Geography Lessons

  • Canada

    10/25/2012


    When most Americans imagine the “Great Plains,” they undoubtedly picture endless fields of flowing wheat, stalks of corn stretching across the land, and prairies rolling  away into eternity. What they may not realize is that this wonderfully fertile land,  America’s Breadbasket, actually extends far north into the Prairie Provinces of Western  Canada.

    From west to east, the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba make up a vast agricultural belt covering the heart of Canada. Many of the crops that grow here are the same as those filling the American heartland, save one: Hemp. While the federal government does not allow hemp to be grown in the United States, production of hemp has been legal in Canada since 1998, because the hemp that is grown there does not contain THC.

    The hemp plants themselves take about 4-5 months to mature from planting to harvest. This years harvest was just planted at the end of May. By the end of June, the plants are already growing quite large and preparing for pollination. Seeds will begin to reach  maturity in August and the harvest will begin in late September or early October. After the harvest, the seeds will be hulled to remove the outer shell, leaving only the delicious and nutritious hemp seed.

    It shouldn’t be a surprise that one of the planet’s most misunderstood plants is also one of the world’s most beneficial foods.

    Be Well,

    Managing Director
    Jason L. Argabrite

  • China

    8/14/2012

    If you travel to Ningxia Province in Northern China, you might come across the narrow basin of agriculture land located south of Inner Mongolia and bordering the vast wasteland of the Tengger Desert. This land is fed by the headwaters of the Yellow River as it begins its long journey across the country, eastward to China Sea. This lush stripe of green is buffeted on nearly  all sides by a sea of sand, encroaching deserts, steadily claiming inch after inch of once fertile soil, making the existence of this oasis all the more improbable.

    Following the river south from the provincial capital of Yinchuan, toward the center of the Goji Berry universe, we were surrounded by agricultural lands. From vast farms to small family plots, the entire region is devoted to farming, and primarily to the staple crops of corn and Goji, often planted side by side. The annual harvest is done by hand. Each berry is removed from the stem, one at a time and placed in a small basket. Each mature plant can take up to an hour for a single person to harvest. After the harvest, the Goji berries are spread out to dry under the sun, protected from insects by the region’s elevation.  When the basket is full, it is exchanged for a new one and the process begins again.

    Known locally as a Wolfberry, the Goji figures prominently in the history, medicine, economy, and cuisine of the region. Almost every dish available to be eaten in the area includes Goji berries. Goji berries and Goji leaves are used locally for cooking as well as in teas, candies, and win. Remedies of all kinds can also be procured, and here so many of them include some part of the Goji plant. The region even features statues, museums, and an annual celebration all dedicated to this mystical little red berry.

    After our visit to the fields and processing facilities we had a chance to tour the area and get a better feel for the once timeless land. From the ancient ruins and Buddhist temples to modern shopping centers and a KFC, a symbol for the ever-changing country as whole. And we were able to experience that very sensation ourselves, viewing the Yellow River, “the cradle of the Chinese civilization,” from a few hundred feet above as we barreled across her from shore to shore, on a zip line.

    Best Regards,

    Director of Sourcing
    Jason L. Argabrite

  • Mexico

    8/14/2012

    Gazing out across the rolling hills of Tequila, Mexico, you cannot help but marvel at the wide swath of bluish green spread out before you. Native to this region, the Tequilana Weber Blue Agave plants stretch out across the landscape nearly as far as the eye can see. The agave plant, which through different processes can yield either tequila or agave nectar, is a massive flowering plant in the same family as the Yucca and Joshua Tree.

    Agave plants that are slated to produce agave nectar are generally harvested between 5 and 8 years, while plants destined for tequila production are generally harvested in the twelfth year. Upon harvest, the long, blue-green spines are removed, leaving only the pineapple shaped piña, which can weigh anywhere from 80 to 200 pounds apiece.

    The piña itself is broken open to release all of the sweet juice hiding within. After this they actually press the broken pieces to ensure that every last drop is removed. Whether producing agave or tequila, no one wants to see even a drop go to waste! After multiple layers of filtration and evaporation (to remove excess water) the thickened syrup is ready to be packed into glass jars destined for our offices in Southern California. Sometimes, they even send us an extra bottle of tequila, too.

    Be Well,

    Director of Sourcing
    Jason L. Argabrite

  • Peru

    11/1/2012

    The Amazon River Basin is a vast expanse, stretching across nearly half of South America, and containing within it the world’s largest rainforest. While most of the Amazon River itself snakes its way through the northern half of Brazil the Amazon River’s headwaters are fed by the Ucayali and Marañón rivers which descend into the basin from the Peruvian Andes in the west. The spreading fingers of the Amazon River Basin stretch northward into Columbia and Venezuela; and southward into Bolivia.

    From the vast Amazon Rainforest new and amazing discoveries are harvested almost annually causing some to refer to this remarkable land as Nature’s Pharmacy. The abundance of nutraceuticals and healthy foods that have emerged from the dense Amazon is truly extraordinary.

    One of the more recent discoveries from the Amazon is the seed of a perennial plant known as Sacha Inchi, which translates loosely into Wild Peanut. While not actually a nut, but a seed, the Sachi Inchi’s large size, taste, and texture, help explain why it was dubbed a nut by the natives.

    On a recent trip to the western edge of the Amazon Rainforest, we had the opportunity to visit several small farming villages producing Sacha Inchi for us. Each of these villages are several hours drive from the nearest city; much of the trip we make to the farms is spent bouncing over dirt roads and navigating streams. Some of these farm areas are so remote that one village on our last trip had just received electricity for the first time—a mere two days before our arrival.

    The communities of this region of the Amazon work together; each farmer tending to their own land but working with a group while composting, planting, and harvesting. Our people in the area regularly offer help and guidance to these local farmers throughout the year, even working together towards official organic certification. The certification being something that seems foreign to these local farmers who have never needed, nor used, pesticides at all, especially not to grow Sacha Inchi, a plant native to the region.

    The Sacha Inchi fruit grows green in a pod formation similar to that of a star. As the fruit ripens, the outer skin turns brown and shrinks as it dries out, revealing the interior seed layer. When harvested, the outer shell is removed as is this inner shell, leaving about five seeds per fruit. Once the outer skin is removed from the seed it is then cold pressed to separate the abundant oil from the protein and the fiber. This yields us two remarkable products, the extracted oil and a soluble protein powder.

    The extra-virgin oil has a delicious nutty flavor, and is composed of nearly 90% essential fatty acids, a remarkable amount. The EFA content in Sacha Inchi oil is over 53% Omega-3, over 36% Omega-6, and over 10% Omega-9. Other vital nutrients in Sacha Inchi Oil include Iodine, and Vitamins A & E. The cake that is left over from the cold pressing process is then fine milled into a water soluble powder which is very high in protein and still contains the valuable Omegas.

    Be Well,

    Jason L. Argabrite
    Managing Director

  • South Africa

    8/14/2012

    South Africa, the southern-most country on the African continent, is one of the most diverse places on the planet. Home to thousands of different species, South Africa is said to be home to as many as 10% of the known species on Earth. In the far northeast corner of South Africa, near the northern boarder with Zimbabwe and the eastern border with Mozambique, lies the stunning landscape of the Limpopo Province. It is in this area, that the vast majority of South Africa’s Baobab trees are rooted.

    This is an area that dates back to the dawn of humanity. Fossils from the region have been dated al the way back to the Stone Age. The history of the Baobab tree may not reach back that far but local folklore places this massive tree at the center of their creation story, standing in as the tree of knowledge. As the story goes, after the first humans ate the fruit of the tree, God was so upset that he pulled the tree from the ground and re-planted it upside down in punishment, thus explaining why the tree seems to be planted with its roots hundred of feet in the air.

    The Baobab tree takes many years to fruit and most of the harvest comes from trees that have been standing from one hundred years or more. The fruit pulp, which is often dried and ground into a fine powder, has the most marketable nutritional value. Notable nutrients include Iron, Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Sodium, Phosphorus, Amino Acids, Pectin, Fiber, and Vitamin C.

    African cultures have a long history with Baobab and have devised uses for everything from the fruit and the leaves to the seeds and the bark. The trees themselves have even been used as shelters from time to time. There is even a 5,000 year old gigantic Baobab tree in nearby Modjadjiskloof that was hollowed out some 500 years ago. Today the tree, which is over 30 feet wide, has been turned into a win cellar and pub. Bottoms up.

    Best Regards,

    Director of Sourcing
    Jason L. Argabrite