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In its ongoing search for sources of high-quality botanicals, the organic spice experts at Frontier Natural Products Co-op™ recently established a working partnership with tea growers in South Africa. As part of its Well Earth™ program, Frontier invested $20,000 to help revamp the rooibos tea production and fermentation process at a farmers’ cooperative in the Cederberg Mountains on the southern edge of the Kalahari Desert.
Harvested during the South African summer (mid-Jan through April), the rooibos (pronounced "roy-boss") shrub Aspalathus linearis thrives in the poor soil and arid climate of the Cederberg mountains. Rooibos is the only cash crop in the region and has been used for generations by the indigenous Koi and San tribes.
The tea is made from the shrub’s dried, oxidized young leaves and branches. Rooibos (translated from Afrikaans) means “red bush,” which is why the tea is often referred to as bush tea or red tea. Naturally caffeine-free, Frontier’s slightly sweet and nutty brew can be enjoyed any time of day.
A cooperative of 86 small-scale, native farmers produces Frontier’s rooibos. During apartheid, these farmers were forced onto the most unproductive land in the region. Today, however, this marginal land is home to the highest-quality rooibos in the world. The production process improvements provided by Frontier have resulted in extremely balanced fermentation of the rooibos tea, creating a finer flavor and even more dramatic red color.
Key improvements to the grower co-op’s rooibos production include a highly sophisticated mechanical crushing system and automated de-clumping equipment, as well as sanitation and food safety improvements – a first in the rooibos tea industry. Implemented in January, the new techniques have reduced waste from 15 percent to less than 1 percent – a huge boon to the small farmers who depend on red tea for their livelihoods.
Working directly with the farmers in South Africa allows Frontier to expand the number of top-quality organic herbs, spices, and teas that are grown in a sustainable and socially responsible manner. Frontier has been an industry leader in sustainability since its founding 35 years ago. As a co-op owned by the businesses that buy from it, Frontier exemplifies the values of its member/owners – quality products, reliable information, a family-friendly workplace, and environmentally and socially responsible business practices. Those same values are at the core of what is now widely recognized as sustainability.
“Working with these farmers has been an exciting development in our Well Earth sustainable and ethical sourcing program,” says Kai Stark, Frontier's Organic Purchasing Manager. “By helping growers develop and improve organic agricultural practices, we hope to help them further optimize the sustainability of their farming operations.”
Frontier Natural Products Co-op™
Founded in 1976 and based in Norway, Iowa, Frontier Natural Products Co-op™ offers a full line of natural and organic products under the Frontier, Simply Organic®, Aura Cacia® and Aura Cacia Organics® brands. Products include culinary herbs, spices and baking flavors; bulk herbs and spices; and natural and organic aromatherapy products. Frontier's goal is to provide consumers with the highest-quality organic and natural products while supporting and promoting environmental and social responsibility. For more information, visit Frontier's website at www.frontiercoop.com.
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