As natural foods consumers get more adventurous in their eating habits, the organic herb and spice trade is heating up. Several companies are building a market for pesticide-free seasonings, which were difficult or impossible to obtain just four or five years ago. And these companies are going further by creating sustainable agriculture programs that allow indigenous farmers to thrive as well.
Yogi Botanicals, a growing multinational company based in Eugene, Oregon, has worked hard to convince mainstream companies that using organic spices makes economic and ecological sense. Black pepper, perhaps the most popular spice, is now grown organically in India through Yogi Botanicals’ Black Pepper Project. The project requires farmers to maintain natural diversity, which prevents erosion and helps control pest populations. Local project managers work with farmers to develop effective growing techniques. In return, farmers are collectively paid a premium, money which has been used for village development—building durable houses and providing education and health aid for women and children.
Jagat Joti Singh Khalsa, director of sales and marketing, says that his company has managed to convert so much land to producing organic rosemary, cumin and cinnamon that its prices are beginning to approach those of conventionally-grown spices.
ForesTrade, based in Brattleboro Vermont, is another company with a mission. It was founded in 1995 by Sylvia Blanchet and her husband, Thomas Fricke, a former advisor to the United Nations and World Wildlife Fund on sustainable agriculture projects. The problem with these projects, Fricke says, is that they would end when the grant money ran out.
ForesTrade now provides a reliable market for organic spice and coffee growers, primarily in Indonesia and Guatemala. ForesTrade’s Indonesian Cassia Cinnamon Project has encouraged local farmers to stop clear-cutting the rainforest. The project’s cultivated land borders a national forest, providing a buffer zone to protect the area from development. Tom Martyn, ForesTrade’s chief operating officer, says, “I’ve been struck by how much of a difference ForesTrade’s projects have made in these farmers’ lives. The people truly have a better life.”
Yogi Botanicals and ForesTrade are wholesalers providing bulk shipments to large companies. In contrast, Frontier Natural Products Co-op sells directly to consumers. It has been developing American herbs and organic growing techniques since 1976, and operates a 60-acre organic research farm in Iowa. The farm’s researchers track different ways of cultivating organic plants, including the most effective soil treatments and the best times to plant and harvest. A Frontier farm in Ohio is dedicated to saving medicinal plants threatened by over-harvesting in the wild.
September may be a good time to start spicing things up. You’ll be honoring Organic Harvest Month.