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Strengthening Community Roots with Fair Trade Turmeric

Indian farmers tending their fields of organic and fair trade produce with Mountain Rose Herbs procurement officer.

Chief Operations Officer, Jennifer, helps field workers prepare our certified organic turmeric farmland for replanting.

As part of my most recent trip to the Mountain Rose Herbs Fair For Life Project in southern India, I visited the remote agricultural village of Kollegala, based in the foothills of the Western Ghats. It’s a fertile farming land with a dry growing season and heavy summer rains. The community in this area makes its living primarily from the sales of turmeric (Curcuma longa). The turmeric growers here represent the largest farming group in our innovative Fair for Life Project, and they grow turmeric exclusively for  Mountain Rose Herbs

I was in Kollegala to check up on some new construction projects that our Fair for Life premiums funded. In 2016, Mountain Rose Herbs helped rebuild several of the resident farming families’ homes that were literally crumbling from age, using funds from the sales of our organic, fair trade turmeric. The farmers could have used the premiums for a new well, irrigation system, or a washroom facility (just to name a few potential projects), but they collectively decided that this year their priority was to rebuild the homes of some of the villagers. It was a noble and community-minded decision, and we’re very proud to support it.


From the Fields of India to Your Kitchen

Turmeric harvest was in full swing during our visit. The entire community came together to participate, and various post-harvest processing stations were established. In the field, harvesters handpicked the turmeric rhizomes from the rich, dark soil. Once the rhizomes were unearthed, the harvesters sorted the new growth from the older, mother rhizome into large piles. The knobby, older central roots were set aside for replanting, while the young shoots and secondary rhizomes were sent for processing.

Man holding up two of his freshly harvested organic turmeric roots.

One of our head turmeric farmers holds up the crowns, which will go back into the prepared fields awaiting the next growing cycle to begin.

After being separated, the young shoots and secondary rhizomes were lightly steamed right there in the field to convert the curcumin from its fresh state to the rich, dark, golden hue with which we’re all familiar. The fire to create the steam was fueled by the dry turmeric stalks, so no plant part was wasted. Farmers occasionally poured fresh water on the embers, creating a hot steam. This gentle processing method brought out the constituents, volatile oils, and aromas as it cured the rhizome and prepared it for drying.

After the curing process, the rhizomes were laid out in the hot Indian sun to fully dry. Later, they were lightly tumbled in a drum rotator that polished the roots by removing the outer epidermal layer, exposing its starchy orange core.

Woman in India holding fresh turmeric root.

One of our head farmers proudly displays beautiful turmeric "fingers" freshly dug from the fields.

"Turmeric is an important cornerstone spice for Mountain Rose Herbs, so the color and flavor is highly scrutinized by our in-house team before it’s packaged and available to you in the form of turmeric root, turmeric powder, and our popular turmeric chai blend. We’re particular about its freshness and potency, keys to ensuring turmeric’s truly distinct characteristics. Partnering with our Fair for Life Project farmers who specialize in this crop and are experts in its cultivation and processing ensures consistency year after year.

When you support us, you support them. Together we have built not only new homes, but strong, ongoing relationships for generations to come.

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 Fair trade farmers in India standing around Mountain Rose Herbs sign in their certified organic field.

Our Chief Operations Officer, Jennifer, takes a moment to pose with a group of turmeric farmers from our Fair for Life Project in southern India.

Topics: Our Farms

Jennifer

Written by Jennifer on October 12, 2016

Jennifer Gerrity is the Chief Operations Officer at Mountain Rose Herbs and has played a key role in establishing the company's botanical sourcing program over the last decade. She has a bachelor’s degree in Plant Science at Rutgers University, where she specialized in propagation and agribusiness management. During her study there, she focused on tropical agriculture, bioremediation, and tissue culture and continued doing research for the university and the EPA after graduation. Jennifer oversees the staff, production, and quality assurance at Mountain Rose Herbs. She takes special interest in the procurement of high quality organic herbs, spices, and teas through domestic farm visits and international travel. She is committed to farm development and outreach in the form of special projects such as our Fair For Life partnership in Karnataka, and cultivating a domestic market for woods grown American Ginseng.