As members of the armed forces, they served in Afghanistan. But while they were there, they fell in love with the beautiful country and the kind, generous people who live there.
Back home and adjusting to life after the Army, veterans Keith Alaniz and Kimberly Jung wondered how they could support the people of Afghanistan, particularly in parts of the country where a lack of economic opportunity pushes some toward the insurgency.
Image via Upworthy/Facebook.
To create jobs and slow enemy recruiting, these enterprising veterans leaned in to one of Afghanistan's most coveted exports: saffron.
Saffron is harvested from a type of crocus common across Afghanistan. The flavor is subtle and slightly sweet, and the spice is often found in dishes like paella and more adventurous offerings.
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But the most notable thing about saffron is the price: It is one of the most expensive spices on the planet, with prices ranging from $2,000 to $10,000 a pound. That's in part because the harvest process is exacting and time-consuming; it takes 150 flowers just to make a gram.
Not only does Afghanistan have ideal conditions for growing the pricey spice, but farmers could earn an impressive return, even better than opium.
So Alaniz and Jung decided to found Rumi Spice, importing as much saffron as they could from Afghan farmers, leading them toward a more stable living.
The farmers gain a consistent customer and are able to provide for their families. Rumi Spice also hires local women to help with the collection and processing, supporting families and uplifting small villages.
"94 farmers, 384 Afghan women — they're our partners in business," Jung says.
And so far, business is good.
Rumi Spice sells saffron to world-class kitchens and amateurs alike, along with speciality items like saffron gummies. The business even scored an investment from Mark Cuban on "Shark Tank."
"I would encourage veterans to find something that drives them," Alaniz says. "There's something out there that will give you purpose if you're doing something you're passionate about."
Jung and Alaniz. Image via Upworthy/Facebook.