Quality control and testing are very important steps in making a high-quality supplement. The problem is that no matter how good quality control is, adulterators are always going to be one step ahead. Every year adulteration gets more and more sophisticated. Many products have adulterants that companies do not even know exist, so they are not even looking to test for them. In order to detect these adulterants, it requires new testing methods. These testing methods can often take years to develop. So, quality control then becomes a giant game of whack-a-mole that, frankly, the adulterators are winning. It is far easier and much faster to come up with new adulterants than the new testing methods required to find them. This is not even counting all the companies that do not bother with basic quality control, which is a massive problem on its own. I could write article after article on quality control and testing methods, but it would be all for naught because current methods simply are not enough to address the massive problems. No matter how good the testing methods and quality control are, companies are still missing things because of how sophisticated these adulteration methods have become. Check out the Netflix show Rotten’s Honey episode to learn more about this problem. In addition, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, adulteration issues have gotten much worse and more prevalent.
What is the solution if it is virtually impossible for companies to stop the ever-worsening adulteration problem? The traditional method of keeping up with adulteration might have been enough in the past, but with the fire hose of new adulterants and contaminants in supplements, it just does not work anymore.
Trying to find the answer to this growing problem was proving problematic, and then one day, it smacked me in the face.
One day, my son Parker decided he needed to get my attention and smacked me in the face with a magazine, The Valley Table. What a wonderful child.
Don't get him started!
The Valley Table magazine (an awesome magazine, check them out) is about farm-to-table eating in the Hudson Valley of New York. Farm-to-table is a great concept that has really taken off. The ability to know where your food comes from and being able to follow it from the farm to your table is an amazing thing. Knowing who grows your food and the farm that gave it life is something truly incredible.
As this movement grows, more and more people are able to eat food that not just improves their health but the health of an entire community as it offers farmers a better standard of living and reduces the environmental footprint of the food. What could be better? We are huge fans of this concept here in the bountiful Hudson Valley. There are so many wonderful local farms around and so many wild foods and herbs to harvest.
After recovering from the smack upside the head, I had my eureka moment when I saw the cover of the magazine. Why not do farm-to-table for supplements? If it works for food, why can’t it work for supplements? Thus began our farm-to-bottle project. Our goal is to create a farm-to-table model for supplements.
When getting started, we realized why no one had ever done this before across a wide variety of products and categories of supplements; it was a massive undertaking. We felt it was worth doing because it’s just as important to know where your supplements come from as it is to know where your food comes from.
Farm-to-bottle only works for true whole food supplements, herbs, and food products. Synthetic and isolated vitamins require so many inputs from many different places that it is impossible to trace them, as these sources often change from batch to batch. Check out our blog article to learn more about true whole-food supplements versus fake ones.
Currently, over sixty percent of our products are farm-to-bottle and generate over eighty percent of our sales! Over the coming years we will be gradually transitioning the remaining forty percent of our products, as we can source replacements, to get to our goal of 100% farm-to-bottle supplements. No other supplement retailer or company has even come close to what we have done across a broad range of categories.
Working to source true farm-to-bottle products has been quite an adventure. Every company tells great stories or has pretty pictures, but often they are just that: pictures & stories. The vast majority of the supplement “manufacturers” are actually owned by huge corporations, like Nestle (check out our page, who owns your vitamins), or buy raw materials from huge conglomerates and middlemen, whose only obligation is to their shareholders, not to the people who use the product.
Lots of phrases pop up in marketing, like "fresh from farm to tablet," that promise to tell us where our supplements come from. In reality, these types of marketing slogans are rarely, if ever, representative of what is actually being done. They may show you a peek, but they can’t - or won’t - show you the whole process because it doesn’t fit their story.
To give you just one example, a company even sent us pictures- lovely photos of "their" farm and farmers, but when we pulled their import certificate, they were actually importing tons of raw material from some pretty sketchy factories in China, not the small farms they had portrayed at all!
Farm to bottle means you can see where the ingredients were grown, fished, or harvested. Many of them are farms where you can go and visit for yourself and shake the hands of the men and women who grew it for you and see just for yourself. We have even run into some of them at our local farmer's market!
Markristo Farm in Hillsdale New York.
This also allows us to verify labor standards to ensure the farmworkers are well taken care of. Knowing that the people who actually grew the food and worked the land are well taken care of is incredibly important to us. All too often, farmworkers and laborers are subject to awful, inhumane conditions, exposed to all kinds of horrible chemicals, and paid next to nothing. No product can nourish and build health if the people who made it were treated horribly.
Farm to bottle does not mean just saying: This spirulina was grown in pristine outdoor ponds in India. Where in India? How can we be sure the conditions are pristine? Any company could just say that things are wonderful and show pretty pictures, even if things are actually terrible, because they know no one will actually come and verify it.
Another tactic that companies often take is to use one token farm that represents a tiny percentage of the raw materials, while the vast majority come from unknown or unethical sources. So when we say farm-to-bottle, we mean the entire amount, not just a small percentage.
No amount of stories, pretty pictures, fluff pieces, or label claims can replace the knowledge of knowing the actual farm and the exact conditions the ingredients were grown. No amount of testing or quality control can verify that a farm worker was well taken care of.
I want to make clear that farm-to-bottle does not mean no testing is needed, but it means the likelihood of adulteration is dramatically reduced because the area where most adulteration takes place, middlemen, is eliminated.
We have too many farm-to-bottle brands (and adding more all the time) to go through all of them in one article. Once the covid starts to calm down, we hope to bring you lots of on-the-farm videos and pictures of the fantastic people who bring these ingredients to life.
Here are just a few of our favorite farm-to-bottle brands:
First up is Algomed chlorella. Chlorella is incredibly nutrient-rich and one of the only vegan foods that naturally contain b-12.
Chlorella will accumulate any contaminants from its environment, so it is incredibly important to have a clean growing area. Most chlorella is grown in outdoor ponds in less than optimal conditions. Unlike a fruit or vegetable that can be washed off, you cannot simply rinse off the chlorella and call it a day. So anything from contaminants in the rain or birds flying over and relieving themselves will end up in the chlorella. With a lot of the world’s chlorella being grown in areas with a lot of pollution in the air and water, do you really know what it's in your chlorella?
The solution is chlorella grown in glass tubes, not exposed to the environment. The only ingredients needed to grow it are sunlight and mineral-rich water from deep underground.
The process of growing in glass tubes allows every aspect to be tightly controlled and eliminates the risk of contamination from the outside environment and ensures incredibly pure chlorella.
Algomed has been growing chlorella this way, in Germany, for over 20 years now.
Next up is Emerald Isle seaweed.
Many seaweed supplements come from less than clean ocean waters and are harvested in ways that, let’s just say, are less than desirable. They often contain high levels of heavy metals and other contaminants from the water they grow in. It can be nearly impossible to find exactly where your kelp or bladderwrack capsules came from as they will often just list an ocean or general areas, such as Atlantic or Pacific kelp. The oceans are large, so just saying an ocean does not tell you much.
The solution is seaweed harvested and dried in clean, cold waters, traceable to the exact source.
Multiple generations of the Higgins family have been hand-harvesting seaweed on the northern coastlines of Ireland for many years. The seaweed is hand-cut from below the low tide mark. This ensures only the best seaweed is harvested and the crop preserved for future generations. Their harvest is then hung by hand in a specially constructed drying room. Their slow drying process ensures all the nutrients remain in the seaweed. They do not expose the seaweed to high temperatures, which would kill off many of the beneficial qualities of seaweed. This ensures an incredibly nutrient-dense seaweed.
Next up is Seleno Health.
Maca is an incredible plant with so many benefits. Unfortunately, a lot of maca is adulterated and improperly processed. In addition, many Maca products are actually lying about their country of origin. Maca is a heritage crop in Peru, where it is traditionally grown. A few years ago a lot of maca roots were stolen from Peru and taken to China to be grown there. The maca that grows there is quite different because of the climate and soil. Many companies sell this Chinese maca and label it as Peruvian.
The solution is maca directly from the farmers.
Seleno Health is a partnership between a farmer family in Peru and a family in New Zealand.
The partnership helps to bring the true benefits of this plant to the world while protecting the local environment, improving the lives of the farmers, all the while improving their community, and ensuring a better future for local people.
This amazing maca is sun-dried at high altitudes for ninety days before being gelatinized and packaged. While it may be cheaper to oven-dry maca, which is what most companies do, the long sun-drying process is essential for the formation of beneficial compounds. The combination of traditional knowledge and modern science is the perfect blending and what more companies should strive for.
The partnership helps to improve the lives of the farmers and their communities while bringing the benefits of the plant to the world and protecting the environment.
This is exactly what we need more of going forward if we want to make the world a better place for everyone.
They also partner with another farm in Peru to bring us the most amazing cacao products, including this chocoholics favorite ceremonial cacao. This rescue cacao helps to get many people out of the dangerous drug trade and provides a way for the local farmers to make a good living and protect the local forests.
Next up is NXGEN Whole Foods (Cow and Bull is their other label).
Organ meats offer incredible benefits and deep nourishment not found in other foods. Not everyone likes to eat them or has access to them, though. That’s where organ capsules come in.
It is very important to know where your organ meats come from, and the same should apply to your supplements. The last thing you want to do is eat organ meats from a questionable source.
Many companies will say they are from Argentina, Brazil, or New Zealand, but that does not really tell you about the actual farmers or the conditions on the farm. Those countries are pretty large, and there are good and bad farmers in every country.
That’s where NXGEN comes in. We can track the capsules back to the actual farms they came from because of their partnership with Obe Organic.
Obe Organic is a wonderful farmer-owned cooperative that practices regenerative farming in the Lake Eyre region of Australia. The cattle craze year-round on an incredible assortment of grasses. They help to nourish the land and sequester carbon in the soil. If all farming was truly regenerative, agriculture would actually be a net reducer of greenhouse gases instead of contributing to them! Regenerative agriculture gives humanity a chance to revolutionize farming, grow more nutritious food, provide a better life for animals, and protect the environment for future generations.
Here are a few more farm-to-bottle brands:
Abyssea Chlorella - Glass Tube Grown Chlorella
Lots more brands to come!
In order to make it easy to identify which products are farm-to-bottle, look for this symbol on products in our web store:
Whenever we make a purchase, we are making a choice as to the kind of world we want.
Let's make the right choice and choose products that support cleaner air, fair pay for farmers and laborers, and a better future for our children!