Well Earth: Vietnam Schools Program

By: Co+op

As recently as 15 years ago, there were no roads in remote areas of Yen Bai province in northern Vietnam. It’s a place where centuries-old traditions meet modern progress, where villagers talk on cell phones while tending rice paddies, and where you might see a satellite dish on the roof of a thatched hut.

Schools are sparse here and often so far away from home that children cannot attend because it’s too far to walk each day. Frontier Co-op is changing that, however, making education possible for the children of cinnamon growers in rural Vietnam through its Well Earth sustainable sourcing program.

How does a company known for organic herbs, spices and botanicals get involved in education? It grew naturally from Frontier Co-op’s commitment to improving the lives and local communities of growers.

Based in Norway, Iowa, Frontier Co-op’s purchasing team travels all over the Earth to source the highest-quality herbs, spices, teas and essential oils for its Frontier Co-op, Simply Organic and Aura Cacia brands of products. Working closely with suppliers and growers enables Frontier Co-op to build strong partnerships.

“We travel there, work with them to troubleshoot and come up with ideas, to think through new opportunities,” says Tony Bedard, CEO of Frontier Co-op. “It empowers growers.” From this hands-on approach, Frontier Co-op’s Well Earth sourcing program emerged. Well Earth promotes the sustainable production of natural and organic ingredients and creates partnerships built upon a mutual respect for quality botanicals and sound social and environmental principles.

With Frontier Co-op’s deep cooperative roots comes a strong belief in the seven principles that guide co-ops around the world. One principle in particular – concern for community – led Frontier Co-op to take its Well Earth program a step further and ask growers:  What do you need to succeed? The answer may be as simple as buying a specific piece of equipment to optimize production. Or it could be something with far greater and lasting impact, as it is for the people in Vietnam who grow cassia for Frontier Co-op.

The sweet, complex and versatile cinnamon used in many Frontier Co-op products is sourced from the most desirable Vietnamese cassia. “We asked our longtime supply partner what the needs are in these local communities,” Tony explains. “The people who help harvest the cassia cinnamon, and their kids, don’t always live near a school. The need and desire is better education. How do you provide education in these rural areas where cassia growers live, where there are no schools nearby?”

To meet the need for education, Frontier Co-op provides financial support for 12 boarding schools serving children in four villages. During the week, students attend classes and reside in dormitory-style housing, with bunk beds that have built-in desks. The children eat meals in a cafeteria, receive books and school supplies, and have access to health services. The cooperative earmarks a percentage of sales on its Well Earth products to fund this program. So far, 475 children have received food, lodging and education through the school project. Amid the rapid pace of change in a still-developing Vietnam, these schools are preparing the next generation for the demands of life in a modern global society.

Being a cooperative, Frontier Co-op is concerned about how it can benefit both the wholesale customers that are its member-owners and the communities where growers live. The Well Earth sourcing program does just that. In bringing high-quality, sustainable and ethically sourced products to the natural foods market, Frontier Co-op is not only helping growers produce in-demand botanicals for a fair price, it is helping to improve the lives of families and strengthen communities.