is coming from and what quality it is,” adds
Andy Wilcox, 39. He, his brother, Brent, 42,
and their cousin Chris, 46, now run the
farm. “The combination of wanting local
food and knowing its quality is really driving the future for our family.”
The Nichols family, including Steve, right, and his
son, Christopher, have been egg farming for three
generations. Likewise, many longtime employees
now have their children working on the farm.
fies a product as “sustainable” as there is for,
say, organic products. “In general we think
of sustainability as a path rather than a des-
tination,” explains Hamilton. “So the prod-
ucts we buy from responsible production
are becoming more and more sustainable
For farmers, one indicator of sustainable
practices is their carbon footprint. A conve-
nient way of measuring this footprint is
through an innovative software program
called the Cool Farm Tool, developed at the
University of Aberdeen in Scotland. With
this program, farmers can enter details about
their crops, fertilizers, soil composition, pes-
ticides and so on, and the tool instantly cal-
culates their greenhouse gas emissions.
The tool’s goal, Hamilton says, is to
reveal best farming practices for any farmer,
from egg producers to wheat growers.
“Farming systems around the world are
PHO TO CREDI T TK
In its simplest interpretation, a sustainable program is one that ensures an adequate ongoing supply of a product. But it’s
not quite so simple.
The Sustainable Food Lab (www.
sustainablefoodlab.org), an organization that
promotes sustainable practices in the food
industry, says these practices cover several
areas, from the environment to social issues.
With sustainable food programs, the soil’s
health is maintained and improved, nearby
rivers and streams are kept clean and greenhouse gas emissions are minimized.
Economically, the businesses involved must
be able to thrive. And the people in every step
of the process—farmers, workers, processors
and others—must enjoy livable incomes.
Hal Hamilton, of the Sustainable Food
Lab, says there’s no universal label that certi-
CHINO VALLE Y RANCHERS
Ugandan vanilla farmers have made great strides in improving their farming tech- niques and growing high-quality beans. years ago, focuses on educating the farmers vanilla Case study. .
FOR MANY YEARS, Madagascar has been the leading producer of fine vanilla beans, supplying some 70 per- cent of the world’s supply. But storms and political unrest have often disrupted production—leaving supplies unreliable, driving up prices for fine vanilla extract and putting money in the hands of traders, not farmers. Seeking another source of high-quality vanilla, Costco turned to Uganda, which has excellent condi-
tions for growing vanilla beans. Through an
ambitious program that involved Costco,
UVAN, a Uganda-based vanilla bean proces-
sor, a Danish flavor company and the
Danish government, the Ugandan vanilla
industry today has become a key player in
the world’s vanilla industry. And its success
is based on sustainability.
The development program, initiated five
years ago, focuses on educating the farmers
about the best vanilla growing and harvesting
methods, and on improvements in the communities. Vanilla bean farming wasn’t new in
Uganda: Farmers had tried it before, but the
industry had never brought fair returns
because of poor production practices and
limited access to world markets.
One early step under the development
program was to show the farmers the value
of allowing the beans to mature on the vine.
Traditionally, farmers picked the beans early
for quick cash—and to avoid having them
stolen. Beans that are allowed to mature
have higher vanillin content—thus a richer
vanilla extract and significantly higher value
on the market, explains Kristen Hayes,
Costco’s buyer of vanilla products.
Also, UVAN established a curing station
so the beans could be cured to high standards, consistently. This eliminated a system of middlemen and
enables the farmers to get premium prices for high-quality beans.
But perhaps the program offering the biggest long-term impact is new village savings and loans that offer
families access to loans.
Many of the families live in remote areas without any
banks. The savings and loans offer them cash to diversify
their businesses and increase their incomes. For example,
Kristen says, a family could borrow money to buy chickens
for eggs—which they could eat or sell—or seeds to grow
and sell vegetables.
“In a country where financing is difficult to get, these
small loans make an incredibly big difference for these
families,” says Kristen.
And Costco’s role? The company is partnering with
the farmers to create a reliable supply of high-quality
vanilla. This partnership offers a steady market for the
farmers and helps them plan for the future. The
vanilla is blended and sold as Kirkland
Signature™ Pure Vanilla and is also used to flavor
Kirkland Signature Vanilla Ice Cream. It all translates into huge savings for members: The price
for a 16-ounce bottle of Kirkland Signature Pure
Vanilla is below $7.
Today, about 9,500 Ugandan farmers are
involved in the program.
“We are essentially partnering with these
families to produce the best vanilla in the
world,” sums up Kristen. “It’s a system where
everybody wins. That’s sustainability.”—TT
24 ;e Costco Connection AUGUST 2011