Mikuna is introducing the US to Chocho, a plant-based protein source grown exclusively in the Andes. Chocho is one of Ecuador’s most traditional foods and is known for having a high protein content. Usually grown alongside a variety of crops to support soil biodiversity, Chocho is a new alternative for plant-based protein powders that helps support local Andean farmers. We spoke to Founder and CEO of Mikuna, and fifth-generation Ecuadorian farmer, Ricky Echanique about the superfood crop, his Ecuadorian heritage, and regenerative agriculture.
Where does the name “Mikuna” come from?
The name comes from Kichwa, an ancient pre-Inca language spoken by the Indigenous communities of Ecuador. “Mikuna” refers to an ancient Kichwa concept of nourishing the body through food. (or as we like to say, to feed yourself with love.)
How did you first learn about this amazing plant protein source called Chocho?
Growing up in Ecuador, I’ve been eating Chocho since I was very young. It’s a staple food in the Sierra region and it’s used in a few recipes like ‘Cevichocho’. After experiencing its benefits, I decided to start experimenting with it as a protein powder and began to study its incredible regenerative and environmental properties. I became determined to share it in the US marketplace as a means to tackle some of the environmental issues the food industry faces today, especially those coming from traditional protein sources.
Explain how you incorporate regenerative agriculture into the production process for Mikuna?
As a concept, regenerative agriculture prioritizes soil health, land management, animal welfare, and farmer fairness. Mikuna farming practices include minimum tilling, post-harvest animal grazing, and absolutely no irrigation. Upon harvest, plant remnants are re-incorporated into the soil as organic matter to improve soil health. Also, chocho is a regenerative crop that fixes nitrogen into the soil through its relationship with a bacteria called Rhizobium Leguminosarum, it’s drought tolerant, and it grows best in marginally dry soils.
As we expand our network of farmers, we will champion fair, fixed harvest pricing while providing our growers with the regenerative technical guidance for successful harvests.
From a brand perspective, we strive to use packaging options with the smallest footprint possible while meeting all food safety standards.
How is the Ecuadorian heritage reflected in Mikuna?
Ecuador is primarily an agricultural country, and farming is a way of life for a good portion of its population. As a member of a multi-generation farming family, I care deeply about Ecuador’s agriculture and how its origins. The concept for Mikuna is based on the cultivation and nurturing of relationships with networks of farmers, practices, and the culture from the Sierra region.
How do you implement sustainability practices within your own life?
I strive to live minimally; I don’t need much and never have. Being exposed to wild and remote places from an early age taught me an array of values to have, bring, and use only what you need. In nature and in farming, your value and ability to survive is proportional to the extent of your knowledge of it. I am ultra-conscious of what I consume, what I buy, and most importantly what I eat. I purchase products that have a positive impact on the environment and protect animal welfare. It’s my personal mission to change our world through regenerative agriculture and shift our current system from the reliance on the limited array of crops we know, which does not always tend to have the best impact on soil, water resources, or the consumer. It has to be a win-win and that’s what I am here for.
Any books, podcasts, or articles you love that have helped further your education on climate and sustainability?
As for books I love The Fisherman’s Son by Ramon Navarro and Chris Malloy. I relate to many aspects of the story hailing from a multi-generational farming family in South America, and it’s a powerful story where every action and effort matters. Most recently, I am into Lo-Tek: Design by Radical Indigenism, by an architect named Julia Watson, that explores the relationship between growing cities and agricultural technologies /design used by indigenous communities. A high-frequency and favorite podcast I enjoy is Soundfood by Nitsa Citrine, which has the best in-depth meaningful conversations on a multidimensional platform. Guayasamin is an artist who helped me draw inspiration and a deeper sense of understanding of Andean indigenous communities. I consider social justice and fair trade important pillars of what we do and key elements of a regenerative brand. I love the works of George Washington Carver, a pioneer on regenerative agriculture. I can talk about the 100 short films / documentaries I’ve seen that I love—I’m a very visual person and there is really great content out there to learn from.
What are some brands that you personally are loving right now?
When it comes to clothing, Vuori is my go-to. Bureo is a company I follow as well and am a huge fan of their mission. Avasol has great sunscreen and packaging.