Nomadic Notes: A Travel Blog to Madagascar

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. In November 2018, I went to Madagascar to visit various farms, plantations, and producers of organic patchouli, ylang ylang, vetiver and cinnamon. My goal for this sourcing trip was to verify the supply chain and see the plants from seedling to essential oil. This trip also served as an opportunity to audit our partners, better understand what obstacles these producers face, and how we as a company can assist.

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After two long days of travel, encompassing 4 flights and long airport layovers, I arrived in Toamasina, Madagascar.

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One of our first stops, after a short boat ride, was at a plantation where they grew Organic, For Life Patchouli. I got a firsthand look at vanilla, pepper, pink peppercorn, clove and ginger, in addition to patchouli.

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In order to visit an extremely remote village area where small cinnamon plants had begun to grow, we traveled by boat in addition to an hour of hiking.

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I was also able to see the production of fresh ginger oil in the city of Antananarivo . The material is harvested, soaked, scrubbed, rinsed, sliced and then distilled in order to produce the finished product.

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The collection of ylang ylang flowers was something I didn’t want to leave Madagascar without seeing. We traveled by boat yet again to Ambanja, Madagascar. The villagers rise very early in the morning to hand pick the freshly opened flowers, before the heat of the sun becomes too uncomfortable.

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I had the opportunity to see the harvesting of cinnamon bark from the trees. The aroma was fantastic.

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Another important raw material we acquire from Madagscar is Organic Vetiver. The worker is removing the entire plant from the ground as the sweet, earthy, ginger-like aroma is found in the plants’ roots.

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One of my favorite parts of the trip was walking between fields of ylang ylang and vetiver and getting a small glimpse into the lives of the local villagers. And although language amongst other things separates us, a simple smile and a wave can go a long way in bridging differences. A small group of children ran over to me and were extremely eager to have their photo taken. After I snapped the picture on my phone I turned it so they could view the screen and see themselves, and they giggled with delight.

It was a long, exhausting trip, but well worth it. To be able to see firsthand the raw materials before they are transformed into the essential oils we use every day is incredible. We can confirm existing partnerships and discover new ones all while having full transparency of the supply chain. It’s a privilege to learn about the products, the people and their culture.

Safe Travels,
Melissa Reck, Commodity Manager

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