A Note from Nancy Zamierowski - Yellow Seed’s Founder
I didn’t imagine, as a kid, that I would one day create a platform for conscious trade. My journeys, from Kansas City and New Orleans, to Uganda and the heart of the Amazon, opened my eyes to the many people who deliver value — from musicians and traditional healers to cacao farmers in Peru — who are left out of the systems we have created.
Growing up, I was a curious and quirky kid who chased grasshoppers and made my own rules. I made my own clothes, danced to my own tune, and fit in everywhere, sitting at any lunch table I chose.
Until one day that changed. Lines were drawn, sides were chosen and then as a teenager, I was bullied for standing out and being too inclusive. It became increasingly difficult to express what I valued, and I overtime I began to withdraw and shut down.
By high school, I pretty much felt invisible. I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t seen. I had no voice and no longer had the power to set my own rules. It became challenging for me to see how I could participate in creating the world that I wanted to live, play and dream in.
As I grew up, I felt like my invisibility had allowed me to meet many people who also felt invisible. I traveled to the heart of the Amazon, specifically Madre De Dios, Peru. And later Ecuador, Colombia and Uganda where I met hundreds of people who were actively working to shape their own worlds.
Like traditional herbalists in Uganda, who are quickly losing their precious resources — the trees and native plants of the land used to nourish and heal their communities — thanks to deforestation.
Farmers like Andre, a small-scale farmer producing award-winning, exquisite cacao beans in the heart of the Amazon in Madre De Dios, Peru. Andre is forced to sell his exceptional beans for under market value, because he isn’t connected to the buyers who are desperate to find him.
It occurred to me, if farmers like Andre are invisible, who else is invisible, and what else could the world be missing out on?
I went to explore this question at the Center for Tropical Agriculture or CIAT in Colombia, to develop a toolkit to connect small-scale farmers with markets. I learned that less than 20% of small scale farmers regularly sell to traditional markets.
Beyond that, only a handful of companies buy and process more than 75% of the world’s cacao trade and much of this cacao is sourced from two countries, namely The Ivory Coast and Ghana. (Cocoa Barometer)
Cacao is a commodity in a unique position: it is the engine for a rapidly growing chocolate market, and it is grown in parts of the world challenged by unfair labor practices, and under threat from deforestation, mining and climate change.
Perhaps most importantly, cacao is a product that requires trust and coordination every step of the way. A strong network of human relationships is needed in order for cacao to travel from where it is grown, harvested, and processed, all the way to consumers waiting to be delighted by its flavor.
I found myself wondering: what are the barriers for farmers and buyers to trade with one another in today’s market? How could farmers, intermediaries, buyers, makers and consumers all be invited to contribute their voice?
These questions led me to found Yellow Seed, a place where farmers, buyers and intermediaries could be made visible and exchange what they find valuable with one another.
Nancy Zamierowski's Bio
Nancy is passionate about designing systems for collaboration and practical ways we can work together for mutual benefit of people and planet.She is also a co-founder of Wild Forests and Fauna (WFF) that supports local leadership in conservation of wild forest frontiers. Within WFF she founded two projects, theAmazon Center in Las Piedras which aims to conserve a 4,500-hectare tract of endangered rainforest in Madre De Dios, Peru and the Native Seeds project, which aims to build local capacity of traditional healers to rewild important medicinal species in Gulu, Uganda. These projects interlink ecological, cultural and social impact through the active participation of stakeholders.
Nancy holds an MBA in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University, a pioneer in Sustainable Business, and also a co-creative leadership process where students actively participate in shaping their educational experience. Learning about and designing innovative methods for multi-stakeholder collaboration, organizational design and governance have been common themes. Other education includes Holacracy Training, Coaching Training Institute and Authentic Relating or T3 at the Integral Center. In practice, Nancy demonstrates how efficiency and diversity can coexist and be mutually beneficial and how collaborative systems, processes and trust networks can be safe, sustainable and integrative.