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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

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.