ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
It’s a long way from the wheat fields of Goessel to the rain forest of South America, but Judy Logback has found her niche in both places.
Logback grew up in Goessel, moving there with her parents, LuAnn and Neil Logback, when she was 4, and staying until she graduated from Goessel High School in 1991.
For the past four and a half years, she has been helping indigenous people in the Amazon basin of Ecuador market crafts made from materials from the rain forest.
“Oh God, I love it,” Logback said of her work. “I wouldn’t change my job for anything. There’s nothing I could imagine that would be more fulfilling.”
It has been challenging, too.
As marketing director of the Callari Cooperative, Logback will nurture marketing outlets for several days from her base in Quito, Ecuador.
Through the Jatun Sacha Foundation, a private, nonprofit organization, Logback and the Callari Cooperative have established outlets in Germany, Denmark, France, Sweden, England, Canada and the United States.
Most days out of the month, though, Logback travels the roads and rivers over a 100-square-mile area-often driving, but sometimes on foot and by canoe-to meet with Quichua artisans who create novelty products such as necklaces, jewelry, bags and other items from native materials.
The payoff, according to Logback, is threefold: the Quichua people earn a better living than they otherwise could-especially in the midst of a depressed coffee and chocolate market-by selling products that are economically and environmentally pleasing to consumers, while preserving the great Amazon rain forest.
“It has the potential to make a greater impact in the outside world,” she said. “Not only will it help save the rain forests, but it will provide people from other countries with biodegradable products. The products aren’t plastic, so you can throw them away on your compost pile and not feel bad about it.”
Logback wasn’t formally trained for her entrepreneurial adventures. After leaving Goessel, she earned degrees in environmental science and Spanish from Beloit College in Wisconsin.
She has since worked in several positions with the Nature Conservancy, ranging from a botanical inventory of a wetlands area in Nevada, to a burn-through program in the prairies.
After that she accepted an AmeriCorps position with the Natural Resources Conservation Service based in Topeka.
She came to Ecuador on a two-year volunteer assignment through the Jatun Sacha Foundation. Her original job was to promote environmental education among the people of the rain forest.
“I interviewed the communities in the area and asked them what they thought would happen in the future and what their concerns were,” she said. “They said, ‘If we cut down our trees it will be like that big desert in Africa that keeps growing every year, and our streams will dry up and we won’t have crops anymore.’
“I pretty much realized that environmental education was not all that important to them,” Logback said. “The people in the communities said what was so much more important was finding a way to make a living without cutting down their trees.”
Logback said the rain forest is home to some of the most rare and valuable trees in the world-of which other countries were taking advantage.
“For example, one good-sized mahogany tree could produce enough veneers and other items that could be worth a half-million dollars,” she said. “The people in the area where I work may sell the tree for $500 or $600.”
She said the production of craft items will enable the native people to retain more of the profit rather than it ending up in the pockets of intermediaries overseas.
Logback said she’s enjoying her work in marketing and economics even though she wasn’t specifically trained for it.
“A lot of my work is problem solving,” she said, “I’m very interested in the marketing aspect. I think if people are cutting down their forests due to economic problems, then we can find a way to use that economic crisis to our advantage.”
Though her world is now more exotic than it was during her childhood, Logback credits her years in Goessel for giving her the tools to be successful in it.
“One thing that helped me was the outstanding education I got there,” she said. “The teachers did such a good job of giving us a solid foundation to utilize for higher learning in the future. The teachers were so good and taught us outstanding problem solving.
“When I got to college, I had a better preparation in high school than many of the people who had gone to some of the best prep schools in the country.”
Logback said she also was influenced by the presence of two exchange students during her years there.
“That was an international experience I had even living in the middle of Kansas,” she said.
Logback was in Goessel Monday to visit old friends and teachers and to try to arrange exchange-student experiences in Goessel for students from Ecuador.
She was excited to be back in Goessel for the first time since August 1996.
“It’s very different,” she said. “It’s grown a little bit. But I value the area very much and I think it’s one of the best places in the world to grow up.”