Ancient Grains, Grown the Ancient Way

October 25, 2022

Quinoa, cacao, chia seeds, functional mushrooms…these popular health foods have deep roots in indigenous communities. But increasing demand and the resulting pressure to produce large volumes can lead to unsustainable agricultural practices that have negative impacts on both farmers and the environment.

If you want to ensure the effects of your dietary choices are positive, one way to do it is to choose ingredients that are regeneratively grown and sourced via ethical supply chains. Thrive Market’s new ancient grains, including amaranth and three kinds of quinoa, are Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC™) and sourced directly from South America via partnerships that honor indigenous farming practices and support communities. 

Ancient Grains from South America

Quinoa and amaranth are two of the oldest cultivated foods in the world. Both were revered by ancient cultures. The Incas called quinoa “chisaya mama,” or “mother grain;” the Aztecs viewed amaranth as similarly sacred.  

Thrive Market’s ROC™ quinoa comes from a region of Peru on the border of Bolivia called the Altiplano, on the outskirts of Lake Titicaca. (Thrive Market’s ROC™ Amaranth comes from a slightly lower-elevation region called Puno, about 30 miles to the northwest.) The Altiplano is considered the birthplace of a number of ancient civilizations including the Incas, and accordingly, it’s also the original source of quinoa. 

“Here, we have grown natural quinoa for thousands of years,” says Mario Miranda Alejo, a farmer and community manager in Peru. “It could be said that this is the center of origin of the production and domestication of quinoa.”

Indigenous farmers in Peru have been growing quinoa and amaranth in a regenerative fashion for generations, using techniques like crop rotation and avoiding pesticides to heal and nurture the soil. Regenerative Organic Certification is an avenue for sustainable growth and prosperity.   

Regenerative Organic Certification: The Basics

Regenerative organic agriculture is focused on a few key areas, including soil health, animal welfare, and the well-being of farmers and their communities.

When you see the Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC™) label, it means the product is deemed to meet the highest possible standard for organic agriculture. ROC™ requirements start with USDA Certified Organic standards as a baseline, then add additional benchmarks concerning areas like:

  • Water conservation
  • Protection from deforestation
  • Vegetative cover cropping
  • Crop rotation
  • Minimal soil disturbance 
  • Rotational grazing
  • Protection of endangered plants and animals
  • Composting
  • Waste minimization 
  • Animal welfare
  • Ethical labor practices

Benefits of Regenerative Organic Certification for Farmers

Our partners in South America work directly with smallholder farms, helping them get regenerative organic certification in some cases and supporting them as they transition away from using pesticides and monocropping in others.  

Direct trade partnerships and regenerative organic certification help farmers get top dollar for their crop, while also providing stability, even when markets are uncertain. Meanwhile, fair trade premiums can be reinvested in essential community projects, like new fencing, compost operations, and seeding. 

Indigenous farming communities benefit from leadership development as well. The partnership encourages an enhanced level of organization, including delegation of key roles. This leadership development not only helps the farming operations run more smoothly, but also sets them up for sustainable growth and success. 

Based on the annual projected volumes for quinoa and amaranth, Thrive Market’s ROC™ grains are helping to support 14 smallholder farmers who oversee a total of 29 hectares of farmland (the equivalent of 72 football fields) in South America.

“It is important to grant Regenerative Organic Certification™ to our producers and organize them in such a way that they can be more competitive in the market and have a better quality of life for their families,” Alejo says.

ROC™ Ancient Grains at Thrive Market

Ancient grains like quinoa and amaranth are quick-cooking, gluten-free pantry staples for healthy cooking. 

Thrive Market Regenerative Organic White Quinoa

Soft and fluffy, white quinoa is an ideal replacement for rice, but don’t forget that you can use it in sweet recipes too—like Sophia Roe’s Coconut-Macadamia Granola.

Thrive Market Regenerative Organic Red Quinoa

With a nuttier flavor and sturdier texture than white quinoa, red quinoa is a great choice for salads.

Thrive Market Regenerative Organic Black Quinoa

The earthy flavor and firm texture of black quinoa holds up well in cold grain-based dishes.

Thrive Market Regenerative Organic Amaranth

If you’ve never cooked with amaranth, you’re in for some fun. This versatile seed grain can be added to soups, prepared like oatmeal for a comforting hot breakfast, or even popped like popcorn—like in this recipe for sweet and chewy alegrias.

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Kirby Stirland

Kirby Stirland is a writer, editor, and New York transplant living in Los Angeles.

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