Frontier Co-op’s purchasing department travels the globe to source herbs, spices, and essential oils — ensuring not just quality, but that our products are produced in ways that are good for people and planet. I joined Frontier Co-op in August 2018 as a Commodity Manager. In late September and early October 2018, I had the opportunity to go on my first sourcing trip after being with Frontier Co-op just under two months. I was excited to see our products in the fields, and learn more about the processes involved.
During a two week visit, we made stops in Tunisia, Bulgaria, and Turkey. I was able to visit various farms to see parsley, dill, and oregano in the fields. I even toured a bay leaf forest. We had multiple successes from this trip: we met with several existing suppliers, audited some processing facilities and reviewed the status of two Well Earth 2.0 projects. It was a busy two weeks, but we were able to accomplish the goals and had a great trip.
We visited Oregano fields near Denizli, in Turkey. Oregano is typically harvested twice per year. Visiting in the fall meant that we were there some time after the 2nd harvest.
In 2018, they were able to capitalize on a rare 3rd harvest, which was occurring during our time in Turkey. After visiting with farmers at a local tea shop, we stopped at another field to see how oregano is harvested.
After watching the efficiency of the three women for a bit, I had to try my hand at harvesting. I received some instructions, and my attempts ended in mostly laughter and very little usable product.
I got to see harvested oregano being collected and taken to larger facilities for processing on tractors.
I also visited a bay leaf, or laurel, forest on the southern coast of the Sea of Marmara. This sea is located just southwest of The Black Sea, near Kursunlu in Turkey. Laurel is wild collected in this region.
We saw trees at 1, 2, and 3 years old. Harvest is best completed at 3 years, when the trees look most like those shown in these pictures. The tree is then cut almost to the ground. Trees and branches, with bay leaves attached, are transported to drying and processing facilities.
Well-Earth 2.0 has helped to fund a project with the local cooprative. This project focused on good collection practices training and installation of drying units for increased capacity and worker safety. Installation of the new equipment was in it’s final stages while we visited. The project also includes a scholarship for a female student from this area studying Forest Engineering, with the plan that she will return and work in the district upon graduation.
We traveled to a larger drying and processing facility near Izmir. Here you can see large volumes of those bay leaf branches being loaded into dryers.
Upon completion of drying, the branches are moved to different areas for leaf removal. Here, women are hand selecting the best leaves.
Another method of leaf removal involves striking the stem of bay leaf with another branch, which makes the dried leaves fall off onto a conveyor belt. I attempted this method with greater success than my oregano harvest.
One early morning, I was able to take a break from the hustle and bustle, and enjoy watching the sunrise in Bulgaria.
During this moment, and many others on the trip, I marveled at the fact that my job now takes me to places like this. The trip was unlike any other I’ve previously experienced, it was exhausting and rewarding and fascinating. I look forward to future trips, meeting new people, seeing our products at the source, and learning all along the way.
Katie Mitchell, Purchasing