Supplier visits: FairWild Liquorice crops in Spain

Friday 03 June 2016

‘This doesn’t feel like work…..’ Our Supply Chain Projects Co-ordinator, Eileen Clark, has recently visited one of our suppliers in Spain. Read on to learn more about her trip.

On a fine spring morning in northern Spain, we’re standing in a wildflower meadow of tall daisies and poppies, bordered by woodland and the river Ebro meandering slowly by.  Red kites soar overhead; partridges seek out the shade of fig, pomegranate and olive trees. The rocky outcrops are scented by wild rosemary, thyme and artemesia.

We’re here to measure the density and diversity of the wildflowers, and to see one plant in particular: liquorice.  It grows wild here, thriving in the hot sun and drawing moisture from the river.  The root adds sweetness and depth to many herbal tea blends, and has a long history in traditional medicine, familiar in cough mixtures particularly.  But of course, getting roots out of the ground disturbs the whole habitat, so we’re keen to check that all the species can bounce back.  The results are positive, even within a few months, and the area will be left alone for five or six years to regenerate.
The methods we use are checked by an inspector, and certified to the FairWild standard which gives extra reassurance that the collection is sustainable.  FairWild also has a social element, so our next stop is a meeting with the collectors who do the hard work of digging the liquorice out from the soil.
It turns out the meeting is over strong coffee in a Spanish bar, so we’re still onto a winner in terms of working conditions.  The collectors receive a social premium - a bit of money on top of their wages which can be used for social projects – and today they’ll discuss how to spend it.  They’ve decided they really need their own van, not only for transport but also as somewhere to shelter from the powerful sun or the winter cold, since they’re out in the fields in all weathers.  It will give them somewhere to change into work clothes, and prepare a midday meal together. 
Everyone pitches in on conversations about the budget for the van, plus maintenance, and some other ideas for spending are discussed as well.  It’s good to hear the collectors’ ideas and spend time with them again.  Being part of the young and flourishing FairWild movement is exciting, and learning more about the source of our herbs always means time well spent.