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Web Business Delivers Organic Alternatives

SINCE 1996, Noel Payne’s business Comercio Alternativo has sought the often small and nascent organic farms of Costa Rica and roped many of them into its fold for distribution.

Payne’s business began as a retail store and made the transition to a delivery service over the Christmas holiday last year.

It now delivers fresh organic produce, fertilizers, dairy, juice, wine and personalcare products, among others, to wholesalers and residents.

In November 2002 the company was selected as one of five finalists among 40 competitors in the New Ventures program of the World Resources Institute, one of the largest conservation organizations in the United States.

THAT honor placed Comercio Alternativo in the limelight for investors and philanthropists, but, Payne said, not much came out it because U.S. investors’ attention shifted to Eastern Europe amidst talk of that region being integrated into the European Union.

Another of her accolades is the camera of the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), which filmed Payne’s move to the delivery service and the founding of her company’s presence on the Internet. The story will be aired in the Get a New Life series that documents the adventures of Brits abroad.

Though still under construction, the Web site lists Payne’s extensive inventory of products and classifies them according to the ways in which they were produced.

CATEGORIES include products grown in certified, chemical-free soil that comply with certified organic standards; those that are in transition, which generally means the farms have not been organic for the three years required by certification agencies, and those which, according to Comercio Alternativo’s criteria, are people-and environment-friendly.

In response to the deluge of questions she has fielded over the years, the Internet site also lists products in English and Spanish and will soon outline the process of obtaining organic certification.

Customers register with the company, pay a deposit and collect the products they order each week at fixed drop-off spots, or they can arrange for special deliveries.

DROP-OFF points are in Moravia, Heredia and Cariari on Tuesdays, and Escazú, Santa Ana and Piedades on Thursdays.

Once the Web site is fully functional, customers will be able to place orders online. Now they can place their orders by e-mail, fax or phone.

Though its product list is long and varied, the company issues the caveat that the organic movement in Costa Rica is young and the obstacle of delivering small amounts of produce to one central distribution point is sometimes difficult to surmount – so, the list is subject to availability, something that can be discussed while placing the orders, or checked online.

SOME of the company’s bigger clients include Pacha Mama in Guanacaste, Tin Jo restaurant in San José, Finca Rosa Blanca in Santa Bárbara de Heredia, and the Pura Vida and Lapa Ríos hotels.

Payne hosts consumer meetings every two months as an opportunity for environmentally and health-conscious eaters to meet each other.

She also plans to organize organic farm visits through her Consumer Education Program, and said she would like to create an organic consumers’ organization as a kind of megaphone for the voice of the healthy eater and a collective defense of consumers’ rights.

For info, see Comercio Alternativo’s site at, email:, or call 253-5507 or 393-5314.



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