The road to maca starts at sea level, in Lima, Peru. From there, Kipp Stroden, CEO of Essential Living Foods, rides a specially tuned car up a treacherous, winding road on the Andes.
Eight hours and 15,000 feet later, he arrives, breathless, to a place in high in the clouds called the Junin Province—one of the only regions in the world where this energizing root grows.
“That’s why maca is so good for strength and libido—because it grows where nothing can grow,” says Stroden, who acquired the 11-year-old company from a former partner in 2007. “We work with farms in Ecuador, Peru, Indonesia. We like buying food directly from farms. We like paying farmers well for their products. We like making cutting-edge organic superfoods and pushing the envelope on innovation.”
That's the mission at Essential Living Foods: Produce pure, nutritious heirloom superfoods, sourced directly from indigenous cultures. They want to conserve pristine ecosystems and minimize impact, while actively contributing to local economies. A full one percent of all the company's profits is given straight back to the farmers and communities where their ingredients are grown.
In Junin, local men and women gather to plant and harvest the maca together. They work in pairs—an ancient fertility ritual for harnessing equal amounts of male and female energy into the roots. After harvest, the maca is sun-dried, milled into a powder, packaged into crates, and sent on a two-week journey from the Port of Lima to the Port of Los Angeles every month.
“We’re on the ground, we’re kicking the tires not only on farms, but in production facilities,” Stroden enthuses. Their hands-on approach to overseeing all aspects of the supply chain means implementing fair trade practices, education, training, upgrading technology, and improving agricultural systems in these remote countries. “We’re deep in this because we love it.” (This video says it all.)
Maca is only one of their specialties. They produce everything from superfood smoothie blends, to raw organic trail mixes, to the best cocoa in the world, sourced from Ecuador. “We’re into the premium thing," says Stoden. "The less energy you put into making something superior, the cheaper you can charge. There’s no social responsibility. Farmers are getting hammered—it’s exploitative."
“If we do massive business in cacao, or maca, it’s just created massive jobs in areas that have no job opportunity. They’re good jobs. No one’s working with pesticides, the water’s clean; it’s hard labor but the organic farmers in South America typically pay [laborers] two to four times the prevailing wages.”
Aside from the social mission, it’s all about food. “Life’s so boring without food," Stroden laments. "But we wanna give people products that help them to become healthy.”
Photo credit: Essential Living Foods