The Story of Cochineal, photographed with Rebecca Stumpf for Knit Wit

This spring, I teamed up with my friend, fellow photographer Rebecca Stumpf and we traveled to the Canary Islands in search of cochineal. Cochineal is an insect, grown only on cacti and harvested to create hues of reds and pinks. Discovered nearly 200 years ago in the Canary Islands, the islands quickly controlled 90% of the production, generating much of the economic energy throughout the Spanish colonies.

“Cochineal is very important in the Canary Islands. It is our most traditional crop and is in danger of extinction.” Farmer Lorenzo Perez Jr. told us. “Most cochineal farmers are in their seventies or older, the young generation isn’t working in cochineal or as artisans or small producers.” Their company, called Canaturex, is the only cochineal farm certified by the EU. They supply to textile companies and independent artists primarily, but cochineal is also used to color meats, yogurt, ice cream, artificial crab, chewing gum, sweets and beauty products.

Many told us that cochineal was a part of the islands. So, photographers enamored with color and landscapes, we set out to learn more. Rebecca and I met with cochineal farmers, a natural dyer, artist, and activists to learn about cochineal's past and present. The story is now in the latest issue (the last print issue!) of Knit Wit. 

All images © Greta Rybus for Knit Wit