Frontier travels to all parts of the globe to get the best quality herbs and spices -- but in the case of peppermint, the best is right here in the United States. We source our organic peppermint from our Well Earth Sourcing Program farmers in Oregon and Washington. Peppermint (Mentha x piperita), particularly the variety 'Black Mitchum', is grown in the warm and dry high-desert area of southeastern Washington and northern Oregon -- an ideal climate for growing organic peppermint because it discourages the diseases encouraged by humid climates.
But, even in this climate, the harvest of peppermint -- which begins in July and continues through September -- can cause growers many sleepless nights. The harvesting begins by "swathing" or cutting the peppermint plants into windrows and letting them dry in the fields for three to five days. Once the plant has been cut from the roots, it cannot be exposed to any rain, or the moisture will cause the leaves to turn from their beautiful green color to a dark brown or black, making the crop unusable as peppermint herb. Meet one of our Well Earth peppermint partners.
While walking through his 60-acre plot of organic peppermint, we talked with Well Earth farmer Orman Johnson, an organic grower since 1998, about some of his major challenges -- irrigation costs, weed control and pesticide drift from neighboring conventional farms.
Annual precipitation for Orman's area averages less than 10 inches, making farmers in that region dependent on irrigation. Although effective, it is costly, with water cost averaging $100 per year per acre ($6,000 per year for the field we were walking in). Orman, like most farmers, uses the "pivot" or circular irrigation system that's programmed to move through the fields in a circular motion and provide efficient coverage.
In the warm, dry climate of western Washington, weeds can grow at a rate that surpasses the crop during the summer months. Most organic farmers must weed by hand as Orman does. This is a very labor-intensive process that adds to the cost of growing and production, but it allows the peppermint to mature without being inhibited by weeds and results in green, vibrant plants that produce a high oil and robust flavor.
Being an organic farmer in the United States means you are often surrounded by conventional farmers using pesticide and herbicides. As part of our Well Earth initiative, Frontier buys "No Spray" signs and wind socks to help prevent pesticide contamination from "pesticide drift." In addition to these in-field prevention methods, all organic peppermint undergoes intensive lab testing by both the processor and Frontier to ensure the purity of the product.
By working directly with our supplier and organic farmers, Frontier takes an active role in providing top quality peppermint in a sustainable and socially responsible manner that benefits everyone — grower, consumer and our environment.
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