MERLO, Argentina – “It’s been a monumental year around here,” Alex Edleson said on the phone from his home in Argentina.
He wasn’t kidding. This year (2019), Edleson and four co-workers launched Constelación Semillas Agroecológicas (Constellation Agroecological Seeds) in the small town of Merlo, in the central Argentine province of San Luis. In August, Edleson and his wife, Belén, welcomed their first child into the world, a daughter.
Constelación is not entirely new. Using unsurprising language for a seed distributor, Edleson, Constelación’s director, told me Constelación was “incubated” for a few years by the Argentine Biodynamic Association. But this year Constelación began to strike out on its own. And like a lot of start-ups, it’s flying by the seat of its pants—at least for now.
Constelación recently bought a seed-cleaning machine, and in September, rented a space in downtown Merlo for its administrative and commercial operations. But Constelación has yet to move into the new space. And until it does, Edleson is working in his kitchen—that is, when he’s not farming.
“I try to farm in the morning and do office work in the afternoon,” said Edleson. “Keeping to my farming is my life source that inspires my work to make change on a larger scale. On our farm, along with seed production, we also carry out variety trials and breeding research.”
That seems to be working well so far. Constelación is growing fast and has ambitious plans for the future.
Last year, Constelación had only seven seed producers in five provinces. Now it has 15 producers in six of Argentina’s 24 provinces. The company currently offers 17 seed varieties. But Edleson hopes to double or triple that number by the end of this year, and he plans to expand into cover crop mixes, and books and tools for small farmers.
In fact, the sky may be the limit for Constelación. Demand for organic food is growing fast in Argentina, which has the ninth-largest agricultural economy in the world, said Edleson. Argentina also ranks second in the world, after Australia, for land area under organic production, though most organic production is destined for export. Organics account for only a few percent of food consumption in Argentina. However, consumption of organics is doubling every year, Edleson said.
“In Argentina, no organic seed was available,” Edleson told me. “One of our motives was to respond to this.”
Constelación’s mission isn’t without its challenges. Though there is widespread organic certification for exports, certification for domestic consumption is limited because of the cost of certification. Limited domestic certification makes it easier for non-organic producers to cash in on the growing popularity of organics by selling fake organic products, and their ability to sell false organics in turn diminishes the demand for organic seeds.
But Constelación is working with the Argentine Biodynamic Association on a “system of guarantee” that will be more accessible to small farmers with limited financial resources.
It was a long road that brought Edleson to Merlo. He was born and raised in Indonesia, of U.S. parents who have lived in Asia for 50 years. He went to college in the U.S. and landed in Argentina in 2001, in the middle of Argentina’s biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Edleson says he was “captured” by the resilience shown by Argentines in the face of such economic hardship. In Patagonia, he co-founded and farmed for a pioneering Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project. He started to build collaborative networks, and he met his wife.
But Edleson’s work isn’t done yet.
“We are building a seed-growing network,” he said. “Seed growers are the essence of the project. In the next year we’re going to bring consumers and growers into the decision-making process. We are responding to specific needs expressed by farmers, who have minimal structure for processing seeds and administration for marketing seeds. We have the infrastructure.”
As Constelación’s first monumental year draws to a close, the future looks bright indeed for Edleson and Constelación Semilla Agroecológicas.
Click here to watch Alex Edleson talk about the importance of food sovereignty and seed saving at Regeneration International’s General Assembly in Santiago, Chile.
Lawrence Reichard is a freelance journalist. To keep up with news and events, sign up here for the Regeneration International newsletter.