty. This product line includes quinoa-based facial scrubs, toners and creams, but the mission of the company is much greater than the natural product they manufacture.

The Paez tribes live in a remote mountain region of the Cauca Department. As farmers, they have been harvesting coca leaves (the basis of cocaine) for centuries and make it into a mildly stimulating tea. But for the past decades, they have been forced to contend with the presence of the FARC rebel force in addition to the drug traffickers and cocaine refineries invading their region. Before long, drug traffickers took control of the coca production, seducing the impoverished communities who were surviving on subsistence agriculture.

My role as a graphic designer on assignment in Colombia is to work with Zen Naturals to help them with the design, branding and social media strategy of their Zue Beauty product line. In the coming weeks, this brand will hit the shelves of Whole Foods’ markets across Mid-Atlantic region in the United States.This is a big deal for this small, Colombian beauty and skincare start-up. If Zue products sell well in the sample market, they will sell the products nationwide. I arrive in Colombia eager to offer my design support, and to learn about Colombian history, culture, food and dance.

The Zue Crew
Zen Natural founder, Gabriel Maya, picks me up from my hotel on my first day in Cali. Since the volunteer assignment is only two weeks long, we head straight to the office to meet the team. The office is located in a seemingly residential neighborhood of Cali, relaxed with tree-lined streets. I am joined by another Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer, Nicole Opie who is going to be working with the Zen Naturals team on their website search engine optimization strategy. For the first day we absorb all we can about the Zue product line and make a plan for the next few weeks of work.

For a start-up, Zue already was way ahead of the game as far as design and branding. They had a professional logo with basic logo guidelines. They had package designs for all their products, printed marketing materials and a basic website. They had an in-house team of two designers (Juan and Sebastián) with strong design and illustration skills. From this strong foundation, we were able to determine what was missing and what needed work. I identified that the website and strategy for social media were the areas which needed the most improvement. The website was successful at telling the story of Zue, and the products and farmers, but lacked a strong home page. The website was inconsistent design-wise with the print marketing materials and the “Give Back” interface needed to be re-designed.

The Zue Brand
My first step was to tackle the “Give Back” section of the website, which needed to be a place where customers who purchased a beauty product would go to enter a code from the packaging. Upon entering the code, the customer would then be able to choose between an animal, environmental or societal cause to have a portion of proceeds benefit. The causes functioned like campaigns, each with tiered goals based on a point system. Within a given period of time, points accumulated as customers entered the codes and when a project reached its goal, the team at Zen Naturals would give back accordingly. This was a rather complicated interface that needed to communicate the success of projects as well as projects in progress. I recommended they use the term “Zue-Gooder” to describe customers who engaged with the brand at this level. And the term could be used as a call to action, “Become a Zue-Gooder!”

Using existing illustration assets, colors, fonts, and photography, I re-designed the interface for the Give Back section showing how the user progressed through the experience with each frame. The process was very collaborative. I showed design comps early on to the team and we walked through revisions and feedback. The team was mostly bilingual, but to make sure everyone was on the same page, Gabriel would pause to translate. I would work from the hotel, but take an Uber into the office every day or so to check in and review work. By Friday of the first week, I had completed the Give Back section and was able to turn over the design files to the internal team so they could begin development.

The Home Page
After completing the “Give Back” section of the website, I focused my attention on the home page. The current home page featured an outdated marquee and minimal information about the product. We decided that the products needed to be front and center and that the farmer story also needed to be told on the home page. I re-designed the home page to re-order the information, provide emphasis on the product, and offered up some light copywriting to give a general sense for what the length, content and style should be. The design style of the Give Back and Home pages were drafted off of some existing elements from the original design as well as illustration and style elements from an existing brochure. My recommendation to Zen Naturals was that all their design work tie together in order to make it more consistent. To that end, as I worked I began to compile a document of brand assets and specs that would guide all future design work.


The Whole Plan
We kicked off week two with a brainstorming session about the Whole Foods campaign roll out. Zen Naturals had booked a marketing company to represent the Zue Beauty brand at a table in the store, hand out samples and sing the praises of Zue Beauty products to potential customers. We talked through what the goals were of that engagement and what actions we wanted customers to take (e.g. sign up for Zue’s email list). We discussed what visuals best represent the company. The samples were to be handed out in a small, decorative cloth bag and I was tasked with designing a brochure to be inserted. We decided that the brochure should align closely in design and content to the newly designed home page and focus on the farmer story as well as give exact details on how the Give Back program works. I was able to utilize existing fonts and textures for the design of the 4-panel promotional roll fold piece. The designer from Zen Naturals showed me paper samples of sugar cane paper, widely available in Colombia and we decided that would be a great choice for the brochure

One of the missing pieces from the existing brand story was that the designs were lacking a Colombian feel. While the company was featuring Colombian farmers, the fact that Zen Naturals was a Colombian company and that South America is where all the ingredients originated was lost. Americans crave tropical products and I suggested that they develop an additional component that gives the brand a more tropical feel. I provided several examples of tropical plant illustrations that I thought could be useful and Sebastián, the talented in house illustrator set to work on working up new assets. To support this messaging, I designed a “stamp” graphic to be used on the home page and in the brochure. Featuring a parrot, the words South America and the colors of the Colombia flag, the stamp gave the designs a proper identifier as to the product’s origin. We encouraged the staff to be proud of the Colombian roots and make sure that future design work represents the product’s tropical ingredients.

Uniquely Zue
Upon completing the website re-design and brochure project for Zue Beauty, I moved on to social media templates and compiling a final brand guidelines document for future design work. Social media was an area I thought could use the most improvement and Nicole and I felt the brand needed to move away from generic lifestyle, feel-good posts that had nothing to with the brand to more targeted images/content that related directly to one of the core brand values. We created a litmus test for content. Does it celebrate women? Does it relate to the product? Does it talk about Cycle of Zue? Does it celebrate Colombia? Does it profile a customer? Does it reflect a core value? If not, it should not be a part of your social content. When developing social content, Zue should choose a theme, a content type (profile, product, lifestyle, etc) and an action. Nicole and I offered examples for how to engage with an audience including call for audience content and customer profiles. I came up with the hashtag #uniquelyzue and gave example for how that tag can be used to highlight customers and showcase lifestyle. We discussed the difference between evergreen (ongoing campaigns) vs promotional campaigns that are short term and encouraged the team to develop an editorial calendar for social and blog content. I provided many visual examples of successful social campaigns in the US from Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign to REI’s “Force of Nature” and called out what was successful about each. Finally I designed a few Instagram graphic examples to be used as a template for future content.

By Friday of the last week of our Colombian trip, I presented the final brand guidelines document to the team, and packaged up all the assets to share back with the designers. I believe the team is well positioned to have a successful product launch in the United States. While they have a very talented design team, I recommend that they work with a copywriter in the States to help them with writing their social content. Advertising and engaging on social media is tricky and I believe it is too hard to do successfully without living within the culture. I look forward to seeing how Zue Beauty evolves and hope to find their products on the shelves of my Whole Foods soon.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Improving Soil management & Crop Diversification through Windbreaks

By F2F Volunteer Harry Greene

My name is Harry Greene, I live in Burlington, Vermont, and I am the co-founder of and head of farm development for Propagate Ventures. We are an investment management firm that links financial capital with agroforestry and multi-species agriculture. My role at Propagate involves creating replicable economic models for polyculture (biodiverse) agroforestry systems. In plain English: I design organic orchards that grow more than one type of fruit; I work with everything from building the soil, to planting the trees, to forecasting management requirements over a 10-year time horizon. I also work as part of team that manages a 245-acre organic farm in Shelburne, Vermont, where I run a chestnut-centric tree nursery and agroforestry consultancy called 100 Years of Sun, which is the nursery and installation arm of Propagate Ventures.

In February of 2017, Partners of the Americas’ Farmer to Farmer (F2F) program contacted me with the opportunity to travel to the Dominican Republic to develop a process for establishing windbreaks on banana plantations. The goal of my trip to the Dominican Republic was to develop an economically-viable windbreak installation procedure, and gain a better understanding of tropical agroforestry systems.

Banelino, Bananos Ecológicos de la Línea Noreste, is an association of banana farmers in the Dominican Republic.  Since 1996, they have grown into a network of 334 member farms, 85% of which are certified organic. Their farmers are experiencing the effects of climate change first-hand. Strong, dry winds are damaging banana plants, and drastically reducing farm income. The planting of windbreaks –also known as shelterbelts, “barreras vivas” in Spanish, or simply rows of trees that are stronger than bananas– has thus far been unsuccessful. Farmers do not see non-fruiting species as contributing sufficient benefit as to outweigh the financial and temporal costs of having to deal with an additional feature on their landscape.

In order to shift the entrenched collective mindset that is a banana monoculture, I recommended that Banelino communicate the value of reduced wind-speeds in terms of dollars in lost yield, and simultaneously re-frame the planting of windbreaks as “growing additional tree crops.” The effectiveness of a windbreak is determined by its height and density, but the probability of farmers planting rows of additional species is dependent on cultural and financial inertia. Consequently, our windbreaks must manifest themselves in lime and avocado trees. Distribution channels for organic fruit are generally well established in the Dominican Republic, and adding a crop to the roster is far from unreasonable. The technical directors, extension agents, and farmers of Banelino were all in tune with this idea.

In addition to being multi-functional, windbreaks must also be profitable. We often focus too much on the revenue of an enterprise and not enough on its costs. The next step for Banelino is to map out the pro-forma income statements of fruiting windbreaks over ten years. If we work in good financial planning, the process of diversifying farm income by way of bio-diversifying farms will become self-perpetuating. These lime and avocado trees are given as possible species, because farmers are already growing these crops. However, in order to find the intersection between financial and physical feasibility, Banelino should also conduct an economic analysis of crops such as cacao, moringa, and dwarf coco palm. This process is multi-disciplinary and will require a diverse team of agronomy technicians, producers, and fruit exporters to make these windbreaks happen. Banelino is a very cohesive network, and I am confident that they will do good work.

 On a more personal note, this experience was absolutely phenomenal. For me, life doesn’t get much better than combining agroforestry and Latin America. Seeing 20 farms in various parts of the Dominican Republic, and coming to understand tropical agroforestry systems has reaffirmed that exchanging stories, practices, and ideas is indispensable. Trees grow much faster in the tropics than they do in cold climates. In Vermont, even if one has a base in ecology, the forest is quieter than it is in the tropics, and it moves more slowly. In The Dominican Republic, I could (figuratively) see the trees growing, and ecological succession became as clear as day. Epiphanies sprung up left and right in regard to agroforestry and organic food production. Biodiversity as a concept grew much deeper roots. I see a very clear correlation between human health and the quantity of surrounding biomass. With the growth of the forest comes human prosperity. Plant the trees.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Bio-digesters in Wawashang

F2F Volunteer Vance Haugen leading a interactive
lecture on bio-digester design at the Wawashang School
From April 16 to May 1, two Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteers traveled on assignment to Wawashang, a remote community in the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. This assignment included the participation of Vance Haugen (a University of Wisconsin Extension professor specializing in biogas production) as well as James Rhode (Director of the 4-H Adventure Project in Crawford County, Wisconsin). Their dual assignment was part of Farmer-to-Farmer’s “Women & Youth in Agriculture” project and was done in partnership with local host FADCANIC (Fundación para la Autonomía y el Desarrollo de la Costa).

Mr. Haugen and Mr. Rohde’s assignment was centered on the implementation of bio-digesters systems for FADCANIC’s Wawashang School. Due to the school’s remote location, the administrators are actively trying to strengthen the institution’s self-sufficiency by generating all the food, energy (e.g. biogas), and agricultural inputs (e.g. fertilizers) it needs to function properly. The rural school currently consists of student dormitories, teacher quarters, classrooms, an administration building, a clinic, a woodworking shop, a set of solar panels, several plant nurseries, as well as a coconut, corn and cacao processing facility. The school also has in place a farm, where goats, pigs, chickens, horses and cows are raised. Currently, these set of farm animals produce significant amounts of manure, much of which is no being utilized. As such, the school requested two F2F volunteers that could assist them in implementing low-cost bio-digester systems that can harness the biogas and organic fertilizer produced from manure. Mr. Haugen and Mr. Rohde were the perfect team for this task.

As part of their assignment in Wawashang, the duo of volunteers conducted a series of lectures and hands-on trainings on how to design, build, operate, and maintain bio-digester systems. This included technical insights into the chemistry of the process, various fuel sources, different types and advantages, output use for fertilizer, as well as the environmental impact and benefits of such systems. In particular, the pair of volunteers identified two benefits that the school would obtain with a bio-digester system: 1) clean and reliable source of fuel for cooking (i.e. replacing wood burning stoves), and 2) the fact that digester effluent can be used as a readily available and nutrient-rich fertilizer. Through these presentations and workshops, a total of 6 FADCANIC teachers and 68 students were trained. In addition to helping to establish a bi-digester system for the school, the objective of these engagements was to incentivize faculty and pupils to duplicate these low-cost technologies in their respective villages and farms.