A Passion for Restoration

14 de March de 2024

The entrepreneur venturing into the business of healthy living embarks on a mission to restore a forest that was once home to cattle, aligning goals that strengthen the brand and give purpose to new habits

By Sérgio Adeodato, from Piranguçu

Photos: Juan Pablo Ribeiro

Leandro Farkuh is a businessman from São Paulo who is connected to the world of healthy eating and adventure sports. He decided to mark the 20th anniversary of his business in a way that would truly resonate with his life's journey and had a positive impact on nature. The idea was to collaborate with partner brands sharing an ecological mission, and acquire a visually stunning rural property that met one crucial prerequisite: it must have been degraded by cattle. The objective: restore life.

That is how the owner of Bio2, a company specializing in vegan cereal bars, snacks, and supplements in São Paulo, found himself on a 77-hectare haven in the Serra da Mantiqueira mountains, in Piranguçu (Minas Gerais). There, he embarked on the complex journey of rebuilding the forest where pasture once stood, bringing back water, biodiversity, and a genuine connection with nature. "This proves that a move towards a more sustainable lifestyle, a tenet we champion in the realm of veganism, is attainable," asserts Leandro.

The inspiration struck after an initial plan to contribute resources for planting 15 thousand seedlings in collaboration with the Forests of the Future program, run by SOS Mata Atlântica. This donor-supported program assists properties that need to comply with environmental regulations. "Since we wanted to explore the location, actively participate in the process, and witness the trees' growth firsthand, we were advised to get our own farm. We were challenged into embarking on an adventure," reveals Leandro, the driving force behind Floresta Bio2, alongside companies like Mitsubishi Motors, Can-Am, Biowash, and other sponsors.

In this case, the goal went way beyond ensuring environmental compliance for the Legal Reserve (LR) and Permanent Preservation Areas (PPAs) to protect water sources. The plan was to transform almost the entire property into a forest. Since 2019, 79 thousand seedlings have been planted, with an investment of R$1.5 million to restore native vegetation. This initiative reached its climactic fourth phase in January, with technical support and monitoring from SOS Mata Atlântica.

First Came Water

Cruising down the BR 459 highway to Itajubá, in South Minas Gerais, and then along BR 383 highway to Piranguçu, the mountainous landscape—a mix of pasturelands and pockets of forest nestled in the valleys of the Serra da Mantiqueira—gives us hints about what awaits at the end of the journey. At Floresta Bio2’s visitor hub, where the old farm's corral and slaughterhouse once stood, now serves as a hub for birthing innovative ideas. Adorning the wall is a map pinpointing reforestation areas and other attractions: the natural spa, the jaguar's cave, the sacred tree, the geodesic dome, and the camping area. Right beside it, a sign bearing the symbol of a shovel and a seedling declares: "Men at work."

In the landscape, hills display thriving seedlings that showcase the work undertaken there, which is grounded in three fundamental principles: the environment, healthy nutrition, and physical activity. Heading towards the house, we walk past chalets, equipment sheds, and several other structures. The ravine, once a watering hole for cattle, has transformed into a pristine, revitalized spring. It's now shaded by the first trees that were planted as part of the restoration project. The area also has an orchard boasting 40 different fruit species. Among the stream’s rocks and pools, the soothing sound of flowing water creates a deep sense of well-being. Leandro emphasizes, "The regeneration of nature inspires changes in how we think and feel. To properly care for the land, plants, and people, we must first take care of ourselves."

Near the camping area, complete with outdoor gear storage and kitchen facilities, we find boulders that are perfect for rock climbing activities, along with a mountain bike trail and other adventure sports. Continuing ahead, there's a geodesic dome that beckons for meditation, yoga, and various mindful practices under the starry sky. Right beside it, there's an observatory that offers sweeping views of the National Laboratory of Astrophysics. This facility is connected to the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MCTI) and sits atop a nearby hill, renowned for its exceptional sky quality, perfect for astronomical observations.

Restoration engages adventure sports companies.

The terrain attracts climbing practices.

Geodesy inspires connections with nature.

The old stable houses new ideas for the Bio2 Forest.

The Struggle Against Brachiaria   

With our feet planted firmly on solid ground, the forest undergoing restoration stands as a testament to lessons learned and challenges overcome. One such challenge is dealing with brachiaria, a stubborn grass that goes head-to-head with our native plants. "At first, we were hesitant to use chemical herbicides, due to our belief in natural, non-toxic methods. But we realized it could work, as long as it was carefully measured and we used the right tools," admits Leandro.

Invasive exotic plants, fire risks, and other obstacles demand special attention. They're the focus of ongoing efforts in maintenance and monitoring in the area, using SOS Mata Atlântica’s protocol. Not far from the cafeteria, a steep path leads down to a forest in different stages of regrowth, a product of the first planting efforts. "Witnessing the understory flourishing beneath tall, older trees, such as the silk floss tree, is truly breathtaking," exclaims the property owner, proud of the size of the first pine tree he planted. Adding to his joy is the fact that animals such as anteaters, jaguars, and maned wolves, which had disappeared, are making a comeback.

Structure welcomes visitors to replicate it's model.

The Power of a Granola Bar

According to Leandro, "we are children of the forest, yet we find ourselves very distant from it. There needs to be a shift in how valuable we perceive trees to be—not just during city water shortages or energy crises, but also in extreme weather events." For the entrepreneur, there's nothing more effective against these risks than restoring the forest—a dream that became a reality after a Bio2 Expedition. "As we ventured off-road, we witnessed the widespread degradation of the landscape in our country. That experience fueled our resolve to take ownership and care for our own forest."

Leandro's commitment to this cause is noteworthy, particularly when we take into account his entrepreneurial journey that resulted in the establishment of Bio2 two decades ago. "It all started when my father invested in a peanut brittle factory and, in 1995, introduced the second granola bar in Brazil. Regrettably, the business didn't gain traction because it was too ahead of its time," he explains. Four years later, as a young university student studying Economics, he landed a job as an industrial assistant at a cookie factory named Renks. As he climbed the career ladder, he became a partner and reintroduced the granola bar project—this time with a chocolate coating, a revolutionary addition for the time.

Working with major clients like Pão de Açúcar, the entrepreneur developed over 300 granola bars. "They were all pretty basic, cheap, loaded with artificial stuff," he admits. Despite making good money, he wasn't happy because he had loftier ambitions in the health food sector. Leandro rolled up his sleeves and, after reaching his first million, invested in a new brand. "Given the high costs and the challenges of gaining recognition as an organic and vegan product—quite a bold move at that time—it took us 10 years to secure financial stability and truly soar."

Success didn't happen overnight, but he eventually made it after a boom in the natural and healthy food market. The brand promoted a new lifestyle with new habits, and it started looking for sensory experiences that would convey this. The company's restaurant in São Paulo, a vegan food haven, is an example of this. However, it's in Floresta Bio2, where native Atlantic Forest trees replace cattle, that people truly grasp the potential—and the environmental benefits—of a meat-free lifestyle.

Photographic cameras capture everything, before and after. Armed with these images and the credibility established through positive results, the current plan is to rally neighboring landowners, in collaboration with the municipality, to expand the restoration initiative, creating interconnected biodiversity corridors. "It's not just about marketing. The combined efforts of people working towards a shared goal is crucial for the well-being of nature," explains Leandro. According to him, their differential is that they go beyond fixing negative impacts on the Atlantic Forest, but tackle the underlying causes of degradation— a model that shows how forest restoration aligns with broader goals, ultimately contributing to the sustainability of the business itself. 

Leandro Farkuh accompanies the staff during the restoration visit.

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