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June 1st marked a proud milestone for Nest: our 10th birthday. To celebrate, we launched a special “Birthday Bundle” as a thank-you to all of our supporters commemorating this important year along with us. Each bundle features a hand-quilted oven mitt made by Nest Guild artisans in Alabama, along with a compilation of global recipe cards featuring step-by-step instructions for delicious confections traditionally enjoyed by Nest’s artisan partners during occasions of celebration. Making every bundle complete is a hand-crafted wooden spoon born deep in the depths of Bougamez Valley, Morocco. Nest’s own Professional Fellow, Jinny Uppal, is here to take us behind the scenes of the process. This special guest post is in her words.

The crafting of a spoon starts out with a trip into the depths of Bougamez Valley of the High Atlas mountains to collect fallen or damaged wood. The best time to find fallen wood is after a flash flood, of which there are plenty in this remote valley positioned at roughly 6000 feet elevation. These particular spoons, featuring distinctive smooth marbling, are to be made from walnut wood. The carvers only use wood from dead or dying walnut trees.

The woodcarvers of Ait Agouti, an idyllic village in Bougamez with a population of less than 500, formed themselves into Association Ighrem in 2006. But the barriers to generating meaningful income from craft sales drove many young carvers to pursue other livelihoods, with the role of tourist guide being most attractive to many. In more recent years, however, the over-supply of fluent English-speaking tourist guides in the area has made it difficult for the Berber natives to compete. Coupled with some revived success that remaining carvers have found by selling their craft online, other Berbers are returning to the artisan fold, and Association Ighrem now has a waiting list of people wanting to join.

The carver, sitting in the workshop of Association Ighrem, cuts the wood into planks roughly the length and width of the spoon, with room to spare for the carving. An outline of the spoon is sketched onto the wood with a geometric compass and pencil. Now the task of carving out the face of the spoon can begin. This part is pure skill – no drawing can help mark the depth and curvature that the spoon needs to be shaped into. Next, the remaining entirety of the spoon is cut, hammered and carved out of the plank. This carver’s work is part of a special order, custom made to celebrate the 10-year Anniversary of Nest. All other product is sold on, co-founded by Brahim El Mansour,  President of the Association and Dan Driscoll a former Peace Corp Volunteer.

Anou is a language-free, symbol-based online marketplace that enables artisans to sell their craft direct to customers by leveraging internet and text from their cellphones. It not only trains the artisans on online store operations (things like photography and product upload or management of orders and shipments), it also elevates the best performing artisans from among the ranks into salaried jobs at Anou’s headquarters. Anou’s vision is to turn artisans into business managers and designers, thereby helping them to move up the retail value chain instead of being confined to one end of the supply chain.

Back at the woodcarving shop, the spoon-like wood is now ready to be filed and sandpapered. The subtle shapes of the rim, stem and any decorative touches are filed, not hammered, to protect the integrity and alignment of the wood. Were this a fork, the tines would be filed into creation. Once the spoon has been fully carved, it is treated with olive oil and left to breathe the air in its new form. A spoon has been born! The natural marbling of the walnut wood ensures that each spoon retains its unique identity, connected with, and also differentiated from, its brothers and sisters from the same parent block.