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Without question, “regenerative” is one of the most popular food labels used these days, both within and outside of the organic industry. Yet, when it comes to brands that have actually achieved Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) status — the gold standard for regenerative organic — it is a very select number because of how difficult this third-party certification is to attain.
Tradin Organic, a global supplier and distributor of organic ingredients, is among this rarified group and has accomplished something that no other brand has done — becoming the first company in the world to receive ROC (Silver designation) for its cacao produced in Sierra Leone.
“Earning this certification was no easy task, but it marks the start of more ROC projects throughout our global supply chain,” said Gerard Versteegh, the company’s CEO. “Most importantly, it is promoting regenerative organic farming practices, something critical to building healthy soil and promoting biodiversity.”
For this project, Tradin needed to select thousands of cacao farmers in Sierra Leone and then work with them so they were in full compliance with ROC rules.
“The amount of time and resources required to accomplish this initiative was simply tremendous,” said Elizabeth Whitlow, executive director of the Regenerative Organic Alliance, the organization that oversees ROC. “Tradin had to empower these farmer groups to an incredible degree. This meant launching long-term goals of land restoration, replanting thousands of cacao trees and other agroforestry crops, doing soil testing, and digitizing thousands of reams of paper into a coherent and auditable system to facilitate compliance to all the required certifications.”
In order to achieve ROC, a brand must have obtained USDA organic certification as a baseline. ROC then adds additional criteria on top of the USDA organic seal to make sure farmers are actively building soil health, caring for animal welfare and treating their workers fairly. ROC denotes each certification either Gold, Silver or Bronze.
Regardless of the level, achieving ROC is a difficult endeavor, and to do so in a developing country that has had a historically unstable political climate, such as Sierra Leone, makes it even more impressive.
“This has been a serious undertaking, and it took a year and a half to get ROC,” said Karst Kooistra, sourcing development director at Tradin Organic. “In our project, we have close to 40,000 acres and over 15,000 farmers, all of whom had to be trained in regenerative organic agriculture. Just like in every other part of the world, the environmental conditions were challenging. The farmers in Sierra Leone have been dealing with less water than before and low soil fertility. So, we’ve been working with them to implement proven techniques, such as reforestation, the planting of fruit trees and a vermicomposting project, all with the goal of improving soil fertility, sequestering carbon and improving yields.”
While Tradin relied heavily on relationships with the cooperatives in Sierra Leone to make sure the farming standards were where they needed to be, one important ROC requirement — the labor component — was already in place. Two years ago, the company started with Fair Trade and was already paying premium prices.
With the supply side of the equation taken care of, Tradin needed to figure out how it was going to get this cacao in the hands of consumers.
“Expo West 2019 was when brands first started inquiring about ROC ingredients, and we thought that Navitas, a long-time client of ours, would be very interested in partnering with us in Sierra Leone,” said Hendrik Rabbie, vice president of sales and procurement at Tradin Organic and the person who initiated and spearheaded ROC certification for the company. “We knew how committed Navitas is to the planet and providing the highest quality of ingredients to its customers. From the beginning, there has been great alignment.”
“At Navitas, our mission is to cultivate a healthier world through organic farming, and advancing regenerative organic standards is appealing because it further empowers smallholder farms who respect the entire ecosystem, in ways that industrial agriculture consistently ignores,” shared Max Darcey, the company’s director of sustainability and quality. “The practices these farmers employ also increase biodiversity and conserve natural resources, thus creating an environmentally friendly food chain that will ultimately help strengthen local economies and communities.”
Given that 70% of the planet’s food supply is currently produced by 450 million small farms in rural regions throughout the developing world, regenerative organic projects such as this one will soon need to be the norm, not the exception. That being said, awareness among consumers will certainly be a key factor in pushing this movement forward.
“With customers increasingly inquiring about the environmental and social impact of products, we see that a holistic perspective on sustainability throughout the value chain is more and more demanded. Companies are being called on to proactively reduce their carbon footprint and to organize their supply chains in an ethical way, and all of Tradin’s resources are being dedicated to moving full steam ahead in this direction. Quite simply, it’s the right thing to do,” said Gerard Versteegh.
In early 2022, Navitas will be launching its ROC cacao powder, with additional ROC products to be released later in the year. The company’s goal is to have its full line of cacao products carry the ROC certification.
(A preliminary rendering of Navitas’ ROC cacao powder.)
Max Goldberg, Founder
In a move to cut costs, Danone recently ended the contracts of 89 small organic dairy farms in the Northeast, serving a devastating blow to these farmers and their communities. Fortunately, Stonyfield Organic has stepped in -- by inviting some of the impacted farmers to join its network and launching a task force to help save them all. Huge thanks to co-founder Gary Hirshberg, CEO Esteve Torrens and everyone at Stonyfield Organic.
At an Expo East panel, one industry analyst said that trends happen on Amazon approximately 24 months ahead of food, drugs and mass.
The legal fight against the USDA continues, this time in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In an interview on CNBC, Nick Green talks about disrupting the traditional grocery space and making waves as a Latinx CEO in tech.
The Colorado-based producer of organic and Non-GMO hummus, dips and guacamole gets acquired.
The same company that sells the super-toxic herbicide RoundUp now wants organic farmers as customers.
Could this soon be the U.S. as well?
Congrats to my friend Rose-Marie Swift, the absolute pioneer of the clean beauty world, on the acquisition of her eponymous brand by a Texas-based private investment firm.
Excellent news! The Mexican government rejects a GMO corn permit for the first time ever.
It's never a good thing when a state makes these decisions, especially when it's because they can't find enough labor.
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* The president/CEO of BIO — one of the largest biotechnology trade groups in the world — may soon be leading the FDA. At the USDA, Secretary Vilsack appointed a hydroponic lobbyist as senior advisor for organic and emerging markets. Both are very unsettling developments.
* Thrive Market has released its first shoppable cookbook.
* Tom Brady’s former personal chef has launched an organic meal delivery service.
* SEED Food and Wine Festival is coming back to Miami for its seventh year, from November 3-7.
* Rachel Drori, CEO and founder of Daily Harvest, on her mission to fix a broken food system.
* Meet the ocean-farming pioneer whose vertical kelp farms could transform the way food is produced.
* Clover Sonoma announces the first post-consumer recycled gallon milk jug in the U.S.
* The first carbon-neutral, certified organic lemons.
* The film Fruits of Labor provides an intimate look at the life of a teenage farmworker.
* How one organic restaurant in Miami is empowering girls, near and far.
* The government is now warning people about salt. Why isn’t it doing the same for glyphosate?
* In case you missed the last newsletter, here is my full recap from Expo East in Philadelphia.