Whether you’re steeping a Teeccino tea bag or brewing up a pot of your favorite flavor, you’re making a profound difference in someone’s life in a country you may never have visited. It always makes me marvel when I contemplate the interconnection we have with so many people in far off places through a simple cup of Teeccino!
70% of all agricultural products are still grown by small scale farmers around the world who have very small holdings on which to grow all their family food and a cash crop or two. By offering them the opportunity to devote their land to organic agriculture, we improve their health and the health of their soil and thus our planet. By contracting for ingredients that provide better income than subsistence crops, we improve their family’s educational opportunities, medical care and nutrition.
If you’ve read the back of a Teeccino bag or the inner flap of a tea bag box, you’ll know that creating new trade has improved the lives of people in Central America and India through two of our ingredients: chicory and ramón seeds. Want to know more about how this happens?
The Quest for Organic Chicory
Here’s a sad but true statement about agriculture in America today: US farmers can’t grow organic chicory because they are now so reliant on Monsanto’s Round Up to kill their weeds that they no longer have cultivators to remove weeds mechanically. Have you heard that glyphosate, the ingredient in Round Up, is now being classified as a suspected carcinogen? Not only are crops being liberally sprayed with this chemical, but seeds are also being soaked in it before planting!
Here’s an important fact to consider: Americans consume 5% of our food as certified organic and our demand for organically grown food is growing 14% a year. However, we have less than 1% of our farmland devoted to organic agriculture!
With our commitment to providing the healthiest cup of Teeccino we possibly can, I went to India in 2006 to find small scale farmers who could weed fields by hand and thus grow organic chicory. Sometimes “buying local” just doesn’t work, but when it doesn’t, we have the opportunity to improve the lives of others even if they’re on the other side of the globe.
Our first crop ten years ago was a tiny 2.5 tons. This year, hundreds of small scale farmers in India are collectively growing 200 tons. We’re lucky to work in partnership with Organic India, a company that has a great team of agronomists in India who work with thousands of small scale farmers to grow both Tulsi tea and chicory root. My partnership with Organic India was founded on mutual cooperation that continues to this day. I designed their Tulsi teas and they committed to organizing the planting of organic chicory. It was a partnership made in heaven!
Creating new trade in India means giving farmers the opportunity to grow a new crop that offers sustainable income to provide food for their families, medical care, and education for their children. I’ve heard farmers tell stories about how much healthier their families are due to eliminating toxic agricultural chemicals by switching to organic methods. They receive help from Organic India to improve their soil and thus the yield of their crops. It is a win-win for everyone from the soil in India to the cup of Teeccino in America.
Stalking the Wild Ramón Seed
If you’ve followed my stories on Teeccino’s website or in this blog, you’ll know that I’ve traveled the world since the early 1970’s in search of herbs that taste delicious and bring their healthful properties to a cup of tea. I’ve very proud to have discovered some amazing tasting herbs and foremost among them is the wild ramón seed from the Maya civilization.
My passion is preserving forests. They’re the lungs of our planet and one of the most important defenses we have against climate change. So when I found a 130ft tall, upper canopy tree growing in Central American rainforests that the Maya called the “corn tree”, I knew this was an ingredient I wanted to develop.
The seed of this tree’s fruit tastes like a potato when it is dried raw, but when you roast it, an amazing transformation takes place. Roasted ramón seeds taste like coffee and chocolate combined! The Maya ground the dried seed and mixed it with their corn to create a more nutritious food. Way before the Spaniards brought coffee to these shores, the Maya were drinking roasted ramón seed brewed into a beverage that they believed was so nutritious, it was given to pregnant women too.
Of course, I’m always on the look-out for anything that has a coffee-like flavor so I was really excited to taste ramón seeds. They allowed me to create a dark roasted flavor of Teeccino with deeper coffee notes than had ever been possible before!
It took many years to develop an annual collection of a wild harvested seed that only grows in remote forests and it continues to be a challenge every season. Yet I am devoted to this crop because I know the difference it has made in the lives of so many living in these remote forest villages where income opportunities are scarce. Of course, I’m also devoted to our Teeccino Maya flavors that depend on this seed’s roasted coffee-like flavor too!
In fact, by creating new trade and giving economic value to the ramón seed, we’ve stimulated the local food industry to bake with ramón seed. Now the Guatemalan government is providing ramón seed baked goods to school lunch programs. Teachers say the kids have less absences as they’re healthier.
Women are now feeding their families this nutritious food that is free for the collecting but was going to waste on the forest floor. Ramón seeds are very hard as they don’t contain any fat, so people had forgotten how to eat them. Teeccino has supported workshops to teach women how to make nutritious meals for their families using ramón seeds.
Studies have shown that not only are ramón seeds very nutritious, but they also contain active, water-soluble antioxidants comparable to walnuts, which have the highest antioxidant content among tree nuts. Ramón seeds though don’t contain any of the allergens found in tree nuts so Teeccino’s Maya flavors can be enjoyed by people with nut allergies.
The story of how we developed this harvest is too long for this blog post, but I promise to tell it another time. What I hope you take away from this post, is how connected you are to people around the world by the foods and beverages you eat. Buy local whenever you can. Buy organic as much as you can. Make choices that support creating new trade for unique ingredients and support fair trade for commodities like sugar and coffee. Then sit back and sip your cup of Teeccino knowing you’re making a difference to your health and you’re improving the life of someone else!