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4/12/2010
The Sweet Organic Almond Story
The Sweet Organic Almond Story

Chapter 1: The discovery

Sunlight. Soft, green grass. Bees murmuring.Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Organic almond shells crackle underfoot. It feels like paradise. The pure presence of nature—trees, bees and all—comes through here, alive and awake. It’s a fresh reminder that going organic yields palatable benefits. As Irena Kalan, Weleda’s head of international sourcing, walks among the organic sweet almond trees, she smiles. Even though it’s winter, the air feels light and sunny. And she is happy. A dream is blossoming before her eyes: Weleda’s almonds are growing—organically.

In the beginning

In 2005, Weleda headed west to the world’s largest home of almonds, California. The company partnered with Caloy, a sweet-almond-oil processor, and Gustav Hees, a German-based supplier of specialty oils for cosmetics and other products, to purchase carefully refined oil for use in skin care products. All the while, however, Kalan and her team held on to her dream of finding organic almonds that could be pressed into fine, sweet almond oil—something in short supply when it comes to organic products. According to one almond farm in California, less than half a percent of California’s entire almond market is organic. Of these, all are grown strictly for the food market, leaving nothing remaining for other uses, such as skin care. To bring its vision to life, Weleda’s international sourcing team searched worldwide. The oil needed to be organic. It needed to be purchased at a price that kept the end products accessible to customers. And there needed to be a partner passionate about organics—open to growinghand-in-hand with Weleda. With the help of its oil supplier, Weleda’s next (organic) chapter began—in Spain. Sprawling over 100,000 acres of the countryside of the Valencian community,not far from the city of Alicante, lies the Cooperative Society of MAÑAN. This almond haven, dedicated exclusively to the cultivation of this important plant, bears 60 percent of Spain’s almond harvest. Fifteen percent of the land is certified organic, yielding 3,000 tons of organic almonds. For Weleda, this is where possibility and the future converge.

Just the beginning

Agricultural engineer Frederico Samper works to ensure everything runs smoothly between the local farmers and the cooperative. The quality has to be just right. The harvests must be collected. And the farmers must be paid. Earning close to 20 percent more than if they farm conventionally, the farmers cultivating organic almonds also receive a gift from the Spanish government: more than $400 for every two and a half acres farmed organically. When Samper joined the cooperative in 1998, they began transitioning some of their land to organic, and if demand from Weleda and others continues to increase, even more ground could be converted to organic growing. As with all agriculture, there is no guarantee. One too-warm season can dramatically affect the yield of the trees. This uncertainty is particularly true with organics, where farmers are more tuned to and reliant on nature’s powers to bear fruits rather than dependent on synthetic fertilizers and sprays to protect crops. In March, if all goes ac-cording to seasonal plans,the almond trees—blossoming with soft, light-pink flowers —begin to nourish and ripen the nuts for which they are revered. In most plants the growth energy moves upward to create the fruit, but in the case of the almond, all the plant’s power is given to the seed, also known as the almond nut. This strength is stored in the form of vitamin- and essential-fatty-acid rich oil, making it nutritious and nurturing—ideal for the care of sensitive skin. From the end of August through November, the sturdy nuts are shaken from the trees and left to dry, naturally, on the ground. Before winter comes, the almonds are collected, sorted, dried, shelled, electronically- and hand-selected, blanched in hot water to remove the inner brown skin and finally prepared to be sold and eaten for food or pressed into fine, organic almond oil for Weleda skin care products.

A bright future

This is just the beginning. The organic farmers of MAÑAN will continue to lovingly care for their soil and theirprecious almond trees. They will nurse their plants through rain, drought, too much sun, too little sun—all for a better life: for their health, for the planet’s and for yours. As the sun streams between the almond branches, it is clear— together we are cultivating a brighter tomorrow. jb

The next chapter: Upcoming issues will provide an up-close look at the organic almonds of Spain and this special cultivation cooperative. Stay tuned!