26 April 2017
We're excited to bring you a new FairWild product, in partnership with Neal’s Yard Remedies and Nateva - both longstanding partners of ours and pioneers in organic business. We asked our supply partner, Peter, to tell us the story of the first FairWild rosehips.
"Rosehips were an old product even back in Yugoslavia. It is not known when the picking of the hips began, but it is sure that after the second world war Yugoslavia produced substantial amounts. The town of Svrljig is situated on the old road from Niš to Zajecar, amidst the hills. The main economy of the town was formed and still revolves around the collection and drying/processing of the plant material. In Yugoslavia, the pharmaceutical company Krka had established big drying facilities for their food industry, modernizing the town's business. The area around Svrljig is a vast hillside, covered with forests and meadows. Surrounded by the woodland are small villages scattered in a way that reflects the pre-industrial era. Most of the villages are being abandoned. Youth is draining from them to bigger towns and prosperity, creating behind the scenery of a Tolkien tale. Where the trees end or the fields of old succumb to the power of time, wild rose like the dawn rises. The dawn that is bringing food to the village tables, the dawn that is bringing the eyes of the world to the place which was left out and finally the dawn that is just like all other dawns - hope.
Mr. Ljubiša is an early riser. Even before the old mountain under the surveillance of the mighty Midžor awakens, Mr. Ljubiša commences his day. The cold mornings in eastern Serbia from time to time damage the dog rose, yet the people of Svrljig grew accustomed to it. Coffee was brought by the Turks, which governed the area for nearly 500 years, until Ljubiša's fathers rebelled against them. Although the old masters were now gone they remained in the thick black coffee Mr. Ljubiša drinks each morning, in the words he speaks, as well as in the food that will be served at noon. No breakfast is awaiting him at mornings since his wife, lovely Marina Savic, is still asleep, as the whole town is. Yet one piece of bread with some goat cheese is just what he needs to get himself going. Bureaucracy is like a virus spreading through the old continent and, though many modern inventions have bypassed the lands around the river Timok, red tape and paperwork did not. In his office there is a scent of essential oils mixed with powerful odour of the rakija he just drank, "the Serbian way… the Serbian way…”, he likes to emphasise. It was around 6 o’clock when the doors next to the old computer opened and the familiar face of Mr. Sveta smiled at him. He has just returned from driving the collectors to the hills below the old mountain. Four women and two men today. There are close to 100 people collecting for Mr. Ljubiša today, as there is a big order for rosehips coming due. They do not collect solely for him and his company Plantamell, although they are much better off this way. Just like the wind they are carried to where better price is calling, from Linden trees to Dog Rose, from Ljubiša to other buyers: they are the nomads those lands once knew. Women, man, gypsies, grey, tall - they say it doesn’t matter who you are up there, it calls to you the same.
They are free in a way that no man is in the city. They work as hard as their belly yearns, and for as long as the day and weather allow it. Some have jobs and go for an afternoon walk, others do not, yet the hills provide in abundance. As long as Mr. Ljubiša has enough energy to run the wheels of the operation, aided by his most trusted help, Sveta Milosavljevic, the collectors have little to fear. Nonetheless winter will come shortly and then their chit-chat work in the dog rose bushes will endure with them only as a pleasant memory. Those with jobs will have some time to lazy around their households, others will eat their savings and what little social aid Belgrade government provide. For them Belgrade is but the dot on the map, they have never seen. A dot so far away. A dot and nothing more but a dot.
The work of a collector is a pleasant work, Ljubiša explains over lunch in the restaurant called The Trucker. He is being served a sausage 1-metre-long, with some Ajvar and chopped onions. Sparkling water is bubbling and a Greek salad is crunching underneath Ljubišas fork. “When I was but a kid, we had a weekend activity in school, collecting rosehips. It was a way to finance our textbooks. Those were the days when my legs did not hurt and my eyes saw better. I visit them from time to time on the hills, and those same eyes become wet, wet with those lovely memories. They talk, they joke and they pick a hip after a hip. They can collect up to 50kg of hips in one day and store it in a bag. In such a way, they can reach the minimum wage in just one-week. When I studied chemical engineering, we were told study so you will be rich. Nowadays collecting will get you better off, than working for €200 in a factory.”
The winding roads penetrate the brown leaves of the autumn connecting the old villages. From time to time you see a loud Lada Niva or a van and you know that they are returning. They were up there for a whole day, eating on the floor as if they would have a picnic, chatting as if they have not seen each other for a year and joking as if they would not know of their problems. The bags of fresh rosehips are full, yet the bushes are not empty. They leave about one to two tenths of the berries on, so they would have tomorrow. When they arrive to the town of Svrljig Mr. Ljubiša awaits them. Money from hand to hand, coffee pouring into cups, gossiping contagiously spreading and a friendly smile on the work horse which is Sveta Milosavljevic. Day after day, year after year, tonnes and tonnes of rosehips enter and leave those warehouses. It comes and goes more reliably than time, which seems to stop and then glide by again all too rapidly.
Hips are first dried, then cut and finally sieved. The products received are rosehip shells and rosehip seeds. It is all done close to the warehouse, where old machines still growl. The old machines which were so new and so fancy under the roof of company Krka are now, just as the whole community is, a reminder of a much simpler and perhaps a nicer time. The time which so rapidly leaped forward and now seems to stop amidst the brownish hills of yesterday.
Bobo is the man behind the machines. He knows them, better the he would have known his kids, had he been lucky enough. He changed most of the parts and knows every scratch they have as if the scratches were his own. His hands are old and thick, his hair and face hidden behind the mask and a cap. The dust rises from the plants and is illuminated by the mighty beams of sunlight, which cut through the room as if they were shots fired from some divine gun. Bobo is a man who has seen war which tore the country apart, nearly 30 years ago. He was a young man then and afterwards no more. He never married and found what he needed in a closed room, in a dusty room, in a noisy room. He knows Mr. Ljubiša from their school days, yet they do not talk much. He does not talk much. He comes in the morning and leaves when we he wishes. He works alone. He eats alone. He lives alone.
After the hips are processed they are returned to the warehouses where they are stored and packed. Every step is monitored by the man, for that is what he most definitely is, Mr. Ljubiša. He records it and in the mornings fills in all the papers which were not finished throughout the day. The last rosehip seeds and shells are now coming in. It is four o’clock. Some collectors are also bringing their hips in; those will be processed tomorrow. The delivery will soon be due and the goods are ready. Packed on the pallets in the big bags, wrapped in foil and properly labelled. Every single step must be done in a sustainable way, not damaging the environment or exploiting the workers. Because of it Ljubiša received a FairWild certificate and those goods are the first to leave his warehouse with the FairWild label on them.
And what does it mean for all the collector? It means that the buyer of the rosehips is paying extra money on top of the price to ensure that everyone is being treated fairly and that community slowly starts to develop. Perhaps in this way, the empty villages along the hills of Svrljig and slopes of the old mountain will once again hear children laughter and cries."
FairWild certification means wild plants that are collected at a sustainable rate, by people who receive a fair rate of pay and decent working conditions. Contact us to order some FairWild Rosehips on +44 (0) 1823 401 205 or firstname.lastname@example.org