SAVA REGION, MADAGASCAR -- We heard the music first.
The villagers crested the rise of a small hill, the children laughing and running, the young men clambering onto the bed of our pickup truck. It took a moment for us to understand what was happening, until we saw the women.
Accompanied by drum and rattle and dressed for Sunday, they came to greet us in that most beautiful of African customs, the song of welcome.
We gathered in their one-room bamboo schoolhouse, no bigger than most Americans’ living rooms. Simple wooden benches lined the dirt floor in front of a small blackboard where more than 240 children learn to read and write.
As the village leader joined us in front, the men seated themselves on the benches, the oldest and most respected in front. The women and children crowded around.
It is difficult to comprehend fully the heroic human toil and care that brings us the vanilla bean, a miraculous pod that flavors the world’s sweet delicacies.
Growing vanilla organically is at once the simplest and most difficult of things. As an orchid, the vanilla vine thrives best without chemical inputs, growing from machete-cut mulches of green jungle growth, looped over support trees pruned for just the right amount of dappled shade. Every step, from cultivation to harvest to pollination, is done painstakingly by hand.
But villages like these, without electricity or running water, accessible by roads in name only and seldom seen by Westerners, are not untouched by the modern world. Well-meaning efforts by Western NGOs brought insecticide-soaked mosquito netting to battle malaria. Farmers made use of the netting to carry vanilla, introducing pesticides to their harvests.
Working with the international organic certification agency LACON Institute, headquartered in Germany, our partners at Pure Vanilla in Sambava work closely with select villages to meet the exacting organic standard for vanilla: no chemical contamination and cultivation practices grounded in nature.
It is through face-to-face meetings like these with our farmers, emphasizing both the rigors and benefits of organic methods, that the organic standard is achieved. Organic cultivation allows our farmers to secure the best prices for their beans, and allows us to provide our customers with the superlative vanilla required for the U.S. organic standard.
The village has asked for our help to build a cistern to collect drinking water so that women no longer have to walk six kilometers to carry water each day. They want to improve and expand their schoolhouse. We are working with Pure Vanilla to help them meet these objectives. We received with great honor their gift of a beautifully cured bundle of beans wrapped in traditional grass string.
For us, visiting this village is a priceless experience. We couldn’t be prouder of our farmers. We couldn’t be more certain of the quality they are producing, the painstaking care that goes into each glossy black bean, and the unrivaled quality of the extracts they produce for our customers.
PresidentCook Flavoring Company