Guillermo Payet: Founder, LocalHarvest.org

Cultivating a Movement

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Read the full text (PDF) transcript of the oral history with Guillermo Payet.

308 Guillermo, with Amber and baby Joaquin. Photo by Tana Butler.

Guillermo Payet is the founder of Localharvest.org, a leading organic and local food website that maintains a public nationwide directory of small farms, farmers’ markets, and other local food sources; helps eaters find products from family farms, as well as other local sources of sustainably grown food, and encourages them to establish direct contact with small farms in their area.

Payet grew up in Lima, Peru, in the 1960s and 1970s. His family visited small farms in the Andes and fishing villages on the Peruvian coast, where he learned to savor the taste of local food. As Payet writes on his website, “During the 1980s, Peru was victimized by two opposing forces: the dehumanizing economic colonialism of transnationals, and the misguided rage and violence of the Maoist Shining Path. These two forces wreaked havoc in the country . . . Family farms found it impossible to compete with cheap, subsidized agricultural products dumped into Peruvian markets by richer countries, and the impoverished Andean people were forced by the violence of the civil war to flee their rural villages. Millions were forced into lives of abject poverty in polluted and overcrowded cities, working for pennies in factories (if lucky enough to find a job) producing cheap products for export, helping generate profits that would never benefit them or their families.”

When car bombs began blowing out the windows of his home, Payet decided to leave Peru. He came to the United States as a student, entering a computer science program at Santa Clara University, and then beginning a career as a systems engineer. He eventually started Ocean Group, a web development company. By coincidence, he rented an office location next door to the offices of Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), and developed a friendship with Reggie Knox [also interviewed for this project], who was working for CAFF at the time. Knox and Payet began talking about the fate of small farms in the United States, and Localharvest.org began as a project of Ocean Group in 1999.

In this oral history, conducted by Ellen Farmer at her house in Santa Cruz, California, on October 7, 2007, Payet describes the growth of Localharvest.org. As of 2009, the company has 19,000 members, including 11,740 farms and 4,425 farmers markets, and is growing by twenty members a day. As the Buy Local movement has burgeoned, so has interest in the website, which receives 22,000 hits a day. Even since this 2007 interview took place, business has burgeoned. Payet’s goal is to “leverage the Internet and the vast array of community-owned tools provided by the world of Open Source software to help build virtual communities, and to use these as tools for achieving a sustainable future for real, physical communities.” His company attracts significant attention from Time magazine, Wired, Redbook, ABC-TV, the New York Times, and other media outlets.

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