- Claire Kalikman
WE@Yale Hosts Agro-Forestry Entrepreneur Ariana Day Yuen SOM ‘19
On September 16, 2020, the WE@Yale Innovators Breakfast series kicked off its first virtual event with Ariana Day Yuen SOM ’19, founder of Forested Foods. Forested Foods is an agroforestry venture that sources, processes, and distributes indigenous, regeneratively-grown forest products (i.e. bee products, spices, herbs, gums and resins). Starting in Ethiopia, they aggregate and unlock the production potential of forest farmers typically shut out of global food supply chains. They launched with Maryiza, a line of single-origin honeys from Ethiopia’s biodiverse, ancient forests.
Ariana tuned in from Hong Kong, where she was raised, though she will soon make her way back to Ethiopia, where her business is based.
She talked about her path, evolving from “a city girl who didn’t even enjoy a hike,” to an agro-forester committed to nature-based business as a solution to climate change. Launching in Ethiopia, Ariana and Forested Foods partners with forest-based farmers to sustainably cultivate high-quality products including honey and spices and sells them to top American restaurants and other businesses, all while promoting regenerative agriculture.
The businesswoman started her way into entrepreneurship at Syracuse University, where she triple-majored in Advertising Communications, Entrepreneurship, and Economics. She then joined consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. While she was on-leave from her firm as a Fellow with Technoserve, she moved to Ethiopia to work as a pro-bono consultant, a move she saw as “a professional ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’”at the time. Upon arrival in 2015, she knew nothing about agriculture, forestry, or smallholder farmers, but soon after, discovered a passion and calling to build an agro-forestry enterprise.
She came to the Yale School of Management (SOM) knowing that she wanted to start an agro forestry venture. She immediately got involved in the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale (Tsai CITY), and SOM’s Program on Entrepreneurship, and in her first term participated in the Tsai CITY’s Inaugural Accelerator program. She said that the resources and community across Yale “were catalytic in her ability to pilot and launch Forested Foods.” Besides participating in Tsai CITY’s Fall 2017 Accelerator, she was a Tsai CITY Summer 2018 Fellow, an awardee of the Center for Business and Environment at Yale (CBEY)’s Climate Solutions Seed Grant, as well as is an SOM Entrepreneurial fellow, a selective program for students who intend to start a business immediately after they graduate.
Ariana noted that partnerships at all levels have been key to her success. She loved the collaborative environment at Yale, where she was able to take classes and join communities across disciplines, finding value and resources beyond SOM and Tsai CITY, from the School of the Environment, Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, Yale Sustainable Food Program, and even Yale College’s History Department. and engage in conversations where she and her peers were able to help each other. While at Yale, she was able to learn from take several forestry classes, meet with food historians like Professor Paul Freeman, who connected her to clients in the restaurant industry. Now, she’s in her professional life, building partnerships with forest farmers as her suppliers; European governments for funding and technical support; and has major, customer partnerships in the pipeline for Forested Foods’ honey and spices. The German and Swedish governments on the supply side and a pipeline of major businesses including LUSH and Doelher on the buy side have helped the business grow. She also noted that her “main value proposition is being natural ingredients buyers and reliable partners on the ground,” especially in less accessible and familiar emerging markets like the Horn of Africa. to source great products for restaurants and businesses.
Ariana’s “aha moment” came when she realized that agriculture and forestry don’t have to be at odds. Conventional agriculture drives 80% of deforestation around the world. Forested Foods is building a new model that demonstrates that ancient forests can be more lucrative conserved rather than destroyed — ultimately reinforcing the budding demand for driving global demand for She aims to create a business that conserves, rather than destroys, ancient forests and creates demand for regeneratively-produced agriculture. produced agro-forestry.
What’s next? Fundraising to grow their farmer supplier network, scale-up their bulk wholesale supply chains, and establish their first agro-processing facility in Addis Ababa. Her ultimate vision is to “create a global agro-forestry enterprise.”
By Claire Kalikman ‘21