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Scott Fry is a Loving Earthling
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Scott Fry is a Loving Earthling
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Conversations
4 April 2019

Scott Fry is a Loving Earthling

Interview by Nathan Scolaro
Photography by Gregory Lorenzutti

Scott Fry is a Loving Earthling

Loving Earth is best known for its gorgeous organic chocolate products, the kind that satisfy beyond the tastebuds. I’d been an eater for some time, but it wasn’t until I got to chat with the founder Scott Fry that I came to understand where all the depth and richness of the product was coming from.

The Loving Earth story began in 2007 when Scott and his partner Martha returned to Melbourne from Mexico with ingredients they’d ethically sourced to create raw chocolate. They set up shop in their apartment, creating creamy, cacao-y goodness, and it wasn’t long before the brand became a mainstay on the supermarket shelves. Loving Earth now make all kinds of food products, and do so in a way that honours both the Indigenous people that have cultivated the ingredients for thousands of years, and the earth and ecosystems in which they are grown.

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

Discussed in this Story

I love the work you’re doing, and the philosophy. Tell me where you grew up, what your childhood was like. 

So I spent my teenage years on Magnetic Island, and before that I spent the first nine years of my life in Richmond, which is a really small town halfway between Townsville and Mount Isa. Our house was right on the edge of the national park and we spent a lot of time just running over the bush tracks. I spent a lot of time outdoors, roaming around, usually by myself. I had a sister and friends but I loved just cruising around the bush; going fishing and camping with friends. I did a fair bit of sailing and ski paddling and was into snorkeling and did a lot of spear fishing. So my relationship with the natural world has always been fundamental to who I am and what I do. 

How would you describe these landscapes? 

Magnetic Island’s just off the coast from Townsville and is quite dry. There’s a lot of granite on the island, and kind of dry, scrubby bush. Beautiful landscape. The granite stones, then the white beaches and then the ocean. It was a small community. I remember at primary school we all went barefoot! I remember I did an Outward Bound course in year 11 and 12 at Wallaman Falls, which is the largest single drop waterfall in Australia. And we did a multi-pitch abseil just near there into Stony Creek. And we cascaded on lilos, air mattresses, for about three or four days with our packs waterproofed, down the creek, down the rapids through the rainforest. It was phenomenal. The second year I did it the creek was quite low. So we were having to carry our wet packs and lilos a lot. We were criss-crossing across this stony creek in the rainforest. I remember I was so exhausted, and then I had what was probably one of my first really major spiritual experiences where I just felt incredibly light and full of energy. I remember exhausted kids dropping their packs, and I was able to pick them up and take them across the creek. It was this real out-of-body experience, a communion with the rainforest around me. Feeling the energy. At the time we’d just read Huxley’s Brave New World at school, and then I’d read Men Like Gods and had discovered this dialogue I guess of utopia and consciousness, and basically decided that I wanted to study arts rather than a more professional degree.

Wow. So super potent experience.

Yeah. This is the late ’80s. I was fortunate that at the University of Queensland at the time there were some really interesting lecturers on this sort of stuff. There was a guy from the US who had been involved in the Civil Rights movements and had a complete out of body experience when he’d heard that Martin Luther King had been assassinated. He had quite an influence on me and my spiritual awakening which had been seeded by my relationship with the natural world, and that ultimately led me to spending quite a bit of time in India. There, I became really inspired by Sri Ramana Maharshi, the guy who worshipped the mountain, Arunachala, in southern India. The mountain was his guru. India really opened me up to the notion of landscape as sacred and the landscape as divine.

How did this unfold? I mean, what did you go to India for? 

I went there to study yoga but also to volunteer on an eye camp—removing cataracts from people’s eyes with an American-based organisation. Then I ended up staying in an ashram for eight years and getting involved in all kinds of projects, including a lot of development, construction and also successfully lobbying to get a large area of forest on the outskirts of Mumbai protected. I ended up working with a bunch of architects, one who was really into vaastu (the vedic version of feng shui), which we were studying together. And because we had all these construction projects going on, we were able to experiment with how the built form affected the community, for example, seeing how the relationships within the community improved when we demolished problematic buildings. Then we began studying the work of a Slovenian guy called Marko Pogacnik who had developed the concept of lithopuncture. He was a sculptor originally, but he used stone sculpture to do a kind of acupuncture of the earth to heal sacred sites. At the moment he’s actually a UNESCO artist doing lithopuncture installations in the different UNESCO Geo Parks around the world. He works with the natural energy meridians within the earth. So I ended up researching and writing a whole essay around the local mythology and sacred landscape of the place where I was living. It had a really rich spiritual heritage that dated back thousands of years.

So how does that shape your relationship to the land coming home? I mean, do you have a completely different relationship to it having learnt what you learned? Or was it just a validation of what you already felt?

The journey is just deepening. A deepening of that relationship. I was getting a window into how this rich, ancient culture talks about the landscape. And actually at the moment I’m building a house. It’s an amazing piece of land on the edge of a reserve on Edgars Creek. That particular site is sacred; it’s profound for me. It’s my deity if you like. Particularly the remnant river red gum, I don’t know how many hundreds of years old it is. And with the Silurian sandstone cliffs there and the creek curving around, it’s just incredible landscape. My house has a view of that and so for me it’s kind of like a temple. Friends of Edgars Creek a community organisation has been re-vegetating the area with endemic species for the last 12 years and it is incredible to see the way it’s been transformed. I want to be able to help serve that space. Help re-vegetate and bring that land into abundance. I’m a big believer that we serve ourselves by serving others. And by serving a place, you feel at home in the place. You become a part of the place. And then the place nurtures you and sustains you in a way.

So how did Loving Earth come about? You arrive back in Australia from India. You must be, what? In your mid thirties?

Yeah. Well, we went from India to Mexico.

Oh okay. Why Mexico?

This project that I’d been coordinating in India, it was a master plan for an area that involved quite a few building and infrastructure projects. And we needed funds to fund it. So we ended up doing a fundraising pitch to a Mexican businessman who we connected with at the time in the ashram. He had a very successful multi-level marketing company throughout Latin America. He really liked what we were doing and said, “Use business to fund it.” So, rather than just donating money, make a business model. I had been working with the local indigenous population, the Adivasi, who were really marginalised, this was on the edge of Mumbai. And these Adivasi rice farmers would sell their topsoil to the building mafia from Mumbai who would then convert the topsoil into bricks on the land, and bring in migrant labour. It was like cancer spreading across this amazing sacred landscape. We were trying to work with the rice farmers to make it more viable for them to grow rice than to sell the topsoil to make bricks. So we were growing it organically and that was part of the model, but we then had to try to commercialise it at a premium price. Because the conventional price of rice wasn’t really worth it for them to grow, especially with the cost of the fertilisers etcetera. It’s the usual story of agriculture around the world with the current model we have. So we were trying to shift that model. That’s when I realised I needed to create a premium organic brand in the marketplace, to create demand. And then when you’ve got demand, then you can come back and work with these marginalised communities. So I went to Mexico with this crazy idea to try and commercialise these ayurvedic, certified-organic, herbal plant tonic formulas that we’d been using on the rice! 

Unbelievable! 

[Laughs]. And it was a wild story. I ended up working with this Mexican guy, analysing this multi-level marketing company, and noted they were using a lot of coffee. Mexico was the biggest producer of certified organic fair trade coffee at the time and they weren’t using Mexican coffee! So I worked out a whole project with this amazing organic fair trade Mayan coffee cooperative in the Sierra Madres of Chiapas to commercialise coffee into this guy’s network. Anyway, it was a long story. It never really took off. But I was there for three years, got to learn Spanish, got massive exposure to some amazing cooperatives and got to understand the model a little bit. Then I ended up running out of money and my partner and I had a baby on the way, so we came back to Australia. After about a year of being in Australia, I spent six months working for a company in an office and just couldn’t handle it. I didn’t want to go to work in the system, and so I ended up doing door to door sales selling green electricity! And then eventually got Loving Earth going.

So where did that idea for Loving Earth come from?

It was in India actually. About 2000. I had the inspiration of creating a brand.

So it was more about the brand than the product initially?

Yeah. I didn’t know what product it was going to be. The whole intention was to support marginalised indigenous communities. So I started importing raw materials from Mexico, cacao from the Mayan community in Chiapas that I had worked with and I got agave syrup in from an Aztec indigenous community in central Mexico, that I had spent time with. I experimented with making chocolate sweetened with agave syrup, which was really novel at the time—nobody else was doing it yet. The whole idea was really trying to source stuff from indigenous communities and create a business model that would support those communities to commercialise their heirloom products and create demand for those products, which were produced in the traditional way. These heirloom crops are the only assets that these indigenous communities really have. Our two main projects at the moment are the one up in the Kimberley with gubinge that we’ve been working on since the beginning, for 10 years, and the Ashaninka project in the Amazon where we source most of our cacao.

Can I take you back to the early days of Loving Earth, in your kitchen in Australia. What did that look like, and how did it grow? 

So when I was still working from home, Loving Earth was very, very small obviously, and as the journey went on, a lot of the connections appeared like magic. You have this intent of what you want to do and you just kind of hold that intent and things show up. So I ended up getting a call from one of the Aboriginal guys in the Kimberley and he said he’d just been into the health food shop in Broome. He had one of our chocolate bars which had camu camu in it. And camu camu is from the Amazon, it’s a very high vitamin C berry that I was sourcing from different communities that I’d discovered in Peru. ’Cause I spoke Spanish after Mexico and went to Peru and made some contacts there, I started importing different products from several indigenous communities in Peru. And anyway, the woman in the health food store said, “You should tell this Loving Earth guy about the gubinge, you know. Gubinge has got more vitamin C than this camu camu stuff from the Amazon. So he called me and said, “Why are you using camu camu? You should be using gubinge! It has more vitamin C than camu camu.” I’m like, “Cool!” So we started talking. And then I got cold-called by this guy who was developing this book on different Melbourne businesses. I ended up saying, “Come to visit me” and again I’m working from the spare room of the house. And he comes in and his mother is actually up in the Kimberley working with gubinge, so I followed the threads, right? 

That’s incredible!

Ended up developing a relationship with these guys and I didn’t have the means to process the fruit at the time but I went up there and visited them and they had just formed an Aboriginal cooperative that was funded by the government. It was helping this group commercialise gubinge. And I started looking at all of this and just thought, This is ridiculous. They’re paying this consultant heaps of money, all the government funding is going to one person, this white guy, who really isn’t adding any value. And because I had all this experience commercialising products in India and Mexico, I started working with Bruno, the Nyul Nyul traditional owner, and Marion. By this stage we were a couple of years in and I was in my second facility. And I finally had enough space to put in a second hand commercial dryer at a really good price. So I installed that and had a bunch of things I was going to manufacture like kale chips and Buckinis as well as gubinge. I figured, okay if I could dry the gubinge, dehydrate it, then we could commercialise it as a shelf stable whole food powder high in natural vitamin C and all the other goodies that nature bundles together. So that’s what we did. We funded the harvest and started small, working with Bruno and Marion to create the product, gubinge powder, and co-brand it with our brand and theirs. We used the word gubinge, not Kakadu plum, ’cause we wanted to use their traditional language and tell a story about that. So 10 years on we’re the main processor and supplier of gubinge. One year we actually did about seven ton. And it’s amazing up there. You go during the harvest and Aboriginal kids get paid per kilo to pick gubinge. Three or four kilos, they get 60 bucks for a couple of hours of picking and they’re out on country. They’ve been picking the gubinge in wild bush orchards, and through that they started to take care of the country. 

So it’s been this whole amazing thing which has led me to where I am now because in the Amazon I’m working with the Ashaninka community. And that’s been a whole journey as well. But through these two communities I started to want to get my head into the climate space. Because I was like, Okay, so we’re commercialising the gubinge, we’re commercialising the cacao, and the way that they’re being harvested is actually leading to preserving and regenerating wilderness. I realised there’s a whole other value stream here for these communities. So I’ve been immersing myself in the carbon space, travelling and getting lots of exposure in Europe and California. I’ve created an intention or mission for the rest of my life, and that’s to create the maximum long-term value for our collective natural assets—like the great forests of our planet. At the moment in the Amazon with the Rainforest Foundation from the UK we’re in the process of finalising a novel financial instrument called a Regenerative Agroforestry impact bond. It’s for about one-and-a-half million dollars at this stage. The Inter-American Development Bank is financing the majority of it and Loving Earth is financing part of the protection and regeneration of the Ashaninka Communal Reserve and the Otishi National Park. And the way the instrument works is that there are certain environmental and social objectives that are documented. And the Inter-American Bank and Loving Earth have agreed to pay the money once those objectives have been achieved and verified and signed off on. And the UN-based Common Fund for Commodities is the investor who bares the risk if the outcomes aren’t met. So I want to get another value stream going into the community. Verified Carbon Units (VCUs or carbon credits) are harvested via the UN Redd+ protocol, and they can be traded on the voluntary carbon market. The way it works is that Loving Earth chocolate bars are net regenerative through the Ashaninka cacao by being grown in a regenerative indigenous agroforestry system, which is also the mechanism to preserve and regenerate the 100,000 hectares of rainforest in the Ashaninka Communal Reserve and the Otishi National Park. And it empowers these communities. They have a viable culturally sensitive source of income that’s grown in a dynamic agroforestry regenerative context. So it’s not only sequestering carbon, the production of the cacao, it is also regenerating the adjacent rainforest. The cacao is endemic. It comes from that area. It’s not an introduced species. It’s part of their tradition, it’s part of their culture. Through that we empower this community and then they can protect the forest and their culture. Because they don’t need money from the loggers anymore and can resist the narcos who try and coerce them into growing coca for cocaine, which is one of the main causes of destruction of the forest. Cocaine would have to be one of the bloodiest, dirtiest supply chains on the planet. So they’ve got their own money and they can say, “Go away, we want to protect what we have.” They are also starting a major tree planting operation with the view to scaling it, to be planting hundreds of thousands and eventually millions of trees every year back into the forest. Because they’re also being paid to regenerate the forest through these carbon credits.

That’s it!

And so then what we’re going to do is bundle the cacao together with the carbon credits that we’ve created in the production of the cacao into a Loving Earth chocolate bar. We have done a life cycle analysis of our chocolate bars to determine the carbon footprint in manufacturing, transporting and packaging etcetera. Once the carbon credits become available from the project, the idea is to assign enough to each chocolate bar to neutralise the footprint and then add some more so that the product is truly net regenerative. We have also been doing lots of work to reduce the carbon footprint of our products by installing 400 solar panels on the roof of our chocolate factory and using post consumer recycled and compostable packaging. 

Just for good measure.

So it’s positive. It’s not neutral. It’s positive. And a European climate impact investment fund we’ve been working with in the Amazon has just been trialling a blockchain project called Poseidon with a Ben and Jerry’s store in Soho London where you can make your purchase climate positive or carbon neutral at point of sale by purchasing carbon credits from projects like ours. This technology allows for effective carbon accounting and carbon credit micro transactions at the consumer level at point of sale. They’ve developed the technology and they just got the city of Liverpool on board to work towards becoming the first climate positive city in the world. All these carbon credits are coming from projects like ours where we’re growing our cacao and sourcing our cacao. So this is how we create the maximum long-term value for our collective natural assets, which are these great forests of our planet like the Amazon. Put a value on them. That’s what we’ve got to do. And we’ve got to maximise that value in the long-term. So we are developing this model in the Amazon. Eventually we want to take the model to the Kimberleys and other indigenous communities around the world. I know the community in the Kimberley is saving so much carbon from going into the atmosphere too through their traditional landcare. And we just started working with the Great Forest National Park. 

I’m on board! It’s the great unraveling.

We know that stopping logging in the Great Forest National Park right here in Melbourne will save five million tons of carbon a year from going into the atmosphere. We could make Melbourne a climate positive city if we sourced carbon from the Great Forest National Park. Get Tourism Victoria on board, promote Melbourne as a climate positive city, and the vehicle for Melbourne being a climate positive city is the Great Forest National Park! Victorian taxpayers via the State Government are paying millions of dollars a year at the moment to prop up the logging industry, which is destroying this old growth mountain ash forest and releasing approximately five million tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year. We need to transition the logging community and industry into protecting and regenerating the forest rather than destroying it, and then commercialise these amazing ecological assets through tourism that promotes Melbourne as a climate positive destination with the jewel being the Great Forest National Park. And what we should be doing is have the Aboriginal community manage the park and implement a traditional landcare system! Even harvest more carbon!

Fuck, Scott. Wow. [Laughs]. 

I think you’ve got the download.

[Laughs]. That was unreal.

It is phenomenal you know. I feel like I’m working with this nexus of ecosystems: the reserve on Edgars Creek with the cliffs where I’m building, the Great Forest National Park, the Kimberleys and the Amazon. I mean the Amazon is the lungs of our planet. And with these communities and ecosystems, how can we commercialise their and our collective natural assets such that they have the maximum long term value? And it all started in India where for me it was like, How do I make that topsoil and those forest trees more valuable where they are productive in the earth rather than being converted into bricks? That’s what it comes down to. How do we make those trees more valuable standing? That Mountain Ash forest on our doorstep in the Great Forest National Park is the most carbon dense forest on the planet! It’s the most effective carbon sequester on the planet! Those Mountain Ash trees have the most biomass of any tree on the planet. And they’re being chopped down to be converted to toilet paper and photocopy paper, subsidised by us taxpayers through the Victorian State Government to the tune of millions of dollars a year, because it’s not commercially viable. After they’ve chopped down these ancient giants, they come and burn the whole area, which releases even more carbon and pollutes the air of Melbourne affecting the health of everyone living here! These incredible ecological assets can be worth way more in five or 10 years, but once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.

This conversation is part of our “Healing the Land” campaign at Dumbo Feather. For more stories, inspiration and ideas, purchase Issue 58 of Dumbo Feather or subscribe

Nathan Scolaro

Nathan enjoys getting elbow-deep in sentences, pressing and pricking them like a Chinese doctor until the blood is flowing just right. He hails from Western Australia, where he first experienced the joy of putting together a magazine, and now indulges his love of thoughtful, life-giving storytelling by bringing Dumbo Feather to life once a quarter.

Photography by Gregory Lorenzutti

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