In the Willamette Valley of Oregon, U.S., the Funke family has been growing and distilling mint for five generations. Wrigley has purchased mint to flavor its gum and mints from farmers like the Funke family for decades. In fact, we purchase the majority of our mint from farmers in the U.S.
Here, current farm manager, Richard Funke, describes some of the work he has done to advance the environmental practices of mint farming.
“There are an increasing number of people on our planet, which means better sharing of our precious resources,” shares Richard. In his profession, this means rethinking traditional practices with a high environmental impact, such as irrigation, fertilization and distillation. Improvements made to irrigation include assessing soil types, weather conditions and wind speeds to optimize water use.
Richard is equally thoughtful in his fertilizing and land management practices. “We compost plant material that is exhausted of its oil and apply it as mulch to the fields,” he comments. “This lessens the need for fertilizer and water.”
“We also treat each plot of land based on its soil profile, which takes into account various chemical levels and water permeability,” Richard goes on to explain. “Fertilizer rates are adjusted accordingly and applied in small increments throughout the growing season.”
When the mint is ready for harvest, Richard pays close attention to the amount of moisture on the crop to reduce the energy used in the distillation process. “We know that the higher the moisture content, the more energy is required to extract mint oil.”
Once the mint leaves are ready for distillation – the process that extracts the mint oil – Richard sees an even greater opportunity to reduce environmental impacts. “We’re exploring all aspects of distillation – the pressure, timing and location of the steam – to get the most oil using the least energy.”
“The cost savings may not be immediate,” he admits, “But fine tuning mint production now, will pay dividends in the future.”
Richard shares his practices with other farmers to amplify the benefits. Through his role in the Oregon Mint Growers League, he has worked with the Mint Industry Research Council (MIRC), to focus on enhancing and sustaining the productivity of a high-quality and economical U.S. mint industry. A founding member of the MIRC, Wrigley has supported the organization’s greenhouse gas analysis of the U.S. mint industry. As Richard agrees, “It’s important that companies like Wrigley have a seat at the table.”
By bringing together growers, industry experts and end-users like Wrigley, Richard feels confident in the future of the U.S. mint industry. “Mint growers are proud,” he shares. “There isn’t a problem we can’t solve together.”