Expanding Organic Herb Production in the Northwest

by Dennis Knock

In August 2015, I made a return visit to north central Oregon to view field trials for expanding organic peppermint production and beginning production of echinacea, catnip and skullcap, three popular herbs that have suffered a recent decrease in domestic production. Frontier provided our Well Earth partner with funds for the trials in the spring, with harvest taking place in July and August.

The trials were on 102 acres of land recently converted to certified organic agriculture. I visited to see how the trials had gone for both the organic peppermint and new herbs.

Echinacea field in north central Oregon

Echinacea field trial in north central Oregon

The land is along the Columbia River and is considered high desert area, with dry conditions and high winds. With irrigation from the Columbia River, it’s very conducive to growing mint and other hearty plants such as the three herbs chosen.

On my visit in 2013 when the conversion project was being launched, there was confidence this land would be productive, but there were concerns over weed control, water usage and plant quality since the land had been used for conventional production prior to conversion.

But the results were very positive in all respects. The mint quality and yield was outstanding and superior to other organic fields in the area. Weeds were not a problem, which kept production costs down and allowed for a higher yield. The results of the field trials for the new herbs were also very positive, producing tall and robust plants with good color and aroma. Hand-sifted samples of the field trials were sent to the Frontier Quality Lab for evaluation and received high marks for quality.

catnip field in north central Oregon

Catnip field trial in north central Oregon

Full production of these items will begin this spring, with the first delivery of product expected by early fall. Given the success of the trials, we are now partnering with the supplier for field trials of organic culinary herbs, such as dill, cilantro and parsley. We hope to complete the trials this year and begin production in 2017. Frontier is also supporting the supplier in improving the drying of these items by assisting in the funding of a mechanized dryer. The faster, better drying will increase the overall quality of the products.

We’re very encouraged by the initial success of this Well Earth project, and we’re excited about the future prospects of offering more high quality domestically produced organic herbs through the expansion of organic farming in the Pacific Northwest.

About the Author:  Dennis travels the world as a Commodity Manager for Frontier’s Global Sourcing team to meet with the growers who supply Frontier. He often coordinates donations through our Well Earth sourcing program for grower communities (commonly small villages) to provide basics we take for granted, such as medical care, education, water and electricity. In Iowa, Dennis is head of our Community Giving Program and travels to nearby towns to lend a helping hand to local organizations, charities and events.

Sourcing Aura Cacia Oils in Morocco

by Jennifer Ferring

Last summer I went on a trip with Aura Cacia Educators Tim Blakley and Charlynn Avery to visit the source of several of our oils in Morocco.


A family transporting essential oil on the Khemisset farm

Our first stop was an organic farm near Khemisset we’ve been working with for over a decade. The farm is run by a French company but employs local workers for harvest and distillation. The manager, Phillippe, has been living on the farm since its inception and has impressive knowledge and experience regarding herb cultivation. When he speaks about the farm, you can feel his passion for working with the land. This supplier doesn’t trade and buy oils like other companies, but carefully selects areas and sets up long-term arrangements — investing heavily — with the farmers and communities.

This fits perfectly with Aura Cacia’s preferred way of doing business — developing long-term partners at the source of our essential oils. The workers on the organic farm in Morocco enjoy ample paid time off, healthcare, representation to upper management and a higher wage than average farm workers in the area.


Distillation at the farm in Khemisset

While touring the farm, we saw the wild chamomile we purchase being distilled, the organic neroli flowers on the bitter orange tree and some of their new projects, including organic geranium and organic jasmine.

We also saw how all the resources on the farm are used efficiently. For example, after distilling wild chamomile or bitter orange branches, the spent material is either composted or used as mulch at the base of the bitter orange trees. The farm uses drip irrigation to preserve water, and they reuse the water that cools the condenser.

We walked around the farm asking questions and taking photos. We stopped and saw the distillation of the wild chamomile. The essential oil had a surprising variety of color — from yellow to greenish yellow — due to natural plant variation and time of harvest.

We were quite impressed with the farm’s operations, its commitment to quality and its respect for its workers.

The next stop on the trip was slightly to the north, near Fez — the part of the country and known for growing the best rosemary in the world. Rosemary bushes grew wild as far as we could see.


Moroccan tea service

Harvesters use hand sickles to cut the rosemary and bring it to the nearby distillery. Our supplier here is a family that has been distilling rosemary for three generations.

We were greeted by the son of the man we had visited with a few years ago — the son is now fully in charge of the distillery. We saw how the rosemary is distilled to capture the essential oil, and we discussed its quality and the market conditions that are causing prices to rise. We enjoyed a beautiful meal at the end of the day— complete with traditional Moroccan tea — in the son’s home.


Women laughing at the Argan cooperative

Finally we traveled south toward Agadir to see the women’s cooperative where we buy organic argan oil. We’ve been working with this group of women since 2011 when Aura Cacia first introduced organic argan oil into its line of products. The women gather the argan nut from the thousands of trees growing in this area. They crack open the nuts, revealing the seeds that are then mechanically cold-pressed to produce the oil.

Argan oil has been used for centuries by Moroccan women, both for cooking and in skin and hair care. Now that the western world has discovered its virtues, the women have a very lucrative business. This product provides much needed income for women in Morocco, where their options for employment are quite limited. And because the trees grow wild in this area, the women are able to work flexible hours and stay near their homes. We watched the women shell the seeds and use their recently updated cold-pressing machines to extract the oil. The oil is then filtered and sealed in stainless steel drums. They have photos in the entryway of the King of Morocco visiting their facility.

The women are obviously happy with their jobs and proud of their work. We ended our Morocco visit by going up to the rooftop where we dipped bread into a delicious mix of almond butter, honey, and argan oil and enjoyed another another impressive tea service.

We boarded our plane later exhilarated with the experience of having visited these three top-notch suppliers and met the wonderful and dedicated people of their communities.

About the Author:  Jennifer purchases essential oils, raw materials and packaging for Aura Cacia. She enjoys traveling the world in search of goods that are high quality and sustainable, and that lead to healthy, happy lives for all those involved. Jennifer is currently pursuing a Master’s in Business Administration at the University of Iowa. Outside of work and school, Jennifer enjoys hunting for treasures in antique shops and doing home improvement projects.

Sustainability in our own backyard

Each year, my colleagues in Frontier Co-op’s purchasing department travel the globe to source herbs, spices, and essential oils — ensuring not just quality, but that our products are produced in ways that are good for growers and the planet. aerialfrontier

Sourcing from more than 50 countries gives us a global perspective on sustainability. And we’re firmly rooted in Eastern-Iowa farm country as well. So when we were approached recently to sign on as one of the first members of the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum, a brand-new coalition of Iowa companies looking to tackle sustainability issues, it was only natural for us to join.

I recently had the chance to attend the Forum’s kick-off event, which was taking place just down the road from our headquarters in Norway, Iowa.

isbf_logoIt was inspiring to arrive and see that nearly 20 other Iowa companies also prioritized sustainability enough to be there. As I got acquainted with the others, I realized that Frontier is part of a community of companies making progress toward more sustainable business practices — from responsible sourcing to recycling to protecting bees to conserving water — right here in our Midwestern backyard. It was also gratifying to see the diversity of Iowa businesses that are working on sustainability issues. These include a small community bank as well as a multi-national financial services company, and our own natural and organic products co-operative and more mainstream food and agribusiness companies. Some businesses are just beginning their sustainability journey, while others have been focusing on the issues for years. But across the board, there was a genuine interest in making business more sustainable and an openness to sharing successful approaches with others.

I’ve been working on business sustainability for a while but I’m still a newcomer to Iowa, so to get a better perspective on Iowa’s issues and this group, I talked with Adam Hammes, an Iowa native who has played a lead role in getting the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum off the ground.

The genesis for the forum, Adam told me, came when he was working on sustainability issues for a major Iowa company and having adhoc get-togethers with like-minded people from other local businesses. The group was informal but saw real value in sharing sustainability successes and challenges. Eventually, Adam collaborated with Iowa State University to do a broad survey of Iowa businesses, including Frontier Co-op, and found that others in the state also wanted to be part of a sustainable business conversation. That set the Sustainable Business Forum in motion.

I asked Adam what he felt a group of Iowa-based companies could add to the global conversation on sustainable business. His answer was simple but thoughtful: we need local solutions to global problems. This rings true to the experience that Frontier Co-op has had over the years in initiatives for reducing waste reduction, increasing renewable energy and supporting the local community. Our challenges are often similar to those facing others around the world, but the resources we harness to address them need to be found right here at home.

I left the first Sustainable Business Forum event with a pocketful of business cards of kindred spirits from other local companies who I intend to follow up with to gain their insights, and I’m excited for the Forum’s next meeting.

Over the years, Frontier has taken many steps forward to make our business good for people and the planet, but we certainly haven’t found all the solutions. We look forward to learning from our Iowa neighbors and working together with them through the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum to find those local solutions to our global problems.

Seth PetchersAbout the Author:  Leveraging 15 years of on-the-ground experience in sustainable global supply chains — including two years working for Fair Trade in rural India — Seth Petchers leads Frontier Co-op’s efforts to deepen its sustainable sourcing and operations programs. He’s developing initiatives to further support socially and environmentally responsible suppliers; strengthen and expand Frontier’s pioneering Well Earth sourcing program; and reduce the company’s environmental footprint.

Sleeper Spices: Mustard Seed

Wake up your palate and expand your cooking repertoire with spices you may not have experienced before. In this installment of our series highlighting “sleeper” spices, learn about the unique seasoning capabilities of brown and yellow mustard seed — and get tips for using it to awaken your next cooking endeavor.


By Tom Havran

What it tastes like: You’re likely familiar with mustard from its use as a condiment on sandwiches, but using the seeds in whole or ground form as a spice will open up exciting new flavors for you to experience. In their inert state, mustard seeds have a rich, nutty, oily flavor. But when combined with a liquid, watch out! An enzyme in the seed reacts with other compounds called glucosinolates to create a complex of flavors including hot-pungent, vegetal and garlicky. The more heated and acidic the liquid, the hotter the mustard will be.

What it looks like: Mustard seed comes in three basic varieties: black, brown and yellow. Brown and yellow mustards are the most commonly used, with the brown being a bit more pungent than the yellow. The seeds are tiny, nearly perfect 1-milimeter spheres.

How to use it: Many Indian dishes begin with whole mustard seeds fried in oil along with curry leaf. Besides imparting the oil — and every subsequent ingredient that passes through the oil — with a pungent mustardy flavor, the seeds themselves become a nutty, toothsome delight in the finished dish. The ground seeds form a slightly oily powder that’s the basis for the condiment mustard, but it can also be used in any powdered seasoning blend, marinade or dry seasoning rub.

Here are a few tips about how to use mustard seed:

  • Add whole seeds to pickling brines and meat brines.
  • Fry whole seeds in oil and then add them to rice before topping it with curry.
  • Fry whole seeds in oil along with whole cumin seeds and add them to samosa or curry pot pie fillings.
  • Grind seeds and combine with other seasonings in dry rubs for grilled meats and tofu.
  • Grind seeds and make your own fresh mustard by stirring in plain water, wine, fruit juice or vinegar.


Recipe: Beer Mustard

Have you ever tried mustard seed? Share what you thought of it in the comments below!

Tom-HavranAbout the author: Tom is communicator of natural living for Frontier, Simply Organic and Aura Cacia brands. In other words, he’s a very imaginative copywriter. A local boy, raised on a farm just down the road from the company’s headquarters in Norway, Tom enjoys drawing, plant hoarding, cooking and living the simple life in the beautiful state of Iowa.

My organic living “Aha!” moment: From discovering organic food to growing it myself

By Joanna Mouming

​My organic living “Aha!” moment ​was when I first discovered the quality of organic food.

I am fortunate to have grown up eating meals that were prepared using fresh ingredients, rather than canned and frozen foods. I served, in a way, as sous chef to my mother in the kitchen as I became old enough to do so. I can’t snap beans, toss a salad or shuck corn without being reminded of doing so for the many years I lived in Syracuse, New York, with my family.

Our dream farm has a lovely view of the Iowa countryside and gives us new opportunities to explore the value of organic growing.

Our dream farm has a lovely view of the Iowa countryside and gives us new opportunities to explore the value of organic growing.

But despite having been raised on freshly prepared meals, I wasn’t raised on organic foods. While I was a young foodie in college, my interest in, and eventual commitment to, eating organic foods didn’t surface until a friend joined the New Pioneer Co-op in Iowa City, and I went there with her. The food I saw on the shelves and the many farmers stopping in to deliver organic vegetables, fruit, flowers, eggs, etc., piqued my interest in organics.

Continue reading

Sleeper Spices: Mace

Wake up your palate and expand your cooking repertoire with spices you may not have experienced before. In this installment of our series highlighting “sleeper” spices, learn about the unique seasoning capabilities of mace — and get tips for using it to awaken your next cooking endeavor.

Frontier Organic Mace

By Tom Havran

What it tastes like: Mace and nutmeg are derived from the same fruit of the same tree (Myristica frangrans). The aroma and flavor of mace recall nutmeg, but mace is a bit more delicate and ethereal.

What it looks like: Mace consists of the fleshy aril, a fruit-like structure that surrounds a whole nutmeg. They appear as filamentous tendrils which are bright red when fresh and dry to a rosy-orange color. Mace can be purchased whole, cut and sifted, or ground. The latter appears as a slightly oily, tan-orange powder. Continue reading

How to make everyday moments a celebration of living

By Alan Miles

Birthdays, weddings, graduations, holidays — most of us have calendars peppered with major events to celebrate throughout the year. But for every one of these calendar-worthy events, there are many more modest, everyday milestones and accomplishments that deserve celebrating too. They’re the little things behind the big things, and finding simple, fun ways to acknowledge them cheers us, motivates us and develops our sense of gratitude.

When my daughter

My daughter Emma taking her first jump in horseback riding was cause for celebration in our home.

Opportunities for fun
There are opportunities for spontaneous celebrations almost every day. And it isn’t always necessary to plan ahead and create big-deal parties for them. A simple, favorite meal is always great way to acknowledge someone’s accomplishment. Also, look to special events in the world at large to celebrate, such as an impromptu picnic on the living room floor to celebrate the lengthening hours of daylight at the winter’s solstice. Almost anything fun can work as a celebration. Continue reading

Secret Ingredients: Grandma’s poppy seed bread recipe

The secret ingredient that makes every recipe better is a story. In this installment of our Secret Ingredients series, Grandma’s poppy seed bread recipe bakes into a loaf full of sweet, buttery nostalgia.

By Kailee Meskimen

Ever since I was a young girl, going to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house has always been a treasured time. I remember their house was always stocked with bubble gum and smelled of spiced gum drops — a kid’s dream.  And, I knew if I asked nicely (which I always did), Grandma would make me a small loaf of her light and fluffy poppy seed bread. This melt-in-your-mouth bread has long been a staple dessert for my family’s gatherings.


I recently convinced Grandma to bake a few loaves of her poppy seed bread to inspire this story.

Sweet, buttery nostalgia

I was hooked after my first bite nearly 20 years ago. There’s just something about that bread that makes me feel warm inside. The crunchy texture of the poppy seeds complements the buttery bread perfectly. I had never had poppy seed bread before trying Grandma’s, but now I crave it. Not that we weren’t served dessert at home growing up, but Grandma’s sweets were always just a little more special — and this bread is no exception.

The recipe is tucked away in Grandma’s cookbook — but highlighted, starred and bookmarked for easy access because it’s so good and addicting! It’s so popular my grandma continues to make personal mini-loaves for everyone in the family every time we get together, even to this day.

Grandma’s perfect poppy seed bread is surprisingly simple. There are no unique or secret ingredients, other than the nostalgia I feel every time I taste it. The only true surprise is to open up the tin foil-wrapped loaf to see if she brushed her signature hot orange glaze sauce on top, which makes the best bread ever taste even better. The sweet, citrusy glaze acts as a coating, wrapping the delicate bread in a sugary cocoon. She doesn’t add the glaze (also known as the sweet nectar of gods) often, but when she does, it’s an extra-special treat.

I can’t call this recipe healthy, but I can say it’s good for the soul and light enough for a post-dinner snack any time of the year. For a unique twist, try adding chia seeds, crushed almonds or lemon peel. Continue reading

Reclaim the Casserole: Healthy casserole tips

Shepherds Pie

Shepherds Pie — one of six delicious new Simply Organic recipes to help Reclaim the Casserole and turn it into a more wholesome and satisfying meal.

By Sara Mallicoat

During the cold winter months in Iowa, my family tends to hibernate, only coming out when we have to. This means I get a little homesick since we don’t often make the short drive over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house (sorry, I couldn’t help it!). This leaves me craving some of my childhood favorites to fill the void and keep my heart happy. Since my extended family has faced health issues in the past year, I’m rethinking what my family eats again. I’ve been working on tinkering with some of the not-so-healthy ingredients in our favorite casseroles so that I can breathe new life — and nutrition — into them.

Whether you want to sneak more nutrition into a favorite dish or simply make weeknight meal planning a little easier, turn to these tips to make healthy casseroles and other comfort food favorites!

Tip #1: Make your own cream of “something” soup

Too many casseroles are weighed down by heavy creamed soup bases. I use this recipe as a swap for a can of creamed “something” — it’s quick and easy and not loaded with sodium. This would be a great base for your tuna and noodles, tator tot casserole or cheesy hash brown bake (party potatoes)! Continue reading

Healthful bowl game eating pep talk

By Alan Miles

The bowl game experience isn’t exactly all about eating naturally and well. The game is packed with commercials for less-than-healthy foodstuffs, and watching it triggers a feeding frenzy on snacks and party food that are often laden with chemical preservatives, colorings and flavorings. How can someone who wants to eat well take part in this grand sports holiday?

First of all, you’ve gotta believe! If you believe that you can eat right and are willing to give 110 percent to make it happen, you can do it. Use these sports clichés to keep your eating on track and come back with a good-eating victory in a hostile environment:

Simply Organic root vegetable chips

Swap unhealthy chips for baked root vegetable chips.

Stay focused. It can be hard to eat right in a festive atmosphere. But you’ve got to execute your game plan just like it’s any other day. Remember your long-term goals, and don’t try too hard. Just let it come to you. Try to find your comfort zone — the foods you feel good about eating — and do what you do best. Continue reading