News / Economy

Ice Cream Adds Sweet Taste for Haiti's Peasant Farmers

A man holds whole vanilla beans at a grocery market in San Francisco, California, Feb. 7, 2014.
A man holds whole vanilla beans at a grocery market in San Francisco, California, Feb. 7, 2014.
Reuters
Entrepreneurs from one of the grittiest cities in the United States have joined forces with peasant farmers in Haiti to help transform the country's bitter poverty into delicious and life-sustaining ice cream.

A white former human sexuality professor from Alabama and a black Baltimore gourmet ice cream-maker are being recognized for their efforts to help Haitian farmers find a market for their high-value vanilla beans and cacao in a product they like to call "ice cream with a purpose."

The unusual pair teamed up two years ago to market Haitian vanilla-flavored ice cream to upscale Baltimore-area restaurants.

The Vanilla Project, which provides income for some 650 farmers in rural Haiti, on February 1 earned its creators the Citizen Diplomat Award from Global Ties U.S., a non-profit partner of the U.S. State Department.

The vanilla venture owes its origins to a chance encounter 14 years ago when Alabama mother and daughter Anne and Stephanie Reynolds befriended a Haitian street artist.

They decided on a lark to join the artist, Gracia Thelisma, on a bus trip to the north of Haiti to visit the mother he had not seen in years.

The mother-daughter duo was struck by Haiti's beauty and its people - as well as its poverty.

After they returned to Alabama they collected clothes to send to Haiti and raised money to start a school in Thelisma's home town of Plaisance.

That soon evolved into seeking a long-term solution to employ the children who graduated from the school.

"Haiti once exported some of the finest vanilla products to Paris. They can do it again," said Anne Reynolds, 57, a former professor at Auburn University at Montgomery, Alabama.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with a poverty rate of 77 percent and an average per capita income of $760, according to the World Bank.

After testing the plants in Haiti, and planting 70,000 vanilla vines, the project went into full business mode last year with the creation of the De La Sol Haiti company in Plaisance, a rural farming community of 65,000.

Stephanie Reynolds, 27, with a graduate degree in Latin American studies, runs the company, which has eight employees, five women and three men from Plaisance.

While waiting for the vines to mature, De la Sol Haiti is turning cocoa bought from local producers into chocolate. The company is training farmers in new techniques to grow the vanilla vines on cacao trees and Thelisma hopes vanilla exports could start next year. It takes up to five years for the vanilla plants, which are related to the orchid family, to reach maturity.

"My dream is for De la Sol to become a leading force for Plaisance development," said Thelisma. "In the region, people do not have jobs. With the vanilla business De la Sol could be able to expand and benefit a larger part of the population," he added.

Reynolds was looking for culinary partners when she got a call out of the blue from Baltimore ice cream-maker Taharka Brothers.

Owned and operated by young, college-aged African-Americans from tough neighborhoods, Taharka, founded in 2010, was introduced to Haiti in 2012 through Global Ties U.S., which hosts international visitors sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

Taharka's marketing manager, Darius Wilmore, a former graphic artist with Def Jam Recordings, the hip hop label, was immediately struck with the idea of helping Haitian producers.

Wilmore Googled "vanilla in Haiti," and found Reynolds. She told him her vanilla beans were still two years away from maturity. In passing, Reynolds mentioned growing vanilla bean vines on cacao (chocolate) trees.

"What are you doing with the chocolate?" asked Wilmore.

While vanilla is the number one flavor in the world, chocolate comes in a solid second.

Today, Taharka orders between 20 to 50 pounds of chocolate bi-monthly from De La Sol Haiti for its ice cream, which it delivers to 50 of Baltimore's fanciest restaurants, grocery stores and ice cream shops. Wilmore hopes to see a profit next year, and start taking delivery of some Haitian vanilla beans.

Taharka Brothers joined Del La Sol Haiti in Washington, D.C., this month to receive the Citizen Diplomat Award, adding their names to a list of luminaries such as U.S. Senator William Fulbright and celebrated poet-activist Maya Angelou.

Both Reynolds and Wilmore share a belief that the best way to help those less fortunate is through collaboration, and that giving creates dependency. While Wilmore disapproves of handouts, he believes he owes the people of Haiti a debt of gratitude, because their bloody, decade-long revolution in the late 18th century began the end of slavery in the western world.

"It is race, class and history wrapped into this. Here we are, young black men, working with white women from Alabama, buying chocolate from poor Haitians. We are shining the light on social injustice through ice cream," Wilmore said in his award acceptance speech.

He added: "Ice cream tastes better than poverty."

You May Like

Forest Stands Between Nigeria, Victory Over Boko Haram

Military takes back nearly all towns, villages in northeast, except for massive expanse of forest that spreads thousands of square kilometers over several states More

IS Recruiting Stokes Fears for Parents in Georgia

Chechens are notable part of Islamic State's gains in Syria and Iraq, and analysts fear what might happen if those fighters return to Caucasus More

Yarmouk Camp Becomes Distant Memory for Palestinian Diaspora

Once thriving capital of Palestinian diaspora, after siege by Syrian government forces and Islamic State group, camp becomes 'deepest circle of hell' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'i
X
Sharon Behn
April 21, 2015 9:18 PM
A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten. Sharon Behn reports on the politics of the word genocide on the 100th anniversary of the events.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video German Program Helps Migrants Overcome Traumatic Experience at Sea

Migrants fleeing poverty and violence in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia risk life and limb to reach safety in Europe. Those who have made it to European shores are traumatized by the experience. A program in Germany helps survivors overcome the trauma by giving a new perspective to their catastrophic experience. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.9345
JPY
USD
119.39
GBP
USD
0.6716
CAD
USD
1.2228
INR
USD
62.905

Rates may not be current.