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

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7305
JPY
USD
101.53
GBP
USD
0.5830
CAD
USD
1.0656
INR
USD
60.075

Rates may not be current.