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Notes from the Field

Dispatches from our travels.

We’re often asked where our herbs come from. Our herb sourcing requirements send us all over the world to find high quality herbs collected or cultivated responsibly, from the forests of Eastern Europe and the arid plains of Kazakhstan to the mists of the Pacific Northwest. We’re also working closely with our growers and wild collectors to address their unique economic, social, and environmental challenges, creating partnerships with deep roots and common goals. We believe that when we all work together toward high quality, environmental stewardship, and social responsibility, then everyone benefits – from the farmer who plants the seed to the folks who harvest the herbs to the customer who enjoys the tea.

Here are some dispatches from our recent travels.

 

Are pandas vegetarians?
Saturday, September 21, 2013

I am currently traveling in the upper Yangtze region of the Sichuan Province in southwest China with Josef Brinckmann (VP of Sustainability at TM). Traditional Medicinals sources an important ingredient (schizandra berries) which are collected in the wild in this remote forested area.

Until Traditional Medicinals and a group of non profits (World Wildlife Foundation, IUCN, UNDP, and TRAFFIC) began working with a local cooperative of twenty two villages, the people were overharvesting the wild plants, which was damaging to the environment, wildlife and the local economy. Through training, on-site guidance and the development of new sustainable methods for collecting these medicinal plants, the fragile forest habitat (which is home to the endangered giant panda) has been protected.

This area is home to 80 percent of the planet’s remaining giant pandas, which now number fewer than 1500.

To better protect them, the Chinese government has established very large nature reserves and a panda breeding center in the nearest large city of Chengdu. Josef and I visited the breeding center and were able to get pretty close to a group of one month old cubs. If you thought baby kittens were the cat’s meow, check out this photo for a look at the cutest creatures on earth (in the nursery of the breeding center).

There are a lot of special things this company does well, and working with our supplier communities is one of those things. The model we are developing for social business practices in these communities improves quality and secures our access to the plants we need. Good values and good business!

 

 

Schizandra berries
Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Members of Traditional Medicinals herb supply team met today with representatives of the twenty-two village Shuijing TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) Cooperative. 400 collectors harvest fresh wild schizandra berries for our EveryDay Detox® tea. As you can see from this photo, the berries grow high in tall trees and the collectors climb as high as 20′ to get the bright red forest fruit.

This area was devastated by an earthquake that killed 70,000 people—including hundreds of children crushed under their collapsed school. Following the quake came torrential floods and deadly landslides. These people have been hit hard and many are so involved in rebuilding their homes (before winter) they don’t have time to collect the berries. Those that do are very dependent upon and grateful for the money they can earn from collection……..our purchase of these berries makes a significant contribution to the lives of these good people.

 

Rajasthan Bound
Thursday, November 22, 2012

As members of the company’s Herb Supply Chain Group, we have the opportunity, honor and privilege to travel to some of the communities where we source herbs for our products. As part of this work we visit and inspect farms and wild collection areas and the farming/collection communities in these often rural regions of the world. The travel is long and accommodations usually rustic, but the people are genuine and always so welcoming.

Six years ago we launched the Revive! Project™ in Rajasthan, India to secure high quality organic senna herb. This remote area in the Thar Desert is home to very impoverished farming villages, and through the company funded Revive! Project, Traditional Medicinals has been able to bring renewed health and promise to these hard working farming families and their children.

Through the company’s efforts we have been able to improve the senna’s quality and quantity available for our Smooth Move® tea. These achievements allow us to fund both investments in the senna farming communities and agricultural research focused on continued senna quality improvements. This is the social business model the company is developing, combining organic agriculture and supplier community empowerment.

 

The Courage of One Woman
Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Before we introduced our organic senna Revive! Project to these very rural Rajasthani villages, girls did not attend school and 85% of the female population was illiterate. A fundamental component of our initial purchase agreements with the senna farmers was that their daughters must attend the schools we were committed to build. Today we have built three schools, have three more under construction, and about 300 girls are now becoming educated.

With female literacy comes gender equality. Early on one of the older daughters of our farmers asked to receive training to become a teacher.

This bold request was initially frowned upon by many but she and her father were persistent in spite of long established social barriers.

This year ViImila Devi (see photo) completed her training and was installed as the first primary teacher at the Balika (girl in Hindi) Elementary School. Already she has gained a reputation as being a good teacher and has earned the respect of her community.

At Traditional Medicinals we have a vision for empowered supplier communities and together we are creating a new model for social business.

From deep in the Thar Desert

 

Water in the Desert
Thursday, December 6, 2012

 

Pictured here is a naadi (community pond) that Revive! Project has developed. It now holds water year round and supports a thousand families and all of their farm animals. We have completed four naadis and two more are under restoration. The impact is life changing.

 

 

Slippery Business Practice
Friday, May 24, 2013

This week I had the pleasure of traveling through Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio with Zoe Gardner (R&D Manager) and Ted Keys (Procurement Manager) following the collection of wild cherry and slippery elm barks, two important ingredients in our very popular Throat Coat products. The very rural Appalachian hill country people have been collecting these barks (and other medicinal plants) for generations and are dependent upon this hard work for their livelihoods.

The very hot and humid forests they collect in are dense with underbrush and alive with poison ivy, ticks, mosquitoes and deadly snakes (timber rattlers and copperheads). The collectors work from sun up until sun down filling large herb bags with bark and then hauling the heavy sacks down the mountain. They have been medicinal plant collectors since they were children and they know well the value of the high quality teas we make from these barks. These mountain people care for the environment they live in and they are careful to harvest the barks in a manner which preserves the forest and allows the trees to re grow the bark which has been peeled off.

Zoe got a firsthand lesson in this practice of sustainable bark collection (pictured harvesting slippery elm) from a woman who learned the trade from her mother and grandmother. Her husband and three adult sons also collect with her each day.

As part of the training, the woman explained to Zoe that she spoke to each of the trees before taking the bark, explaining that their purpose was being fulfilled by providing an important ingredient for wellness teas and much needed income for her family. It was a great honor to spend time with this woman and watch her collect the barks we cherish.

This practice of communing with plants and making the very best wellness teas is what makes Traditional Medicinals so special!

 

Respect for the Elders of Bosnia
Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Last week Nioma Sadler (Advisor from WomenServe) and I had the opportunity to travel to Bosnia, the source of much of our elder flower, linden flower, and raspberry leaf. We had the privilege of visiting several of the collectors in the country and one of the most memorable visits was to a collector who gathers elder flower for our Gypsy Cold Care® and Cold Care P.M.® teas. We followed the collector as he bounced up the steep hills covered with wildflowers and bordered by shrubby stands of elder bushes with saucer-sized bunches of little white flowers. As we walked over dozens of species of medicinal plants in the meadows, he enthusiastically plucked elder flowers, nettles, and hawthorn leaves to show us.

He and his family collect elder flower under the FairWild program, so that in addition to receiving a fair price for the flowers, other money is paid by TM to a special fund that is used to improve the lives of collectors. Funds last year were used to purchase roto-tillers that can be used by collectors in the villages to do garden work (everyone in the Bosnian countryside has at least one big patch of potatoes) and help haul large sacks of collected herbs back to their homes. In these photos you can see the collectors, the new rototiller, a whole bunch of elder flowers, and some of the beautiful Bosnian countryside.

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