Naturally Artisanal

Passionate About Natural & Organic Food with An Artisanal Twist

The Story of An Organic Chia Company…no shortcuts

Posted by smfierro on April 13, 2010

I didn’t expect a friendly chat and glass of wine at a busy reception at the March Natural Food Expo West in Anaheim would lead to a significant improvement to my blood sugar health and an education about what it takes to build an organic Chia producing company from the ground up!

When I met Luis Echeverria, EVI Inc. New Business Manager based in Miami, FL, he looked young enough to still be in college which many times is associated with not having a lot of experience.  Quickly it became evident to me this simply was not the case with Luis.  His passion for and knowledge about the Chia business and seeds drew me in immediately.  In addition to the nutritional power of the Chia seed you can read about in my post, I became very interested in learning more about how his family managed to build and become a successful and one of the only USDA NOP (National Organic Program) Organic certified Chia facilities and producers in the world, EVI Inc., www.evicorporation.com.  And they did it close by Guayaquil, Ecuador.

In 2007 after over 40 years of running a highly successful conventional grains and fruit company, Luis’ father, Luis Fernando, was looking for a new organic project at which time he learned about Chia.  He learned there were no organic Chia seeds being commercially produced and sold globally and very few producers of conventional Chia.  Given his and his family’s emphasis on health and the enormous business opportunity, they set out to learn about the growing behaviors of Chia seeds and what it would require to build a new growing facility exclusively for Chia seeds.  As an point of interest, Luis’ father has been taking Chia since they decided to move on with the project and since then has been feeling a lot more energy and his cholesterol levels (LDL’s) have dropped significantly. In January of this year, the facility was completed and EVI, Inc. is one of the only USDA NOP Organic Certified Chia seed growing companies in the world, selling seeds in bulk commercially to the US and other countries.

EVI’s journey from concept to becoming a fully functioning USDA NOP Organic certified grower and exporter of Chia seeds took approximately 2 years, it was highly challenging, and investment intensive.  In just 24 months since EVI, Inc. sold its first commercial bulk shipment of Chia to a commercial ingredients company, they have seen an ‘astronomical increase in demand’, say Echeverria.  They just went operational in January 2010 and dispatched their first bulk order.  In the next few months they will dispatch their second commercial order.  Every time Echeverria attends an industry show, the inquiries increase significantly.  Still, he shares at this early stage of growth, it is difficult to tell what the actual growth numbers are.  In fact, Echeverria predicts the biggest market for Chia seeds and other Chia products will be in the ingredients arena in the next years.  At this time, the seeds are considered the primary market and are sold as a supplement to consumer diets.  In the future expect to see and hear about Chia seeds, Chia Mill (full-fat and defatted), Chia Oil, Chia Flour (full-fat and defatted), Chia Sprouts and Chia Sprouted Flour. And Chia packaged goods such as tortillas, cereals, crackers, cookies.  You will even see Chia being touted like probiotics, as a major health ingredient included in your favorite juices.  Clearly in my own experience, natural food and other specialty/natural retailers are having a hard time keeping the seeds on the shelves.

As I learned, Chia is not an easy plant to grow and therefore seems to be limited to commercial production only.  Imagine that there are approximately 1000 Chia seed pods to every 2-6 foot plant, and only around 3 seeds per pod.  The seeds are black and white and are just a little bigger than a poppy seed.

In 2008 EVI, Inc. began test plotting Chia to learn the ideal growing climate and conditions for growing and harvesting the seeds, and whether it was feasible for them to pursue such a long, costly and challenging undertaking.  As an organic grower and producer, EVI uses no fertilizers, pesticides or chemicals in the maintenance of the land, planting, harvesting, pre-cleaning, seed drying, screening, air blowing, packing or maintenance and use of all the equipment and facilities used to ship product.  It took at least one year for EVI to become USDA NOP Organic certified.  Ideally, EVI wanted to invest in ‘virgin land’ – land that had never been cultivated or affected by humans – so they could earn organic certification immediately vs. waiting 3 years to begin cultivating the land.  They got their wish and acquired 2,700 acres of virgin land to launch the Organic Chia program.

Once they acquired the land, they cleared it and hired the German certifying firm, CERES, to help create and supervise their plan through to implementation for becoming USDA NOP Organic Certified. The next step was to develop the irrigation infrastructure to include thousands of feet of piping, channels, water reservoirs.  Once the land was certified USDA NOP Organic Certified and the infrastructure in place, the soil was prepared for planting, which required the development of an effective pest control system.

Pest control without chemicals tends to be the question so many of us ask about organic growing.  How is it possible? EVI developed a biological control process they refer to as BioManagement, for which no pesticides, chemicals or fertilizers are used at any time before, during or after the planting process. It is a Biological control program in which pests and bugs are eradicated by natural predators. The way in which they control weeds is by pulling it by hand!  EVI provides steady employment to approximately 100 citizens in the neighboring towns around Guayaquil, where Chia production is projected by Luis to increase steadily as demand for Chia in all its forms increases, and their development of additional land grows.  Right now EVI employs about 100 people full time. Once they go into full production in the next few years this number will multiply many times, offering stable employment opportunities to the citizens of neighboring towns and villages for which stable employment is a challenge.

Harvesting the seeds is highly complicated.  EVI harvest are at a lower altitude allowing for growing times of approximately 100 to 120 days.  The Chia plans require much sunlight, 30 to 40 degrees Celsius, a lot of dry heat and stringent pest control, e.g. bugs called ‘controllers’ or ‘predators’ are raised to attack the eggs of the undesirable bugs.  Actual harvesting takes place using EVI’s own organically approved equipment used only at the Chia farm and plants in order to avoid loss and cross-contamination from other crops.  Then the seeds go through classification, cleaning and packing.  Luis shared that they have “…set-up and end-to-end drying, cleaning, and packing facility in order to control every step of the process” to maintaining a 100 percent organic product.

EVI, Inc. currently sells to ingredient and seed companies, and are in negotiations to provide seeds to manufacturers of finished products.  It is an exciting time for Chia.  I love the nutritional benefits of it and am looking forward to seeing how this versatile seed will make it’s way into our world.  So far it appears the sky’s the limit!

You can reach Luis E. Echeverria and EVI, Inc. at luise@evicorporation.com; www.evicorporation.com.

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