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2/16/2012
One Enchanting Flower
One Enchanting Flower

The magic of the early morning hangs over the lush fields near the village of Shoubra Beloula, in the heart of Egypt’s fertile Nile Delta. The light falls softly onto the scented jasmine bushes that extend their fine, luminous white flowers toward the sky. People move quietly through the fields, deftly plucking blossoms from the twigs and collecting them in woven baskets. It’s harvest season for the Biodynamic® jasmine grown by Weleda’s cultivation partner A. Fakhry & Co., manufacturers of exquisitely scented, plant-based oils.

Jasmine, which means “spirit of dreams” in ancient Persian, is harvested at night, around three o’clock in the morning. It’s pollinated by moths instead of bees, so its flowers open when it’s dark. Picking them before sunrise preserves most of the precious indole — the compound they contain that gives the plants their characteristic aroma.

Slowly the baskets are filled with white jasmine flowers. A. Fakhry & Co. uses only sustainable cultivation methods and believes in paying a fair wage; they help thousands of people make their living. With the wages from the jasmine harvest, which lasts from May to November, families can secure an income for six months. To supplement their incomes, many of them work with A. Fakhry & Co. throughout the year to help harvest other plants.

More than a business partner

Weleda uses the precious jasmine extract, one of the most valuable fragrances in the world, to create sensuous scented blends for the company’s natural skin-care products, including Wild Rose Smoothing Facial Care and Body Care. Weleda and A. Fakhry & Co. have been working in partnership for almost four years. Since then, A. Fakhry & Co. has consistently shown its commitment to Biodynamic® cultivation and is internationally certified according to the strict requirements of Demeter, the global Biodynamic® certifier. As an employer, A. Fakhry & Co. is directly involved in ensuring the well-being of the people at the Shoubra Beloula cultivation and production site — a health center is being developed there in cooperation with doctors.

In addition to managing their own two farms with a total of 148 acres and the factory in Shoubra Beloula, Hussein Fakhry and his wife, Chérifa, have established a national network of certified-organic farmers in the last ten years. They use their farms as a training environment for small-scale farmers who wish to convert from conventional to organic cultivation. A. Fakhry & Co. assists the farmers — many of whom cannot read or write — through the challenging process of organic certification. They regularly develop new initiatives to teach the local population how to treat the earth and the environment — and therefore how to protect their livelihood.

An intact ecosystem

Khaled, the farm manager’s right-hand man, is responsible for the overall management of the cultivation. When he talks, his eyes light up and it’s obvious that he loves the land and the work that goes with it. He tells us about the beautiful jasmine plant and the ecosystem in which it lives. The young seedlings are nurtured for a year in a greenhouse and then planted into the ground. They need a good four years to develop into bushes that are 32-inches tall and ready to be harvested.

In December, after the harvest season, the jasmine bushes are cut back — doing so allows one jasmine bush to be used for up to 20 years. The twigs that have been cut off are broken up and used to surface pathways to protect from dust, or they’re used in the company’s own composting plant and reapplied to the fields as a natural fertilizer. Once a week, essential groundwater is brought to the fields via a network of irrigation channels. Robust lemongrass, planted at the edge of the channels, helps reinforce them and prevent weeds. Even the local herons, known as the “farmer’s friend,” play a useful role in the ecosystem. They stalk through the fields, picking parasites off plants with their long beaks, like a truly organic pesticide.

From field to factory

At nine o’clock in the morning, the jasmine harvesters’ work is done. Donkeys pull the carts transporting the fragrant cargo to A. Fakhry & Co.’s nearby production site. At the incoming goods station, the baskets containing the day’s harvest are checked for quality — the flowers need to be as dry and undamaged as possible — and then they are weighed again and recorded.

In the production hall, experienced workers place the fresh jasmine flowers into large metal boilers. In a two-stage extraction process, what’s known as the “concrete” is first extracted from the flowers. Concrete is a hard substance, almost half of it is made of wax, and around 880 pounds of jasmine flowers are needed to produce one pound of jasmine concrete. The absolute, the purest jasmine extract, is extracted next. Every year, around 66 pounds of this valuable ingredient are set aside for Weleda, so that after strict quality controls, it can be incorporated into essential oil blends for Weleda’s Wild Rose Facial Care and Body Care.

After night has fallen on the jasmine fields in Shoubra Beloula, the lights still shine at the factory — the flowers harvested today are best processed when they’re still fresh. The people in the village have long since gone to sleep. At three o’clock the next morning, they will be back in the fields to visit the “spirit of dreams” once more. Nb