Monday, February 24, 2014

Haiti's farmers savour sweet taste of success with ice-cream venture

A pair of US entrepreneurs have joined forces with smallholder farmers in Haiti to help propel them out of poverty and into the delicious world of ice-cream.

A former Alabama professor and a gourmet ice-cream maker from Baltimore are working with the farmers to find new markets for their premium vanilla beans and cacao in a product they describe as "ice-cream with a purpose".

The Vanilla Export Company, which provides income for some 650 farmers in rural Haiti, this month earned its creators the Citizen Diplomat Award from Global Ties, a non-profit partner of the US state department.

The venture began with a chance encounter 14 years ago, when mother and daughter Anne and Stephanie Reynolds befriended Gracia Thelisma, a Haitian street artist.

They decided to join him on a bus trip to the north of Haiti to visit the mother he had not seen in years. The mother-daughter duo were struck by Haiti's beauty and its people – as well as its poverty.

When they returned to Alabama, they collected clothes to send to Haiti and raised funds to start a school in Plaisance, Thelisma's hometown. That quickly evolved into the pair seeking a long-term solution to employ the children who graduated from the school.

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