Category Archives: Toby’s Travels

Pristine Peru: Growing demand for organics creates new opportunities for farmers

South America

South America

Peru, a small country on the northwest coast of South America, is known by many as the home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Maccu Picchu, or the birthplace of America’s beloved vegetable, the potato.  If you’re a foodie, you’re probably aware of the soaring popularity Peruvian cuisine is having on restaurant menus around the U.S.  However, what we find most exciting about Peru is the pristine countryside where farmers have been growing organically for generations.

Click on the image to read more about Peru's organic agriculture in this white paper.

Click on the image to read more about Peru’s organic agriculture in this white paper.

While Peru has no shortage of organic farmers, many of them struggle with the infrastructure needed to sell their crop for its true value.  This is where High Quality Organics comes in.  We’ve been able to help our Peruvian farmers not only gain market access to the U.S. but we’ve assisted with critical success factors like access to organic certification or certified organic seed. Our partnerships with our Peruvian farmers have truly gone beyond simple transactions and become transformational, allowing them to grow their business and better support their communities while increasing our supply capabilities.  It’s an exciting time for Peru’s organic agriculture sector and we couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it. Below are a few highlights from a recent trip our Vice President of Supply Chain, Toby Eck, took in June.

A blossoming organic chia seed field in Peru. Chia seed is an ancient seed growing in popularity for its heart-healthy omega-3 is used in baking, granola bars, smoothies and more.

A blossoming organic chia seed field in Peru. Chia seed is an ancient seed growing in popularity for its heart-healthy omega-3 is used in baking, granola bars, smoothies and more.

Here an organic farmer we've been working with is digging up a ginger sample in a sandy field. He is successfully growing many different crops using above-ground nutrition-irrigation system.  This has transformed a completely agriculturally-useless region into vast fields of sustainably produced organic products.

Here an organic farmer we’ve been working with is digging up a ginger sample in a sandy field. He is successfully growing many different crops using above-ground nutrition-irrigation system. This has transformed a completely agriculturally-useless region into vast fields of sustainably produced organic products.

This picture shows just-picked paprika air-drying alongside a field. Not needing to transport or machine dry the paprika provides significant savings for the farmer.

This picture shows just-picked paprika air-drying alongside a field. Not needing to transport or machine-dry the paprika provides significant savings for the farmer.

This is one of HQO's partners of three years, Santiago.  He's a first generation farmer that developed a passion for organic agriculture while in college.  He has not only brought an abundance of agriculture to an otherwise barren area, but he is providing employment to several people in a very poor region of Peru. He grows jalapeño, paprika and more for HQO.

This is one of HQO’s partners of three years, Santiago. He’s a first generation farmer that developed a passion for organic agriculture while in college. He has not only brought an abundance of agriculture to an otherwise barren area, but he is providing employment to several people in a very poor region of Peru. He grows jalapeño, paprika and more for HQO.

Here's a great example of the innovative spirit of so many of our partners.  This is a sand field that can produce high-quality organic agriculture by the above-ground irrigation and nutrient distribution system.  This type of production agriculture is critical for food insecure places like the barren lands in remote Peru or Egypt.

Here’s a great example of the innovative spirit of our HQO partners. This is a sand field that can produce high-quality organic agriculture thanks to the above-ground irrigation and nutrient distribution system. This type of production agriculture is critical for food insecure places like the barren lands in remote Peru or Egypt.

To learn more about High Quality Organics and the organic ingredients we supply  from Peru and the other 30+ countries we work with, please contact us on our website, www.HQOrganics.com.

Visiting China: The World’s Largest Food-Producing Country

Earlier this month, I traveled throughout the dynamic country of China to increase our supplies of certified organic vegetables, botanicals and Fair Trade teas.

China is a unique country:  one rich in ancient history with a diverse landscape – from the bustling cities packed with people and pollution to the breathtaking and pristine countryside speckled with the weathered farm faces. China truly is a place like no other.

The Chinese crops were in full gear and harvest was upon us so it was the perfect time to meet with farmers, build sustainable relationships and secure contracts.  Long-term agreements with our organic farmers provide security for their business and a safe, reliable and competitively priced supply for our customers.

An organic broccoli field outside Tai’an.

An organic broccoli field outside Tai’an.

What I find so unique about Chinese agriculture is how labor intensive it is.  While China is an extremely large country, the amount of land available for agriculture is actually quite limited.  Only 15% of China’s land is suitable for agriculture; most of it along the country’s east coast. Add to it, the pressures of rapid urban expansion and Chinese farmers are left with a challenge many farmers know too well, the need to produce more products on fewer acres.

So, farmers are often working small plots by hand to capitalize on every inch of arable land.  Of course, we at HQO believe that’s where organic agriculture can truly make a difference.  With such intense production on the same land year after year, the quality of the soil must be carefully monitored and maintained to ensure it’s productive for decades to come. Organic agricultural practices answer the call by preserving – and often improving – the quality of soil.

Here’s a great example of a field where the organic broccoli is carefully planted by hand.

Here’s a great example of a field where the organic broccoli is carefully planted by hand.

Planting broccoli.

Planting broccoli.

As with most organic farms, composting is a critical part of the sustainable agriculture equation. It not only returns vital nutrients to the soil, it helps maintain soil composition and aids in water retention and reduces runoff.

You can see composting is serious business in China. (Unfortunately the smell was somewhat serious too!)

You can see composting is serious business in China. (Unfortunately the smell was somewhat serious too!)

Conducting farm and manufacturing audits was another important part of my visit.

An example of how all of our organic farmers provide documented traceability with each bag of product we receive at HQO.

An example of how all of our organic farmers provide documented traceability with each bag of product we receive at HQO.

All of our farmers have a coded farm map outlining the various plots they operate.  This allows the farmer to keep track of his product from the origination of seeds and planting, growing and harvesting practices to the processing and shipping procedures. The attention to detail our farmers and quality assurance team provide ensures a safe product our customers trust.

While land might be limited, China’s food processing facilities are growing in numbers and improving in efficiencies every day.

During the latter part of my visit, I toured an organic garlic processing facility.  The pictures below explain how our organic garlic is processed.

I know it looks humble from the outside but this is the entrance to a very well run garlic processing facility near Linyi.
After the garlic is picked by hand it is brought into the processing facility where it is sorted by hand.
After the garlic is sorted the entire bulb is washed in a mild organic solution. The garlic is then broken into cloves and washed again.
After the cloves are washed they are run through a slicing machine and finally dehydrated in large stainless steel chambers.
Finally, the garlic slices are dehydrated in large stainless steal chambers, bagged and shipped to HQO.

As you can see from the pictures, despite popular belief, the growers and processing facilities we work with in China are fully dedicated food safety and security. They also process under the standards we adhere to in the U.S.  We’re proud to partner with these Chinese companies and look forward to growing with them in the years to come.

Toby’s Travels: Growing Fair Trade Supplies in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a fascinating place.  The island sits just to the east of India, in the Indian Ocean, and has one of the oldest recorded histories.  Despite its small size and secluded location, Sri Lanka is home to a land rich in biodiversity — including a plethora of organic spices and teas.

Sri Lanka Map

Map of Sri Lanka from www.gundam.wikia.com.

I traveled Sri Lanka last fall to work with our partners on growing the current supply of Fair Trade ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. I also was there to meet with some small farmers that grow clove, black pepper, several essential oils and green tea.

 

 

Cinnamon Tree

Cinnamon Tree in Sri Lanka

Cinnamon, the bark of the laurel tree, is actually native to Sri Lanka and often grows in plantations.  While the tree can grow over 200 feet high, most trees are maintained like bushes for ease of harvest.  We’re going to be posting a detailed post about cinnamon later this fall so stay tuned.

Cinnamon Plantation in Sri Lanka

Cinnamon Plantation in Sri Lanka

Because the farmers’ fields were in very remote parts of the country and my time there was short, I wasn’t able to make it out to the growing sites of all the crops.  However, I did a thorough visit of all the production facilities as part of our HQO quality assurance process. Each year I audit our growers’ production facilities to ensure we’re all working together to adhere to the highest quality and safety standards.

Sri Lanka Fair Trade Culture Center

Sri Lanka Fair Trade Culture Center

Sri Lanka Culture Center Event

Sri Lanka Culture Center Event

Another exciting part of my visit was securing more Fair Trade certified product.  One of our big initiatives at HQO is growing our Fair Trade program.  We recognize consumers not only want a healthy and safe product but they want a product that was grown with great consideration for the environment and the farmer.  This is were the Fair Trade program answers the call.  From holding monthly medical and optical clinics to building a cultural center on their plantation site, our partners in Sri Lanka have done an amazing job in providing much-needed healthcare and farmer education to those in the most remote parts of Sri Lanka. The funds from the Fair Trade program have also helped build homes for the farm families and purchase school supplies for their children. Everyone in the community benefits.

Fair Trade Certified Logo

Fair Trade Certified Logo

It was really neat to see some of the amazing things the Fair Trade program provides for families in need.  My visit reinforced the call we all should have to look for the Fair Trade logo when we’re purchasing tea, chocolate and other food products.

You can learn more about the Fair Trade program by visiting www.FairTradeUSA.org or contacting us directly at www.HQOrganics.com.

Next stop, India!

 

Toby’s Travels: Cardamom

I had the privilege to meet some of our growers in South and Central America a few months ago. One of my stops was at a cardamom farm. Take a look at some of the highlights from my trip.

My trip started in South America where my driver took me high up into the mountains. I saw some breath-taking views.

As I traveled over the mountain pass and down into the valley, I saw several terrace farms, a unique agricultural practice that dates back to the Incas. Terrace agriculture is used on mountainsides to help conserve water and prevent soil erosion.

I was welcomed with these gorgeous views as I traveled down into the valley.

In South America, I visited some ginger farmers.  Learn about that visit in my ginger post on May 3, 2012.

My travels out to the cardamom farm started in this remote village in Central America.

After what seemed like forever, I finally arrived at the cardamom farm. Here’s a picture of one of several cardamom plants I saw that day. Cardamom is a
member of the ginger family and native to India.

Cardamom grows best in the shade and therefore thrives in the rainforests of the tropics.

Cardamom plants grow in rows on plantations and their stems can reach anywhere from six to 16 feet in length.

The cardamom pods are actually found near the base of the plant and have to be picked by hand, making cardamom one of the most expensive spices only second to saffron.

While most of our customers purchase cardamom seed, HQO only buys organic cardamom pods directly from the grower. We wait until the product arrives at our headquarters in Reno, NV before we remove the seeds from the pod. This ensures our customers receive the freshest, most flavorful product available. So, once the cardamom is picked by hand in Central America, it’s carefully bagged using this machine and shipped directly to us.

I hope you enjoyed this little photo tour of my cardamom farm visit.  Stay tuned for the next post on my travels to Sri Lanka.

 

Toby’s Travels: Organic Ginger Farming in South America

On the road in a remote part of Peru to meet an organic ginger farmer.
The beautiful ginger plant grows best in shade or filtered sun in subtropical climates.
The ginger farm was a humble place but provided adequate facilities for collecting, cleaning and preparing the ginger for market.
At HQO, we’re always reviewing the organic, quality and food safety standards to ensure our products are sustainably produced, safe and of superior quality.
Next, we headed to the fields. South America is full of beautiful landscapes.
Harvesting ginger root is no easy task! The workers were armed with pick axes that break up the soil to reveal the ginger root.
Ginger is harvested every three to four months. Oftentimes, only the outer edge of the root is harvested so the plant can continue to produce year after year.
I took a look at a few more piles of up-rooted ginger. The quality is excellent!
It’s amazing to see how big the ginger root is when it’s first harvested.
I made sure to let the workers know how much I appreciated their hard work and letting me stop by.
Check out the view from the harvest location – beautiful!
After being harvest in the fields, the ginger is packed in large sacks and transported to a cleaning facility.
The ginger is carefully covered until it’s ready to be washed and processed.
Every piece of ginger root is carefully washed by hand.
After being washed, the ginger is trimmed to inhibit additional growth and improve appearance.
Look at all that ginger!
After it’s trimmed, the ginger is collected in crates and washed one more time.
The ginger is shipped to a dehydrating facility and processed within days to ensure quality is maintained.
I hope you enjoyed my slideshow from Peru. Feel free to visit our website, www.hqorganics.com for more info.