Sebat and Weleda had all the makings for a perfect partnership. The two companies shared a passion for roses and an aspiration to create a more beautiful future for people and nature. In Turkish, “Sebat” means to work hard—passionately and patiently. Universally, Weleda stands for harmony and interconnectivity between nature and humans. Together, they could help to improve the lives of hundreds of farmers and their environment.
Eight years ago, a special, sustainable relationship began. Weleda needed roses—nearly 400 million flowers annually. In fact, in order to fragrance and harmonize their Wild Rose skin care products, they needed more roses than anyone else in the world. But buying available roses wasn’t enough. Weleda wanted organic roses—plants that supported the health of the environment and the people. “Weleda is the world’s largest buyer of rose absolute [a form of rose oil especially rich in essential oils] from organic roses,” says Michael Straub, head of Research & Cropping of Medicinal Plants for Weleda. “This is why we had to make a conscious decision to grow our roses organically.” So Straub met with Hüseyin Kinaci, a father, farmer and owner of Sebat, a rose oil distillery in the province of Isparta in southwest Turkey.
Here, in what has been coined the Valley of Roses, bright pink rosa damascena flowers had blossomed for centuries. However, the roses also told a less picturesque story. Before World War II, nearly everything in Turkey was grown organically. Then the war brought chemical warfare, including synthetic nitrogen. Tractors and other industrial inputs were also introduced to the country.
The soil, and all of life, began to lose vitality. Like the harmful chemicals used as weaponry during the war, the synthetic fertilizers and pesticides were unhealthy for the farmers, who often spent mornings, afternoons and even nights on their plots of land—working and living.
With the understanding that organic is healthier and more sustainable for the people, plants and entire ecosystem, Weleda set out to create change. But they could not do it alone. Support and local knowledge was needed. Hüseyin Kinaci, his two sons, Hasan Ali and Süleyman, and Ralf Önal, an organic agriculture specialist and a native of Turkey, offered just that expertise. The goal was to convert the roses from conventional to organic farming over a period of three years, the time needed to officially transition to biological agriculture. In the meantime, Weleda would buy all of Sebat’s existing supplies at above-market prices, and secure contracts guaranteeing the price and quantities of future purchases. Addition-ally Weleda would ensure that Sebat had the necessary resources—including plants, a tractor, a house for the field manager—and other equipment to sustain itself and grow. Local farmers throughout the region of Isparta would be encouraged to convert their small farms, each well under one acre, to organic agriculture. They would be offered better pay than what they currently received, better-quality plants and soil and improved health for their family and their land—then and in the years to come.
Growing with time:
At first, 30 farmers joined the project. But as time passed, word spread about the initiative and the farmers’ success. Over the next seven years, more than 240 additional farmers from 10 villages throughout the province of Isparta signed on.
The largest of these was the Kinaci family’s organic farm, sprawling over 37 acres and yielding 62 tons of organic rose buds each year. In 2007, Sebat began to offer an additional incentive of $2,250 to each small farmer who committed to converting to organic cultivation.
“The project is good because the farmers are happy, and they are yielding the same quantity of roses as before they converted to organic,” Hüseyin Kinaci says with a smile. “So the farmers now know it is possible to grow their roses organically. We started with 30 farmers and now we have nearly 300. I will need even more organic roses in the future. My plan is to develop a big integrated, organic farm system—500 acres—with wheat, cows, sheep, roses and even a spa for visitors. This is a life project!”
Celebrating a passion and a project:
On a warm day in mid-June, we made our way down a narrow dirt road to the Kinaci family’s rose fields. Straub and Önal, at home here, led the way. But even before the sight of an expansive stretch of soft, pink blossoms—the last crop of the season—had met our eyes, we inhaled the most intoxicating fragrance of the freshest, organic roses. Amid the rows of ready-to-be-picked flowers, one rose harvester, Naciye, plucked the flowers from their stems with knowing ease. “It’s better for me if the fields are organic,” she says, “because there are no unhealthy chemicals.”
We had come here not only to experience the pure, sweet, organic beauty that lay before us, but to celebrate it. A rose party would be held that day at the Sebat oil distillery and later in the village of Senir, overlooking the pristine expanse of Lake Burdur.
“We are celebrating working to-gether—Weleda and Sebat,” said a radiant Kinaci. Over the course of this seven-year partnership, a long-lasting mutuality had been cultivated and the perfect results attained. Sebat no longer needed Weleda’s intimate support and consultancy. Weleda would continue to purchase their annual supply of organic roses for distillation into rose absolute and develop social initiatives—including the creation of a before-school program for children in Senir and the implementation of an organic agriculture project with local schools. But Sebat had now blossomed into a fully independent company. “Our party today is exciting because many people will see where we have come from and where we are,” says Kinaci. “They will see what is possible.”
Under the clear night sky, 5,000 farmers, harvesters, friends and neighbors gathered together in celebration. In a few short years they had cultivated and grown a great deal. It had resulted in the perfect end, and, at the same time, the perfect beginning—with roses, forever.