Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Second Watch

The Carrot Project was born on a boat. In the purple water. Sailing toward Osprey Reef, a lonely and magical coral lagoon 100km east of the Outer Barrier.

It was October 2006, and I had raced down from Beijing to spend 10 days working on Big Mama, an 18 meter yacht that operates out of Bloomfield, a tiny rainforest town three hours of dirt roads north of Cairns, Australia.

I did strange things with my vacations when I lived in China.

Big Mama is my uncle's boat. He and his friends built it from scratch many years ago, and they now serve a tiny sliver of Tropical North Queensland's tourism market: the brave glowing lunatics that choose adventure over comfort.*

That night two years ago, I was on watch, half-seasick, and harnessed to the guardrail. With me on deck was Chris, a candle entrepreneur turned volunteer conservationist executive, and he and I were in charge between 2am and 6am. Our responsibilities included watching for other boats, trimming the sails as needed, making sure the autopilot didn't change its mind on us, and staying awake. Technology was cooperating, and the wind was steady, so we sat and talked.

My big life plan at that point had already started coming together, for Chris and I had been scheming for months. I would spend another six to eight months in Beijing, wrap up work there, and then head on down to Cairns. While I was extracting myself from Beijing, Chris would plug me in with the necessary Aussies, and I'd lock up work with one of two sustainable agriculture projects. Bananas, possibly. Or, if not, sugar cane. Either way, the direction was clear: plants, soils, chemicals, greenhouses, food. Growing sustainable abundance.

But that night we drifted. We talked about markets, about capitalism, about greed, and about business. And we wondered what radical transparency and consumer enlightenment might mean. What would we buy if we knew what buying meant? How would we live if we could see every impact we had?

And we wondered what the internets had to offer. If there already existed a library of the essential statistics on companies and products and manufacturing processes. If there was a way to compare brands and their relative social and environmental responsibility. If there was a tool for educating consumers about the impacts businesses have on our long term well being.

We figured that something must already exist, and we figured that, if it didn't, somebody ought to make it happen.

About four months later, I had dinner with Ludovic, told him about that night on Big Mama, and the life plan grew bigger, crazier, geekier, and much more exciting.

I write this not because of any Carrot Project nostalgia-inspiring announcement or breakthrough. I write because my cousin Parker is on his way to Australia, because soon he'll be out on that water, out on that Reef, and out under those stars. I write because I'm jealous. And I write because I'm grateful.

That night in Australia gave me a project that has hooked me so deep that I'd rather be right here, in my grandfather's office, in a suburb of Wilmington, DE, cold wind whipping on the windows, than on a plane with Parker, flying to the wild side of paradise.

*Note: The pirate in the picture below is our uncle Kim. We think it's good that he looks like that, gold hoop in the ear and all. It properly limits his market for charter customers.

Posted by email from Radical Transparency (posterous)


Dantaniel said...

yeah, but it would've been kinda cool to be on that plane with parker. better? i don't know. but awesome nonetheless.

Jake de Grazia said...

Gotta love decisions between awesome and awesome.