Stories From Afield • Updated Thu, Dec 14, 2023
Ritual surrounds the consumption of coffee, argues Matt Igoe, pictured below bowing to the great blue yonder. Coffee is the great motivator — the catalyst that cracks the curse of the snooze button and gets journeys underway. It’s gas in the motor, lifeblood — feeding the muscle fibers of your forearms as you pole your skiff into a relentless onshore wind. It’s the dream to see coffee sustain rather than drip dry the rainforests and communities of El Salvador that produce this daily staple of our lives — a dream that, for Matt Igoe, blossomed into Afuera.
Matt Igoe casting along the shorebreak of Los Cabanos, El Salvador. Courtesy of Fernando Pocasangre.
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Beginning with memories of fishing Long Island Sound, Matt Igoe's story is a testament to his deep-rooted love for the outdoors. This passion and appreciation for outdoor recreation — instilled in him by his father — led him deeper into the fishing community. As he followed this call of the wild, Matt went on to explore the fabled fishing grounds of Montauk and even to organize his own fishing tournament, "The Big Lipper."
“The Big Lipper. I absolutely loved it. The fishing community is amazing to begin with, but the camaraderie was truly exceptional. People getting together, doing what they love, competing with friends… it gave me a deeper sense of what community meant and how I could use fishing to help bring people together.”
No matter where Matt went — Key Largo with his family, off to Charleston pursuing a degree in business — fishing went with him. At this time, however, Matt found profound success in both his business studies and practice, following his success from the College of Charleston to the top of NBC. But Matt’s passion for nature ultimately led him to leave his executive position at NBC for a job slinging sun shirts with Old Harbor Outfitters, rekindling his connection with the outdoor community.
Once again immersed in the world of fishing tournaments, Matt’s circles connected him to Captains for Clean Water, where he discovered a deeper interest in the organization and their conservation efforts to keep those Florida fisheries that had such a special place in his heart healthy for generations to come. Matt’s journey continued to pull him all sorts of different places — back to NBC, now into poker, and ultimately to El Salvador — trying to discover where his perfect blend of what he loved doing met where he could make the biggest difference.
From the very beginning, El Salvador meant family for Matt. It’s where his spouse is from, and where he is rearing his family. This love of family branched immediately into a deep care for his newfound community in El Salvador — a community that he felt deserved something from him.
“I knew how special this community was almost as soon as I moved to El Salvador. It’s done so much for me, and really tries to uplift people. Folks always say hello. They always greet you with a smile. There is this outpouring friendliness and they're happy in spite of their struggle. It’s tough for some, sure, but what a beautiful thing to wake up to each day.”
With Matt’s appreciation for the El Salvadorian people and culture also grew his love for the land and waters of El Salvador, ripe for exploration. Matt soon made his way out to sea to appreciate his local fisheries through the guidance of his brother-in-law, Alberto Alfaro. With connections to some of the leading coffee bean farms in the area, Alberto also proved instrumental in helping Matt connect with the highest quality coffee resources, and internalize local perspective. Seeing El Salvador through the lens of a local, Matt recognized the need for stewardship, to do his part in taking care of his newfound home.
“We’d be fishing out of my brother-in-law’s place and you know every low tide you're going around with garbage bags, and you're picking up all sorts of stuff. Who knows how much of it just floats down the coast, but it becomes their problem.”
It was a day like this — fishing out of Los Cobanos, trying to clean up the area, and unwinding around a campfire on the beach at night — where Matt began brewing the idea for Afuera. It was as simple as recognizing a need for greater sustainability in this beautiful place and community called home. Matt immediately got to work.
Once he had the idea, Matt wasted no time getting in touch with some of the premier coffee plantations in El Salvador. With the help of Alberto’s intimate knowledge of the local farms, Matt soon struck up partnerships with the most esteemed, sustainable coffee farms in the country.
“Afuera is trying to make a difference. We want to work with farms that pay their farmers the money they deserve. Farms that are not just sustainable — or say they’re ‘sustainable’ — but prove to us that they’re sustainable. We worked hard to find an operation that was truly green and community minded throughout all the stages of production — for the people working there, and for the land they’re working on. Afuera’s partner, Odyssey Farms, has documentation from years and years of their sustainability practices. They pay their farmers top dollar, they have better land management practices, and they’re a part of the Rainforest Alliance. They manage themselves with the whole ecosystem and community in mind. It’s just incredible.”
Matt personally scrutinized each stage of the coffee production process before deciding on his supplier. The immediate need to improve sustainability practices comes from a want to preserve the ecosystems of El Salvador for the community that welcomed him, for his son, Finn, and for future generations to come. Matt confronts the challenges of inciting positive change through a lens which he’s dubbed “slow-drip mentality.”
“Good things take time. And you do these things because you want to make a difference. If we wanted to be a brand that was primarily focused on cutting costs, we would work with the farmers producing the cheapest beans, resort to the cheapest labor, and package our product in those metallic plastic bags like nearly everyone else. But I don't want to see this thing float up on the beach in El Salvador. I want this to be a net positive for the community. I needed to take the time to find the right beans, the right packaging, to make the right product. I don’t care how long it takes. I want to do this the right way, not the easy way. That’s slow-drip mentality for you.”
Reaching back into his past, Matt found the perfect partner for Afuera: Captains for Clean Water. In a true show of putting his money where his mouth is, 5% of all Afuera’s sales go directly to organizations like Captains for Clean Water in support of efforts to restore and protect Florida’s fisheries and waterways. For Matt, this journey was always about the outdoors, and coffee was always an essential precursor to adventure.
“What happens at 5am? When it's dark, and three buddies are on a fishing trip? You wake up, you're hyped to get your gear and your rods, and you make coffee or you buy coffee, and you start your plan for the day, right? It’s the ritual. You start asking where are we going? How are we getting there? What’s our plan? And so coffee has always been at the core of that for me. I wanted to go down that road to send more people down theirs.”
Matt’s hopeful about the future. He hopes to get out fishing more in El Salvador, to spend more time with his family, and to restore and keep ecosystems across the world preserved. The future of Afuera looks like a steadfast commitment to preserving the experience of the outdoors for everyone. Providing you with the go-to get on your way, and keeping those paths preserved for generations to come.
To follow Matt Igoe’s journey and connect with Afuera, check out their website and social media here.
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