Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Saffron fields and the handmade life

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A family in picking saffron flowers from their field at Pampore, 17 kms from
Srinagar on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway (click photo>flickr)
What does Saffron Fields have to do with handmade? You might already connect saffron with the words expensive and cooking spice. Yes, it is a spice, and its high cost comes from the way it is harvested. Saffron consists of the threads (or stigma) taken from the Crocus sativa plant. Each plant grows to about eight inches high and yields about five purple flowers. Each flower contains six petals, in the midst of which are the stigmas, bright red-orange threads. The threads are broken or pulled off by hand. There is no machine that can harvest the delicate threads. They must be dried quickly over coals or wood for ten to twelve hours, then sealed in glass containers, after which it can last for several years. It takes 75 thousand flowers to yield a pound of dried saffron. This means, in order to yield a decent harvest, many plants are cultivated to bloom at the same time. The average price for a pound of saffron in the West is approximately a thousand dollars.

A family in picking saffron flowers from their field at Pampore, 17 kms from Srinagar on Srinagar-Jammu National Highway (click on photo to go to flickr account). The combination of long hours of hand labor performed by families and community, depending on where it is harvested, and the timing required to harvest and preserve the threads--including the various uses to which it is put--make saffron a valuable commodity. So this is the comparison I make - we are a world of hand crafters producing items with a variety of uses. As creators of a useful commodity, we work hard and plan diligently to get our products to fruition, then we take it to market. From afar, a field of saffron is a beautiful quilt of purple flowers mixed with the brown color of the earth. For me, that saffron field is a symbol of vision, dedication, and toil, all the virtues that symbolize a handmade life.

Special note: The saffron business allows mothers in many saffron growing economies to stay at home to make a living! Thumbs up!