The story of Estancia Buenaventura SRL is really the story of four
families, two from the United States and two from Argentina,
who through good fortune came to know each other and decided
to engage in business together. The two Argentine families
are headed by Pedro A. Arias and Osmar A. Monaldi. Carl is
heavily involved in the day-to-day management of the Estancia
with Pedro serving as our Managing Partner. The two American
families are those of Christopher G. Oechsli and J. Carl Mundt
both of whom live near Seattle, Washington. They are especially
involved in long range planning, financing and marketing and
in the company’s organic polenta project in the U.S.
The four partners are in daily contact by telephone and E-Mail.
In addition, the partners meet in Argentina or the United
States 4 or 5 times per year.
Pedro Arias lives in the Argentine province of Salta and is a member
of one of the oldest families in Argentina whose roots go back to
the original Spanish colonists who came down into Argentina from
Peru looking for silver in the 1500’s. Pedro is educated as
an agricultural engineer and has spent his life engaged in agriculture
in Salta. Osmar Monaldi’s paternal ancestors arrived in Argentina
from San Marino in Italy around 1900. The family made their way
to the province of Jujuy, immediately to the north of Salta, and
began to carve out lives as farmers. While still a young man, Osmar
pioneered the development of farming in a remote region of northwestern
Argentina known as the Valley of Anta. Over a 20-year period, from
1985-2005, he built himself up until now he farms an immense amount
of property in Anta – nearly 20,000 hectares or 50,000 acres
– and is one of the most experienced farmers in that part
of the country. The Arias and Monaldi families have had much interaction
over the years and Pedro and Osmar have known each other since they
Chris Oechsli is an American born in Costa Rica of Swiss and Syrian
descent; he spent most of his youth in Latin America. By training
he is an attorney but for the past 15 years he has worked in London
and now in Seattle for a charitable foundation. Carl Mundt, also
an American, is of Irish and German descent. He was born in New
York City but spent many years as a youth in Uruguay and Argentina.
He is also an attorney by profession and it was in a law firm in
Seattle in 1980 that Chris and Carl first met. In 1990 Carl left
his law practice behind and went into business with a commercial
fishing company in Seattle. In 1992 he lived in Buenos Aires with
his family for six months while he was starting his company’s
fishing operations in Tierra del Fuego. By 1994 the company had
grown to be one of the largest fishing companies in the world and
Carl was Chairman of the Board. He retired from the fishing industry
in 1994 and soon after, during a family trip, he happened to meet
Pedro Arias. That chance meeting led to many further contacts and
as they say “The rest is history”!
In 1998 the four partners formed an Argentine Company called Estancia
Buenaventura SRL. “Estancia” is a traditional Spanish
word meaning a place “to stay” or “to stop”.
In the old days in Argentina, travelers crossing the immense tracts
of uninhabited land would arrive at widely scattered farms where
they would be welcomed and given food and shelter. These stopping
places came to be known as “estancias”. “Buenaventura”
means “good fortune” in Spanish and “SRL”
stands for “Sociedad de Responsabilidad Limitada” which
is the equivalent of a limited liability company in the United States.
The Company purchased an 8000 hectare
(20,000 acre) piece of property in the Anta area of Salta in May
of 1998. 8000 hectares comprise 80 square kilometers (30 square
miles). The property had never been used before our purchase other
than for selective logging. The partners made the decision to
devote the entire Estancia to organic agriculture.
Immediately after the Closing, we began the process of qualifying
for organic status and, after a rigorous inspection by Argentine
authorities and certifying agents, we received our organic certification.
In 2004, after 6 years in organic
agriculture, the Estancia suffered a severe attack by the Asiatic
soybean leaf rust, a virulent fungus that originated in Japan and
attack completely destroyed the field affected. The partners
met in emergency session to discuss their options. Their research
revealed that once present at the farm the fungus could not be
eradicated, only controlled. Regrettably there were no options
except the use of fungicide which was of course prohibited in organic
soybeans were and are the principal crop of the Estancia, the partners
made the sad decision to withdraw the Estancia from organic agriculture
and since 2005 we have conducted a conventional agricultural operation.
As a footnote, the Asiatic soybean
leaf rust fungus has now traveled to the southern U.S. and imperils
the US production of organic soybeans as well.