How I buy ‘local’ cinnamon

vanilla beans

Frontier Co-op CEO Tony Bedard tries his hand at vanilla bean sorting at our Madagascar supplier’s facilities.

By Alan Miles

I like local food. On our last visit to the weekend farmer’s market in nearby Cedar Rapids, Iowa, my wife and I bought produce and flowers, nut butters and jams, and even dishcloths and soaps from small, local farmers and businesses. On a regular basis, we shop from the roadside produce stand that we drive by on our way to visit the grandkids. One of the things I like about my membership in New Pioneer Co-op (my local food co-op) is that they champion local products. And it’s not just because the price is right that we’re thrilled when our friends with big gardens stop by with their overflow harvest — the taste of those vegetables from down the road puts trucked-in produce to shame. Besides the quality of local products, I like the community, social, economic and environmental aspects of local buying.

At the same time, I also eat a lot of food that comes from the other side of the world — with the same enthusiasm. That’s because I look at the cinnamon from Vietnam, the vanilla from Madagascar and the other Frontier Co-op products I bring home from work as “buying local.” Here are my reasons:

The spices are sustainably grown. Okay, I can’t make the case that eating something that comes from nearly 10,000 miles away is minimizing food miles. But when it comes to something like cinnamon, I’m not going to find it locally grown. So short of simply not eating anything that doesn’t grow in Iowa, I have to make another assessment — I look at how sustainably foods that are unavailable locally are grown where they do grow.

A big part of our Well Earth® sustainable sourcing program is helping small farmers access the resources and knowledge they need to grow their crops organically and sustainably. The organic training center we funded in Sri Lanka, for example, does just that. Thousands of farmers, from numerous countries, have been trained in organic, sustainable agriculture — and the center does research to improve organic growing methods as well. (We’re funding a second training center in Sri Lanka that’s opening soon.)

Most of these small farmers are already committed to biodynamic, no-chemical farming. Their use of the land is efficient, low-tech and hands-on, with intense intercropping, natural fertilization and sound land-conservation methods. They improve their land rather than deplete it. Continue reading

Share the goodness through organic, Fair Trade Certified cocoa

By Alan Miles

The holiday season isn’t quite as sweet without cocoa — from your favorite chocolate treats to a mug of hot cocoa in front of the fire. To make the experience a truly joyous one, be sure your cocoa is produced without exploiting the people who grow it.

Fair Trade cocoa

A small town in the Dominican Republic, typical of where some of Frontier’s Fair Trade Certified cocoa is grown. Chris Anderson, a commodity manager for Frontier, visited our cocoa supplier there earlier this year.

Frontier’s three organic, Fair Trade Certified™ cocoa powders are sourced with the philosophy of sharing the goodness: the high-quality, organic cocoa that sweetens our lives also improves the lives of the farmers growing it in the Dominican Republic and Peru.

Here’s how we do it:

1. Keeping in direct contact with local growers of our cocoa.

Chris Anderson, Frontier’s commodity manager, recently traveled to the Dominican Republic to visit the co-op that supplies our organic Fair Trade Certified cocoa powder. Hearing about his trip, I was once again struck by how beneficial our direct sourcing and Fair Trade premiums are — in this case, to the small co-op of cocoa farmers themselves and their larger communities. Continue reading

Q&A with Kai Stark: How Fair Trade works in Sri Lanka

Fair wages, safe working conditions, access to education and healthcare, GMO-free crops — these are some of the important things you support when you buy products that are Fair Trade Certified. But beyond the seal and the premium price, how does Fair Trade actually work to make a difference in communities worldwide?

It’s all about building strong local organization among individual farmers.

For the past six years, Frontier purchasing manager Kai Stark has been involved in sourcing more than a dozen Fair Trade Certified (through Fair Trade USA) spices from growers in Sri Lanka through the farmer groups Small Organic Farmers Association (SOFA) and Marginalized Organic Producers Association (MOPA).

Fair Trade Sri Lanka

Kai (left) visiting an organic farm in Sri Lanka.

We recently talked with Kai about how these groups — and by extension, Fair Trade — make a difference for farmers in Sri Lanka.

You’ve visited this group of farmers, located in the central hills of Sri Lanka, multiple times over the past several years. What makes them unique?
The farmers that we work with are small landholders who farm one or two acres. Rather than growing spices in large-scale monocultures — plantations — these farmers are devoted to intercropping. This means that you’ll see many crops growing in just one or two acres, with the different crops supporting each other. You’ll see clove trees with pepper vines growing up their trunks, for example.
Continue reading

A New Strategy for Resolutions

By Alan Miles

I don’t have a very good track record on New Year’s Resolutions. In fact, the score to date is:

Better Self — 0
Undisciplined Resolution Slacker — 273

But this year things are going to be different. I’m going to make my dismal New Year’s history work for me by making resolutions it will be good for me to break. So, for 2013, I resolve to:

Eat out more often. No problem keeping this one, right? I can just go with the flow — eating out has become a part of the American way of life. We eat more than half of our meals away from home these days, and we spend more than $110 billion every year on fast food alone. But if I make it my resolution to eat out more often, it won’t be Jan. 3 before I find myself sitting down to dinner at home. Oh, I might try to overcome the backsliding at first and convince myself it would be fun to go to a restaurant — but before long, I’ll be saving money and eating healthier food where I live. I’ll start acknowledging that I know (and can control) exactly what’s in my food, that I’m bonding with my family, that it’s nice to be home. I’ll probably even enjoy cooking. If this goes anything like my past resolutions, it won’t take long for me to start packing healthy snacks and lunches when I’m going to be away from home just to avoid eating out.

Continue reading

Our Segment from the Whole Foods Market® Whole Story Blog

As Marc Hamel and Ha Lam wrote in their recent blog post on the Whole Foods Market® Whole Story blog, “Frontier knows the quality of spices can make or break a recipe — just a dash of spice can make a world of difference. Frontier focuses on sourcing the best to ensure that home cooks and home bakers can perfect flavors in recipes when using spices.”

We do, indeed.

Here’s what happened when they paid us a visit, with our CEO Tony Bedard giving Martha Stewart a run for her money.


And here’s that recipe for the Sugar-Coated Gingerbread Twists.

The Whole Story blog gives you a fun behind-the-scenes look at some of Whole Foods’ suppliers, vendors and producers.

Please visit the Whole Story blog for more of our story.

Happy 10th Anniversary to Our Simply Organic Brand

Please take a moment and enjoy our newest video, which highlights some major milestones of one of our brands at Frontier, Simply Organic.

Coinciding with the celebration of its 10th anniversary, Simply Organic® has surpassed the half-million-dollar contribution mark through a recent donation made to the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES).

Simply Organic’s One Percent Fund – SO1% – takes 1 percent of net sales on all Simply Organic spices, seasoning mixes, baking flavors/extracts, and baking mixes, and uses it to support organic agriculture through education, research, and grower development.

Well Earth™ Making a Difference in Sri Lanka

One of Frontier’s valued Well Earth™ partners is the Small Organic Farmers Association (SOFA), a 2,043-member cooperative of small scale, organic farmers in Sri Lanka.

The president of SOFA, organic farmer Bernard Sri Kantha, is proud to tell us that the cooperative is founded not only on the principals of organic agriculture and Fair Trade, but also on that of shramadhana — a Sinhalese word for the giving of one’s self, whether time, energy, knowledge, experience, wealth or physical labor, to help improve the welfare of the community.

In the spirit of shramadhana, Frontier donated $25,000 in Well Earth™ grant money to support the construction of an organic training center in Sri Lanka.

Completed in late 2010, the first classes are already underway, educating farmers on sustainable cropping techniques such as composting, erosion control, rain harvesting, and natural pest management. Aside from offering participants a classroom setting, the training center is also a fully functional research and development farm, allowing students to immediately put their education to use with hands-on field demonstrations and exercises.

Co-op members like Mahinda Karunarathna, the father of two children, exemplify this ideal. Mr. Karunarathna grows pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and a myriad of other spices on just a few acres of mountainous land, along with tending a rice paddy and keeping chickens to feed his family. Although his farm and family life are enough to keep him busy, he makes time to share his experience and expertise in sustainable farming methods with other local growers.

The result? During 2010, the cooperative earned a total of $150,000 in Fair Trade social premiums. For communities where farmers typically earn $900 to $1,200 annually, these premiums have enabled the construction of clean water sources and schools, as well as funded scholarships, education programs and a vast array of other beneficial projects.

And while the premiums have made the financial aspect of these programs possible, it has been the volunteered time and effort of people like Mahinda Karunarathna that have ultimately made these things a reality.

Our new May 2011- April 2012 includes a feature on this project written by Kai Stark, Frontier’s sourcing expert who works closely with these farmers on this project. As Kai explains, “The seeds of our farmers are able to grow due to the water provided by you, our customers. Thanks from Frontier, and our growers, for sharing in our vision to make the world a better place.”

Check out the video to visit Sri Lanka along with Kai:

As always, we invite you to read more about our Well Earth™ program.

We created it with you in mind.

Guest Post: Cole Daily

Cole Daily is Vice President of Global Sourcing for Frontier Natural Products Co-op. As a member of Frontier’s sourcing team, Cole has helped build Frontier’s pioneering organic spice business into one of the largest in the United States.

Most recently, Cole and our company have focused on developing strong relationships with organic suppliers around the world through our Well Earth program.

Cole has served as a board member for the American Spice Trade Association and holds a B.A. from Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and an M.B.A. from the University of Iowa.

Cole Daily, Frontier Vice President of Global Sourcing. Photo courtesy of Cole.

Cole recently shared some insight with us about how the situation in the Middle East impacts us at Frontier, and why our Well Earth program continues to be a positive force when these very situations occur.

Here’s what he had to say:

In 1814, Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, a brilliant Austrian/German statesman, said, “Quand Paris eternue, l’Europe attrape la rhume” or “When Paris sneezes, Europe catches a cold.”

What he meant was that whatever happened in Paris had major ramifications throughout Europe. Since those days of the Napoleonic Wars, the world has become a much smaller place, and, as you know, Frontier has become involved in countries all around it. So it probably won’t surprise you to learn that, to paraphrase the prince, “When the Middle East sneezes, Frontier catches a cold.”

In this case, Egypt has sneezed and triggered some wheezing and coughing among our purchasing group. A number of our products come from Egypt, a key one being organic onion, and we have seen some ramifications from the political upheaval there. Our supplier is located in the 6th of October City outside of Cairo. The city’s name commemorates Egypt’s military operations in the 1973 6th of October/Yom Kippur War.

Although our supplier was not affected directly at their location, they’ve seen the ports shut down, and the disruptions in day-to-day services has affected their plant as well. To date, we haven’t had any out-of-stocks because of the situation — nor do we expect any, as we have some contingency plans that we are quickly implementing — but it points out the fact that we are a global company, and we must continue to evolve our sources as the world evolves.

That’s why our Well Earth program continues to be the cornerstone of our sourcing efforts. By creating strong relationships throughout the world, we can, to stay with our metaphor, avoid any germs that come from a sneeze here or there.

While buying more than 2,400 different products from over 45 countries throughout the world has its challenges, our focus remains on providing exceptional quality products with exceptional service to our customers — even though we require a “gesundheit” every once in a while.

May 14 is World Fair Trade Day: Wake Up the World!

Been wondering what the term Fair Trade Certified means when it comes to food? If you have a general idea that it may be a “good thing” but aren’t sure where to find these foods, or how to use them, your day is coming.

You can join Fair Trade supporters from around the world to celebrate World Fair Trade Day with a Fair Trade Breakfast on Saturday, May 14.  It’s easy to get involved and take action in support of social, economic and environmental sustainability for farmers and workers around the world.

The Fair Trade USA website is full of creative ideas if you’d like to raise awareness about Fair Trade while having fun and enjoying good food in the process. You can also join the Facebook page for Fair Trade Certified and exchange ideas there.

One suggestion is to prepare a Fair Trade Breakfast for your family and friends. Take a moment to educate guests about Fair Trade by identifying the Fair Trade Certified ingredients used for each dish. Or enjoy a Fair Trade breakfast on your own. It can be as simple as making a cup of Fair Trade Certified coffee or tea and eating a Fair Trade Certified banana.

When you see the Fair Trade Certified mark on food and other goods, you can be assured that the producers in developing countries have received a fair price for their products that allows them to make investments into improving their local community and infrastructure.

With Fair Trade Certified ingredients ranging from pasta and spices to cocoa and tea, you now have many options for making a positive contribution to the lives of producers, sustaining the earth and the global ecomomy. And of course you can use Fair Trade Certified spices to enhance your dishes.

You can prepare entire Fair Trade meals for any time of day. As you plan a meal, simply check through your list of ingredients to see which ones may be offered in a Fair Trade version.

Here are some suggestions for easy ways to integrate Fair Trade ingredients into your cooking:

  • For main dishes, you might go with Fair Trade pastas, vegetables and spices.
  • Use Fair Trade avocadoes, tomatoes, or other veggies for salads or side dishes.
  • You can find many hot drinks and beverages in the Fair Trade range.
  • Enhance your meal with home-baked breads, cookies and desserts using Fair Trade fruits. Those Fair Trade bananas mentioned above can now be found at almost any food store these days. They were one of the original fruits to become widely certified; now the products available are much broader. You can discover your own creative fruit combinations.

Your support of Fair Trade doesn’t have to end with food items. More and more Fair Trade kitchen and table items are becoming available: place mats, tableware, napkins, serving dishes, etc. Explore the possibilities — many stores will be offering suggestions and specials for World Fair Trade Day, so check with your local natural and organic retailer.

Please let us know if you have any plans for this day, or if you have any favorite Fair Trade Certified foods or products.

Thanks for stopping by.

A Look at Some New Products and Trends

Amy Longnecker (left) and Ellen Bouchard (right) making final plans with Chef Jesse Ziff Cool (center) for her cooking demo at Expo West, Anaheim. More on Jesse coming up!

Two of the largest industry gatherings we attend are the Natural Products Expos:  Expo East, which is held every fall, and Expo West, which takes place in March. This is our opportunity to show our new products to other industry people and retailers.

We’ll give you a sneak peek too. Our Steve Krusie tells you what you can look for on your store shelves in the coming months.

Our friends at Fair Trade USA did a nice wrap up on their blog of some of the innovations they saw at Expo West a few weeks ago. Take a look and see if any of these trends appeal to you. Are any of them on your radar?