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.
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.
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.
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.
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.