Earth Day 2021, a letter from our Chief Herbalist
"Can love exist in business?"
This question, spoken by a Rasa team member, sparked a beautiful conversation at Rasa about what is and is not allowed in the traditional business world. Intangibles like deep emotions, Spirit, and intention generally go unrecognized or are even actively discouraged.
As we work to build an internal company culture that breaks barriers and normalizes love and vulnerability, we're also called to engage in this way externally. As a business that buys, sells, and celebrates medicinal herbs, this responsibility is very present with us this Earth Day.
The question we're wrestling with:
Is love even possible in a global supply chain?
At the core of herbalism is a mindset that we are working to protect and instill into the heart of Rasa. Ann Armbrecht, in her new book The Business of Botanicals, describes this mindset as "a sense of reciprocity with the natural world, an understanding of the earth as something more than a resource to exploit, a recognition of the spiritual and cultural dimensions of healing."
How is Rasa living these values? How do these values flow up and down the web of international suppliers we work with?
Here are some examples of our values in action.
🌱 Championing Organic
Organic has been a cornerstone for us from the beginning and it is not hard to see why. Arctic ice caps are now testing positive for pesticides. Same with herbs wildcrafted deep in the Colorado Rockies, only an hour or two drive from us. One of the most effective ways food companies and consumers can act to protect animals, fragile ecosystems, waterways, and the planet as a whole is to support organic.
We're proud that our main products are certified, but we still have a lot of work to do; several of our newer launches are not yet organic. The roasted date seed found in Calm is an example of the work we're doing behind the scenes. This ingredient is sourced from family farms in Jordan and is currently grown without pesticides. We've partnered with our supplier to start the organic certification process and we are hoping to have a certified farm and facility by the end of the year.
⛰️ Protecting the Wild
One in five wild plants is threatened with extinction, mainly due to land conversion for agriculture and resource extraction. Many of our herbs are wildcrafted and we’re committed to protecting them. When sustainability starts to become an issue, we'd much rather switch to cultivated material or discontinue use of the herb entirely, than risk being part of an extractive, depletive relationship. Chaga & sceletium are two examples of herbs we intentionally source cultivated, because both are under threat in the wild from over-harvesting and land loss.
Sadly, in 2021 we're adding another herb to this list. The sustainability of Rhodiola rosea is something we've been monitoring since I visited China two and a half years ago. Industry experts are now sounding the alarm and a new study is strongly recommending more intensive monitoring for wild-harvesting and the switch to cultivation where possible. We have made the commitment to stop sourcing wild rhodiola from China and we're partnering with a new cooperative, the Alberta Rhodiola Rosea Growers Organization, for organically cultivated rhodiola going forward. You will be hearing a lot more from us about rhodiola soon, because we want to do everything possible to protect one of our favorite adaptogens and support cultivation efforts.
🌍 Relationship and Reciprocity
Developing care for an herb growing 6000 miles away can often be an abstract intellectual exercise. How do we build relationship into an international supply chain? How do we share that with our customers? First, as global travel becomes safer we intend to visit more of our suppliers. Seeing the plants in their natural habitat, laughing and eating with the farmers and wild collectors, and understanding more of the cultures that gave birth to so much of our herbal wisdom gives us context through which to truly appreciate these herbs. Bringing stories back for our broader communities keeps this dialogue alive and builds trust and relationship into our products.
Second, once we gather in an office again we are going to start growing some of our herbs as potted plants. Mosts of our herbs don't grow wild in Colorado (dandelion, burdock, and chicory are the main exceptions), so the opportunities for us to interact with them as a team are limited. My hope is that the daily familiarity and the weekly nurturing that these potted plants may provide will be a step in the direction of reciprocity. I've found ashwagandha to be very easy to cultivate indoors. If you want to join us in this small pursuit of relationship, Strictly Medicinal is my favorite source for high quality ashwagandha seeds.
Part of our mission at Rasa is to make products that heal our communities while also healing the earth. While we're proud of the progress we're making, it is not enough. I have tremendous respect and gratitude for the small and large herbal companies that have been slowly clearing the path forward to a more sustainable, equitable, and loving industry. It is more expensive, more time consuming, and much more frustrating than just going with the status quo! And thank you, our customers, for trusting us, celebrating us, and supporting us as we grow and explore a different way of doing business.
Author: Ben LeVine, Chief Herbalist