Founder of sustainable turmeric brand; Wunderworkshop, Zoe Lindt Van’t Hof shares with us a little bit about sustainable farming and why it’s important not just for emerging brands to adopt, but in your consumer choices too.
The argument for quality over quantity in sustainability, is especially clear when it comes to what we eat and what we wear. The availability of food and fashion is such, that we often overlook the origin of the items and how they might have got here. The choices of what we put in our kitchen cupboard and wardrobes have a far greater impact on the environment and communities across the globe.
Yes, cost certainly plays a role in the decision-making process of any purchase and unfortunately price doesn’t often dictate how sustainable the item is! However, it still comes down to the individual to prioritise whether we buy things because they are cheap, rather than because we really need them.
The prevalence of 2 for 1 deals across UK supermarkets, a thing that is very uncommon in most other European countries, already says a lot about our attitude towards consumption – the more, the cheaper, the better; and if supermarkets continue to squeeze producers to achieve these type of deals, consumers are not going out of their way to choose a slightly more expensive product.
Once we realise that with every penny you spend, you decide what world you want to live in, you can start impacting the demand that businesses evaluate their production forecasts on. I try to lead my own life in this way and it was crucial for me to start a business that wouldn’t drain the system, but rather create a life cycle that supports the land, the farmers and the consumers of turmeric, thus giving back in every single way possible.
Wunder’s Turmeric & farming styles
One might think it becomes impossible to shop for anything nowadays, without having a negative impact on the planet or a community – or even your health for that matter. But if you do your research, you will find an incredible tribe of brands out there that are doing their bit. We are often made aware of palm oil, cacao, cotton or the sugarcane industry, as they are in huge demand and notorious for their unethical and harmful farming practices, but this is also the case for a lot of other produce such as spices, bananas, almonds and avocados, you name it (I am leaving the meat and dairy industry out of this, as that is a whole other topic). It’s also fair to question whether turmeric farming is sustainable, there is no doubt that turmeric production has skyrocketed in recent years.
At Wunder Workshop we import high quality, single origin, organic turmeric powder from Sri Lanka. Turmeric powder stems from the dried rhizome of the Curcuma longa plant, whose roots are harvested 7 to 9 months after being planted. India is by far the largest producer, consumer and exporter of turmeric in the world. Despite this, we have been very fortunate to find a Sri Lankan farm that grows their turmeric using a technique known as Analog forestry. This technique imitates the original native biodiversity of the region’s flora and fauna, by planting in the shade of tree canopies to assist in replenishing the nutrition and moisture of the soil. This farming style goes beyond the conventional monoculture techniques and even beyond our Organic logo. Besides guaranteeing pesticide and chemical free production, Analog forestry helps to rebuild a sustainable ecosystem and empowers rural communities.
“Analog Forestry is a system of ecological restoration that focuses on increasing biodiversity by imitating natural forest systems in order to create economically productive and environmentally mature forests. The methodology is based on traditional forest gardens, which are human-created analogs of the natural forest that serve needs such as food, fiber, timber, medicine, and water.” (International Analog Forestry Network)
In conventional farming, flora and fauna mostly cannot survive on the land that is used for the production and therefore has a far-reaching effect on the long run of the ecosystems in those areas, draining the soil of nutrients if not rotated frequently. High-demand for a product throughout the year puts stress on conventional farmers to use more land and thus decides to reconstruct more of its natural vegetation for agricultural use. In choosing organic or even Analog forest farmed, one is helping to limit further damage to the ecosystem.
Besides the environmental point of view, farmers are naturally motivated by economics and want to secure a sustainable income for them and their families. Getting the organic certification can be a costly procedure, talking from experience here, but with the confidence that there is a demand for such produce, they see it as a positive investment. It is a matter of linking our demands as consumers for organic and sustainable products to their demands and motivations to switch to organic or Analog forestry, resulting in a long-term positive impact on the environment and ultimately our health.
Analog forestry farming also protects farmers from relying on one crop as their main income, a risky strategy due to fluctuating market prices and potential crop failure. The land can be more productive and diverse, turmeric can be cultivated as an intercrop along other organic crops such as mulberry, coconut, mango and many more.
Just a trend?
The reason most people are choosing to consume turmeric in our society is due to its anti-inflammatory benefits, which research has shown stems mostly from curcumin, one of turmeric’s many active compounds. Further research has however demonstrated that organic turmeric powder has higher quantity of curcumin than non-organic turmeric.
Besides the fact that organic farming practices are better for the environment than conventional farming, it also has a more positive impact on your health.
From kale to chia, spirulina to matcha. Trends come quickly and usually go just as fast. I often get asked whether I am not scared that turmeric’s time is almost up as there will be a newer, cooler, better superfood kid-on-the-block. At Wunder Workshop we don’t believe turmeric is a trend. When we started 3 years ago there was still a lot of education to be done regarding its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, but since then people have educated themselves and yes Google might have named it “the superfood of the year”, but that is due to people’s increasing awareness and desire to learn more from ancient wisdom and apply it to our daily lives.
‘Turmeric milk’ has been consumed in India and Sri Lanka for centuries and is enshrined in their lives as an approach to dealing with all kinds of ailments. Once you unlock the power of this spice you will understand that it is worth integrating it into your daily life, in whatever bioavailable way possible.
All in all, supporting organic and ethically sourced has an impact on the communities of small hold farmer groups and on the environment of the source, of whatever product you are consuming. It is a difficult choice for farmers to choose a method that often yields less and costs more, but is environmentally friendly and consequently supports the community.
Ultimately achieving or generating sustainability, as with reducing climate change, goes beyond the political policy agenda, and is our responsibility by choosing conscious consumption. Why wait for a political leader to decide to act or implement policy that can reduce our waste, pollution and carbon footprint? If ultimately it is the consumer, us, who choses what we want to buy. It starts in your wallet.
“In the end… Success or failure will come down to an ethical decision, one on which those now living will be judged for generations to come” – Edward O. Wilson