I just came back from a trip to visit our friends at the Rice Fund Surin co-op in Thailand where our delicious Hom Mali Jasmine Rice, Purple and Ruby Red Rice are produced. I travelled with Justin Murphy (pictured right) from the Tidal Creek Co-op in Wilmington, NC. Last year, Justin won a Trip-to-Thailand contest that Alter Eco put together with the NCGA (Natural Cooperative Grocers Association), a group that represents 130 local co-ops here in the US. We were thrilled to travel with a representative from one of the stores supporting Alter Eco products in the United States in a true co-op to co-op experience.
As committed food activists, every year we travel far and wide to bring the most exotic, delicious and sustainable foods onto the supermarket shelves. This November we spent 7 days visiting our Thai farmer partners in Surin, Yasotorn, Ubon Ratchatani and ChangMai. We have been working with these farmers for over 10 years now and can see the direct impact fair trade has on local communities. Our host Khun Somrat, (pictured below) gave us a harvest training lesson and told us about how fair trade has transformed his life. Beyond guaranteeing him a fair revenue for his work, fair trade also helped the farmers in his community transition to organic agriculture. He told us that “villagers used to be sick from the impact of the pesticides on their health and on their finances. With organic agriculture, we are in much better health and the overall happiness in the village is better than ever.”
One among many other inspiring encounters, was Khun Som Sak, a social entrepreneur who grew up in the slums of the town of Surin. For the past couple of years, she has been developing transformative projects locally that directly benefit the under-privileged community and its kids. These projects include developing a fishery, planting hundreds of fruit trees, planting trees for timber, starting several educational support programs, ect. By herself, she has brought about significant change. During our visit, Alter Eco and our broker from Integrated Organics (who was also traveling with us) made a donation to finance her next projects: a mushroom house and a chicken farm.
A word from our NCGA friend, Justin, upon his return to the US:
“Thanks again for the trip. It has been a life-changing experience and I was so glad to enjoy some of it with some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. The farmers I’ve seen and the people we dealt with along the way give me confidence that the organic food industry is alive and growing and the right place for me.”
The ‘land of smiles’ never fails to host a magical, bountiful experience. Until next year, farewell Thailand!
Gingerbread is one of those holiday treats where nostalgia might be one of the main baking motivators, but with this recipe, taste will be your new main motivation! A wonderful balance between a cookie and a cake, these gingerbread bars are delicious alone or as a cushion for a dollop of ice cream. Regardless, they are sure to satisfy nostalgia and holiday cravings alike.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) Alter Eco Mascobado Sugar
7 1/2 tablespoons sugar, divided into 6tbls and 1 ½ tbls
2 large eggs
1/4 cup light (unsulfured) molasses
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Butter and flour 15x10x1-inch baking sheet.
Place 2 cups flour in medium bowl; transfer 2 tablespoons flour to small bowl and reserve. Add spices, baking soda, and salt to flour in medium bowl; whisk to blend.
Using an electric mixer, beat butter, brown sugar, and 6 tablespoons sugar in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then molasses.
Add dry ingredients to butter mixture and beat to blend. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Sift reserved 2 tablespoons flour evenly over batter, then sprinkle evenly with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar.
Bake gingerbread until golden brown and the tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 22 minutes; cool completely in pan on rack. Cut gingerbread crosswise into 4 strips, then cut each strip into 6 pieces, forming 24 bars, each about 31/2×13/4 inches. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 cups Alter Eco quinoa
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 small zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 butternut squash, peeled and diced
- 2 bunches green onions, chopped
- 1 cup dried apricots, diced
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
- 1 lemon
Boil 4 cups water; season with bay leaves and salt. Add quinoa and return to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 20 minutes, until quinoa absorbs water. Remove from heat; remove bay leaves and let cool. Meanwhile, heat 3 tbsp oil in a frying pan. Sauté zucchini and squash — season with salt and pepper — until slightly browned. Combine vegetables and quinoa. Combine green onions, apricots, cranberries, parsley, and mint in the same frying pan with the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil and cook for about 5 minutes. Grate in lemon peel and squeeze on lemon juice to taste. Combine all ingredients, season with salt and pepper.
1) Our partner farmers in Bolivia, Thailand and the Philippines.
One of our team-members, Mathieu (CEO and Co-Founder), is currently visiting the Rice Fund Coop in Surin, Thailand. We are thankful to these farmers because they welcome us into their villages and homes. They treat us as respected guests and share their time, food and culture with us. During every coop visit, our relationship strengthens and we learn more about the place the foods comes from and the people who grow it. We are thankful for these long-term relationships which are part of the basic principles of the fair trade system.
2) Our headquarters is located in the beautiful and sunny San Francisco.
Not only is the San Francisco Bay Area an ideal location for a social-minded company like Alter Eco to conduct business, it is also an extremely fun city for us to live and play. We have a plethora of farmers markets available to us year round so we can always support our local farming communities. The diverse population of the city means a diverse culinary environment. Most neighborhoods are host to dozens of different ethnic cuisines yielding a wide range of exotic tastes to be enjoyed every day of the week. And lastly, if anyone has spent any time in San Francisco, they know about the free spirit and sense of humor that is a must for any long term resident. From the Bay to Breakers race to the Bluegrass Festival, from the fans at AT&T Park to the surfers at Ocean Beach, from the Cable Cars to the Michelin Stars…there is never a lack of fun and exciting events to entertain and dazzle us. And that’s just how we like it.
3) You, our customers.
There would be no Alter Eco without the people who buy our products every day of the week. Whether it’s a foodie’s fav, an environmentalist’s staple, or a student’s splurge…. the purchases of Alter Eco products are ultimately what makes this company go round. So we are thankful to you for supporting the Fair Trade system. We hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner and pass the quinoa stuffing!
An effort to for-go the processed aisle, and create those snack bars at home…
Recipe adapted from the Quinoa Cookbook: http://quinoacookbook.org/toasted_quinoa_granola_bars.html
- 1 ½ c. Oats (not the quick cooking kind)
- ½ c. Uncooked Alter Eco quinoa
- 1/3 c. Flax seeds
- ½ tsp. Salt
- 1 ½ c. Dried Fruit
- 1/2c. Crushed Walnuts
- ¼ c. Alter Eco Mascobado Sugar
- 1/8 c. Agave Nectar
- ¼ c. honey
- 1 tsp. Cinnamon
- 1 Alter Eco chocolate bar, chopped (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and generously grease a 9”x9”glass baking pan or pie plate.
- Wash quinoa.
- In a medium bowl combine oats, flax seeds, and crushed walnuts.
- Pour mixture into a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.
- Heat a medium dry frying pan over medium heat. Toast the quinoa in the pan until golden brown or until it just starts popping.
- In a medium bowl add dried fruit, brown sugar, and cinnamon.
- Once the oat mixture and quinoa have been toasted add them to the dried fruit mixture.
- Add agave nectar, honey and salt.
- Mix until everything is coated with the honey and agave.
- Spread mixture evenly in the baking dish, press down firmly and bake in the oven for about 25-30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and cool completely before cutting into squares.
- Seal bars in an airtight container.
As fair-traders we always want our customers to choose fair trade first, but we are also firm believers of buying local– especially at farmer’s markets!
It is the spirit of the region and the attention to detail from the farmers that these venues’ selection of produce can bring to your family table. By choosing to shop at these events, you’re not only supporting your local economy, but also the livelihood of your nearest farms, farmers and their families. They can add a local flavor to those dishes made with our worldly products, and we feel eating seasonally is one of the best ways to truly enjoy your food. So, this means embracing the seasonal change, and knowing what foods are best at the moment!
If you aren’t as gardening saavy as others, it’s best to look for regional produce seasonality guides, but just getting out to your farmer’s market will show you which produce is in season—fall is great for fresh herbs such as rosemary, parsley, thyme and sage (all which plate well with our varieties of quinoa.) Artichokes usually have a second season later in the summer/early fall, and make an attractive side to a quinoa garden/veggie burger (recipe: http://on.fb.me/oCYXOQ ) Also, don’t forget the garlic! Delicious in practically any meal, fresh garlic is at its plump, sweetest best in late summer and fall.
So go seek out the perfect pairings for that fair trade rice or quinoa; your farmer’s market is THE destination for your palette!
Another year, another harvest: this means another Co-op visit!
It also means more of the nutritious and rare grains that we and the farmers strive to bring you. Like the other varieties of Royal Quinoa, Alter Eco Royal Red Quinoa grows exclusively in the high plains of the South Altiplano in Bolivia. It is cultivated by small-scale indigenous farmers at 13,000 feet in parcels that are tucked between the fertile soils of Andes volcanoes and the mineral-rich soil of the salt flats (Salar of Uyuni and Coipasa). This unique territory and these harsh desert conditions create a unique strain of quinoa, known as the Royal Quinoa (Quinoa Real).
Royal Quinoa is characterized by its large grains, smooth, rounded shape and high nutritional content. Alter Eco Royal Red Quinoa is an ancient variety of quinoa real, referred to by the Quechuan and Aymaran farmers who cultivate it as pasankalla.
Although there are more than 1,800 varieties of quinoa, the farmers in Bolivia cultivate only a handful of them. The cultivation of the pasankalla, as well as other varieties, such as negra (Alter Eco Black Quinoa), is a part of an effort to safeguard and develop various heirloom strains of quinoas.
The Royal Red Quinoa is a more fragile plant. Hence, it is a rare variety and farmers usually only allocate about 1/10 of their parcels to the pasankalla. One should not be fooled by seeing copious amounts of red plants filling the fields of the Altiplano; several varieties of quinoa, such as the rosada, grow red but the grains turn white once washed. Hence, the rosada variety is indeed a pearl (or white) quinoa.
It is thanks to these hard working, caring and gentle farmers that such a fragile grain is available for us to bring to you. So we thank those from the Bolivian ANAPQUI Coop, as well as Pachamama (Indigenous Andean “Mother Earth”) for this continued bountiful and prosperous partnership.