In the 1970's, the Ecuadorian government freely offered their citizens the right to claim vacant land, thus encouraging a steady stream homesteaders to carve out a new life in the North Western rainforests of Ecuador. Families traveling to the Canandé watershed walked up to five days, traveling through unfamiliar jungle, to stake claim to land averaging 125 acres in size. They began clearing land with nothing but axes, and from sun up to sun down they'd fall trees. Once they'd cleared enough land to plant food for their families, they'd continue clearing land for cattle and coffee. As time passed and population in the region grew, a road was created by a plywood company, creating easier access to the lower stretch of the Canandé River Valley. With easier access to this land, an opportunity for the more lucrative product, African Oil Palm, became possible and deforestation boomed. The farms upriver, without road access, refrained from clear-cutting and, although blocks were cleared for crops and cattle, the forest still stretches from the end of the road, all the way to the border of Cotacachi Cayapas, the largest government reserve in the Chocó Wet Forest. Within this forest-farm patchwork remains seven communities. By the year 2000, a few of them had small schools providing basic education up to the age of 12. Most families earned income through agriculture and illegal logging, but nutrients in the soil are poor so cleared land quickly becomes infertile. In order to survive families were forced into a cyclical cycle of conversion, diminishing any opportunity for upward mobility.


Continuing a family legacy

Peter and David - Continuing a family legacy, explain general theory for conservation model

2000-2006: 100% community owned, working with NGOs, getting early funding, testing ecuadorian market with intent to train local kitchwa woodworking and sell to ecuadorian market

In 2002, David Smith, a US Peace Corps volunteer was assigned to the community of Crisobal Colon. He, along with longtime friend and forester Peter Pinchot, developed a vision of building a sustainable economy around high value wood products, one that encourages conservation while improving the livelihoods of the local residents.

Constraints/Task: challenges they faced coming in

Process: After various community gatherings, the villages expressed support for this idea. There was so much enthusiasm in fact, they volunteered a year of their time in constructing a rudimentary wood processing facility. Initial capital for materials, machinery and training were funded through a private investor, USAID and various grants.

Outcome: Hybrid Business: In 2008, EcoMadera evolved into a mission–driven forest products company led by two US entrepreneurs, Peter Pinchot and Garrett Siegers, capitalized by outside investors and lenders.  Community members remain significant shareholders in the business and play a large role in business governance.

gifford pinchot came back from france, studying forestry, wanted to continue bringing conservationist forestry model to US. was friends with teddy roosevelt and vanderbelts, hired gifford to do conservationist model in NC and was first model to prove that you could make money. gifford pinchot "the way you protect a forest is with an axe"

A Humbling Reassessment

Katherine - what we discovered after working with the forest and community for 5ish years

2006-2007: discovered community had more success managing than growing a company and NGOs tried to manage community too closely, families ended up converting land after their contract was up, realized the ecuadorian market wasnt viable because of differences in materialistic values, needed to know more about american markets, how the forest grew, what was in the forest, develop sustainable practices, we were a bunch of foresters learning how to build a company 


The Growth of a hybrid venture

2007-2014: Darwin, Nubia, Blair, Garrett come on - shift to verdecanande + ecomadera for a period of creating a diversified economic foundation while gathering information on the forest and developing sustainable extraction methods.

Profit: verdecanande balsa, developed balsa plantations on previously deforested land, build balsa factory, sold for green market, raised money for nonprofit work and provided jobs for people in cristobal colon, employees went from 7 to 70, managed by 5 women

Non-profit: Ecomadera forest conservation, llc, collaborating with organizations, attracting investors, 10% of all profits go to community fund for _, began silviculture study, developed cable system and low impact extraction


The birth of Whole Forest Design

2015-present: Iain, Zach, Maura, Brad - 

Name change to Whole Forest in 2017 represents dedication to future of product design, development, manufacturing for US market, study of species aesthetics and wood properties, developing market outreach, rebrand from ngo to product company, Brad installs first projects in states, developing furniture and home accessories line, developing edge-glued panels because ease of manufacturing, studying wood properties and refining wood management (drying, training wood workers etc, managed by henry), developing design theory for combinations of flooring, wall paneling, countertops, tables, cutting boards, etc, developing custom designs with early adopters to explore possibility for application and styles, connection to early adopters, hardwoods factory is near completion.


a lasting impact

total transparency, supporting _ employees, feeding _$ into town, established relationships with organizations like _, shifting away from balsa/ngo hybrid to triple bottom line company

complete transparency, a company thats growing through taking calculated risks, learning and pivoting towards a stronger future. our story isnt just the story of a few foresters trying to figure out the worlds of multiple industries - our story is the story of hundreds of families who can now build a better future for themselves, of the land that can continue wildly flourishing, and of the clients who care about our fellow human beings and this planet and see this passion reflected in the wild, beautiful material that is Whole Forest.


2006 David smith left and peter moved to Ecaudor and hired Garrett

David Thomas - Englishman who was a head of project in Ecuador before Garrett, sabir project (10 year project that failed near us) came on 2003, forester on the team till 2006

2003 was usaid grant