Organic Primer by the USDA

In a series called Organic 101, the USDA has blogged about the meaning of the USDA Organic label. Miles McEvoy, National Organic Program Director, has written the series, which provides a helpful primer on just what organic means, in terms of USDA involvement. Here are the installments you’ll find on their blog, along with just one or two examples of the kinds of information contained in each segment:

Part 1: What Organic Farming (and Processing) Doesn’t Allow. When it comes to dairy and meat products, for example, the USDA organic label insures that the animals were raised in living conditions “that accommodated their natural behaviors, without being administered hormones or antibiotics, and while grazing on pasture grown on healthy soil.”

Part 2: Allowed and Prohibited Substances. In this installment, you’ll learn that while organic agriculture allows natural substances and prohibits synthetic, vaccines are considered an important part in maintaining animal health.

Part 3:  What the USDA Organic Label Means. No foods labeled with the USDA Organic label can be grown or handled using genetically modified organisms. And packaged products that indicate they are “made with organic something” must contain at least 70 percent organically produced ingredients.

To learn more about the USDA Organic Label, read the blog at USDA Blog.

This article also appeared in our Frontier Member News, the monthly enewsletter for our co-op members.

Here’s how you can become a co-op member.

Organic Argan Oil, Sustainably Sourced from Morocco

Maybe you’ve noticed lots of press lately about argan oil. If you’ve not discovered it yet, here’s an introduction.

Argan oil contains high levels of skin rejuvenating essential fatty acids and is great for moisturizing and nourishing the skin. Argan is sustainably sourced from the nuts of a native desert tree in Morocco and is valued for the protection it offers from the dry desert atmosphere of North Africa.

Frontier’s aromatherapy brand Aura Cacia® is proud to be sourcing their quality organic argan oil from women’s cooperatives in Morocco. Through their purchasing efforts they are able to make an impact in the lives of these women and their families.

The Atlas mountain range, home of the mountain of Toubkal, is so populated with argan trees that it is commonly referred to as “Argana.” Aura Cacia® team members Tim Blakley, Jennifer Ferring and Jane Merten traveled to this region in May 2011 to meet some of the producers of their organic argan oil.

Take a look:

On this trip, they met Fatima, the leader and co-founder of one particular co-op. She lost her husband years ago, leaving her with two young sons and significant debt. She came across a woman named H’Maidouch trying to sell her argan oil in the market. Fatima bought the oil from H’Maidouch so that she could use it to exchange for kitchen staples such as flour and bread. This experience gave Fatima the idea to start the co-op. With some help from government grants the two women were able to open Afoulki-Amskroud Cooperative in 2004.

Here are some quick facts about the Afoulki-Amskroud Cooperative.

  • The cooperative produces around 10 tons of argan oil each year.
  • Their yield is around 1 kg of argan oil from 2.5 kg of seeds.
  • The cooperative employs 80 women, and each of them produce around 3 kg of argan seeds each day. Many choose to work part-time. The women share in the profits based on the amounts they produce.
  • Afoulki-Amskroud is one of 11 women’s co-ops in the “Argana” area, and one of the 600 across all of Morocco.

More on Aura Cacia’s organic Moroccan argan oil.

Do you use argan oil? Tell us how.

Gumbo File Seasoning

A signature ingredient in gumbo and other Creole dishes, file powder, or Gumbo File, is used for its delicate but distinct flavor and thickening characteristics.

File was introduced by the Choctaw Nation in Louisiana. File is a sassafras leaf — we added thyme to give it our own deep, distinctive flavor.

LOUISIANA VEGETABLE GUMBO

Gumbo is one of the great comfort foods to come out of Louisiana. This spicy, rich concoction is actually more of a stew than a soup, but it is really in a class by itself. The word “gumbo” means “okra,” and there is plenty of it in this recipe. The amount of rice served with the gumbo should be dictated by personal preference. File powder is made from ground sassafras leaves.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1  large onion, diced
1  medium-size green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups vegetable stock or water
1 can (14.5-ounce) diced tomatoes, with their juices
1 1/2 cups sliced fresh or frozen okra
1  small zucchini, ends trimmed and sliced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon file powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Tabasco sauce
2 to 3 cups hot cooked long grain rice
Directions:
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic, cover, and cook, stirring a few times, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the stock, tomatoes, okra, zucchini, thyme, file powder, salt, pepper, and Tabasco to taste. Simmer, partially covered, over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 40 minutes. Taste to adjust the seasonings.To serve, spoon about 1/2 cup of the cooked rice into each soup bowl and ladle the hot gumbo over the top.

College Campuses Ban Bottled Water

Water has been playing a role in some recent weather disasters like Hurricane Irene and tropical storms in the southern United States. It’s no wonder it’s on our minds a lot lately.

It’s time to pay attention to where you get your water. In emergencies, of course, a bottle of water can be a lifesaver. But on a daily basis, a bottle of water is an expensive, environmentally destructive and potentially dangerous object.

Here are a few reasons:

  • It takes 17 million barrels of oil per year to make all the plastic water bottles used in the U.S. alone. That’s enough oil to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year.
  • In 2007, Americans consumed over 50 billion single serve bottles of water; between 30 and 40 million single serve bottles went into landfills each year.
  • The United State FDA describes bottled water in this way: “Bottled water is water that is intended for human consumption and that is sealed in bottles or other containers with no added ingredients except that it may optionally contain safe and suitable antimicrobial agents. Fluoride may be optionally added within the limitations established.”

Source: http://www.banthebottle.net/

There are many sides of this issue – pro and con. Let’s focus on the sustainability issue presented by the bottles in the landfill and the oil used to make these bottles we’re throwing away. The simple fix is to stop using them. Who better than students to take the lead in finding ways to make this happen?

College students at two Minnesota schools have joined nine other colleges in the US in banning plastic water bottles on campus.  This fall, the College of St. Benedict recently became the first school in the state — and the ninth in the nation — to ban the sale and purchase of plain bottled water on campus. Macalester College adopted a similar policy.

Many cities, including San Francisco and New York, have banned purchases of bottles of water using city money. Others may ban it from being sold within city limits. Chicago has begun taxing bottled water sales.

Hundreds of websites, including the one listed above, will give you more background information on this growing problem in the US – including which brands of bottled water are from a municipal water supply and which are from an authentic mountain spring.

You might want to take a look at your own consumption of bottled water.

Share your thoughts.

Do you drink it?

What kind do you buy?

Do you think it should be banned everywhere?

Do you have ideas on how to solve the problem of waste and expense?

Please weigh in!

Guest Post: Sri Lanka Sourcing Trip, by Tony Bedard

Today’s post is by Frontier CEO Tony Bedard, who accompanied Purchasing Manager Kai Stark to visit Well Earth partner SOFA, the Small Organic Farmers Association, in Sri Lanka. For more about SOFA and the Frontier-funded Training Center there, see our website article, Organic Training in Sri Lanka.

At least once a year I try to make a sourcing trip with a member of our purchasing team. I not only get a better understanding of the work of our purchasing staff, but the trips give me firsthand knowledge of our relationships with our grower partners. I can then share what I learn with our employees, our board, the media, and our customers.

Early this year, I accompanied Kai Stark on a trip to Sri Lanka — an island nation off the southeast coast of India. Sri Lanka is roughly half the size of Iowa with seven times as many people.

Until 1972 it was known as Ceylon — the source of true Ceylon cinnamon. Sri Lanka is the center of the Buddhist religion and culture. It’s a very beautiful island with lush tropical forests and a very diverse landscape. It’s also said to have beautiful white beaches, although we didn’t get to see any of those.

The island was prized for its location on a main shipping route early on, and it was colonized by the Dutch, then the Portuguese, and finally the British before gaining its independence as Sri Lanka in 1948. I guess this partly explains why they drive on the wrong side of the road (to us, anyway). Sri Lankans showed us time and again that they had no problem passing into oncoming traffic or driving on the shoulder of the road.

It takes a lot of travel time to get to and from Sri Lanka. On our trip home, we left at what was 9:00 AM Saturday morning back home in Iowa and arrived here at 10:30 PM on Sunday night, worn out by two ten-hour flights, a couple long layovers and another two-hour flight from Dallas.

After a similar long flight on the way there, we landed in Colombo and drove to a city called Kandy, where we met with our supplier partners. The company has a number of facilities around the city of Kandy that process and package cinnamon, cloves, lemon grass, ginger, nutmeg, and teas along with a few other spices and herbs.

While we found their plant and facilities to be very nice and the employees extremely positive, it was even more impressive to see the network of over 2000 small organic farmers — most of whom farm less than two acres of land to support their families. While in the fields, we saw how the farmers grew and processed the nutmeg and cinnamon that we buy.

We’re glad that Frontier’s purchases allow the farmers to earn a 10-15% premium for growing organic products.

One of our primary goals for the trip was to check on the progress of a new training center near Dambulla, in the central part of Sri Lanka. The training center includes roughly 100 acres of experimental farm ground where growers can get both classroom and hands-on training in growing organically and bio-dynamically. During the first year after the center opened, over 120 farmers were trained — some from as far away as Pakistan.

It was a joy and a privilege to see firsthand the impact that our business with them has on the growers and other workers and their families and communities. We can all be proud that our work here at Frontier has such a positive impact on people halfway around the world.

Tony Bedard, far right.

Kai Stark, left.

Check out the Frontier website for more information and a video about this sourcing trip to Sri Lanka.

Moroccan Food

A team from Aura Cacia, our essential oil brand, recently traveled to Morocco on a sourcing trip. We always like to hear about the cuisines encountered on these trips. A few notes they shared with us about the food: Tagines were often used to cook the food, no pork was ever served, fruit was served as dessert, argan oil was used in many dishes, and the photos don’t really show how large the dishes were!

Because of Morocco’s interaction with many other cultures and countries throughout history, today’s Moroccan cuisine is surprisingly diverse. In addition to imported spices, many ingredients are home grown, including saffron, olives, lemons, and mint. Common spices used daily include cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, pepper, paprika, ginger, coriander, sesame seeds and anise seeds.

We’re going to let the team’s photos do the rest of the talking.

Veggie and meat dish.

Salad in Morocco.

Main course served in Moroccan home.

Honeycomb appetizer, for dipping bread.

Fruit platter, served as dessert.

Cous cous veggie dish made with argan oil.

Chicken dish with almonds.

Here’s a recipe from our recipe files for creating your own Moroccan spice rub, using coriander, fennel, cardamom and cloves.

Moroccan Barbecue Spice Mix

Dry toasting whole spice seeds intensifies their flavor and fragrance. You can liberally rub this enticing spice mix over salmon, halibut, pork, chicken or beef before cooking, or add it to sautéed onions with chopped kale, collard greens, or cabbage, sea salt, and black pepper with a little bit of broth, then cover and simmer for a delicious side dish. Thanks go to Chef Bruce Sherrod of Berkeley, CA, for sharing this recipe.

Ingredients:
1/4 cup whole coriander seeds
1/4 cup whole fennel seeds
1 teaspoon whole shelled cardamom seeds
2 teaspoons whole cloves
Directions:

To toast seeds: Combine spice seeds in a dry, medium-size skillet over moderate heat. Stir until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Pour seeds into a shallow bowl to cool.

To grind: Finely powder the toasted spices in a spice-dedicated coffee grinder (not the same one you use for coffee) or mortar and pestle. Store in an airtight jar at room temperature for up to 6 months (use sooner if possible).

To use with fish or meat: Season steaks, chops, fish, beef or pork roast with coarsely ground black pepper and finely ground sea salt; roll the meat in a portion of spice mix and press firmly to coat all over. Allow the seasoned meat to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes, or cover loosely with unbleached parchment paper and refrigerate for up to 4 hours before cooking.

Sear seasoned fish or meat in a heavy, oven-proof skillet with coconut oil, clarified butter or ghee (2 tablespoons per 1 1/2 to 2 pounds fish or meat) until hot but not smoking. Sear 1 to 2 minutes per side, then finish in a preheated 400°F oven.

To shell whole cardamom seeds, place 1 tablespoon of whole cardamom pods (they have a beige color) on a cutting board. Rock over them with a heavy-bottomed skillet or chef knife. Pull away and discard the shell fragments, then measure the black seeds. Repeat as needed. To skip this step, buy shelled cardamom seeds.

Let us know if you have experience with Moroccan foods, or any favorite recipes you’d like to share!

Tips for Sustainable Travel

Summer means travel if you’re lucky. Each time we travel, we’re looking for ways to lessen our use of disposable goods – in other words, we look for sustainable elements in hotels, eateries, public transport, and shops we visit along the way.

This quest has led us to become fans of the website Traveling Greener.  The blog features an extensive roundup of global travel tips and informative websites.

A recent feature explains some of the advantages of staying at a rental property rather than a hotel in order to travel more sustainably.

We’ve found this to be true as well. Obviously a rental villa or apartment uses less energy than a big hotel. Consider all the “less” involved: less waste, no daily changing of linens, no waste from an adjoining restaurant, and from our experience, they often stock the rooms with products and supplies that are made locally, which equals less fuel used in transporting goods.

A recent post on Traveling Greener features Lara Dunston, who blogs with Terence Carter about sustainable, local and experiential travel at Grantourismo. Lara offers her top 10 tips on traveling sustainably. A few of them:

  • Apply the same eco-friendly practices you would at home: separate rubbish, re-use plastic bags, use lighting, electricity and water wisely.
  • Travel to the destination by train or boat instead of plane; once you arrive use public transport, ride bikes, or walk everywhere.
  • Shop at local markets, farmer’s markets, organic markets, and specialized stores, such as butchers, cheesemongers and fishmongers. If you must use a supermarket, check packaging carefully.
  • Use small, local, independently-owned businesses to keep the money in the community, instead of big supermarkets, department stores and global franchises.
  • Do eco-friendly activities: walking tours, nature-based activities, visit small museums, local parks and gardens, and use local, eco-certified, responsible travel companies.

Maybe you’ve never considered these sorts of travel options. If not, we hope you’ll explore some of these ideas.  And knowing how careful some of our customers are about sustainability, we know some of you are experts on traveling that way too.

Please share some of your own tips and experiences with us!

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.

Book Review: Truly Mexican by Roberto Santibañez

Happy Cinco de Mayo! We hope you’re celebrating with some fabulous Mexican cuisine today.

We’re feeling especially festive because we’re introducing our first cookbook review, too! We look forward to sharing reviews and recipes from the latest cookbooks, both here and on our website.

We’ll start off with Truly Mexican, by Roberto Santibañez, chef and owner of NYC’s Park Slope restaurant Fonda, which has become a popular dining destination for authentic Mexican cuisine.

Reviewed by Karen Miles

Remember what Julia Child’s cookbook did for French cuisine? Well, Roberto Santibañez similarly — and successfully — offers us the art of preparing a foreign cuisine in his new book, Truly Mexican. While walking us through the process of composing authentic Mexican sauces and condiments, we learn techniques that are important to Mexican cooking, such as toasting chili peppers and roasting tomatoes. We learn about Mexican staples, including spices, nuts and seeds, and fruits and vegetables.

Because the focus of the book is on sauces and condiments, entire chapters are devoted to salsas, guacamoles, adobos, and moles and pipianes. “I chose those sauces and dishes that contain accessible ingredients, illustrate important culinary concepts, and of course, taste amazing,” explains Santibañez. That’s not to say you can’t craft an entire Mexican meal from these recipes.

In fact, we learn how to use the sauces and condiments to transform a piece of meat or poultry into an irresistible, authentic ethnic dish. (There’s even a chapter on “More Ideas for Using Mexican Sauces.”) A chapter on “Sides for Rounding Out Your Meal” includes such basics as Mexican Fried Rice and such delicacies as Chipotle-Avocado Leaf Black Beans. And there’s no shortage of inspiring photos.

Don’t buy this book if you’re looking for something to whip up in a flash for dinner tonight. But if you love Mexican food and want to expand your repertoire beyond the usual taco Tuesday fare, invest in this cookbook. What you’ll get in return is a thoughtful, inspiring course in authentic Mexican cooking.

For a sampling of the recipes in Truly Mexican, check out these three from the book on our website: Peanut and Arbol Chile Salsa, Lamb in Modern Yellow Mole, and Mexican Red Rice. For more about Mexican cooking — and additional recipes — check out Cooking Great Mexican.

Watch the beautiful preview of the book, and see if you don’t feel like celebrating Cinco de Mayo right now.

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.