In many areas of the world people are becoming increasingly aware of the opportunities organic agriculture can bring. Producing food and textiles with organic methods affords people a safer way to farm in harmony with nature. Toxic pesticides and herbicides do not riddle their water nor threaten their children’s health. Studies have proven that agricultural workers and their families bear the brunt of these toxic applications in medical costs and loss of productivity. The other benefit for organic producers is access to the organic marketplace, which continues to thrive and experience double digit growth.
Organic products are a pathway to prosperity and they can be the road to higher educational attainment, better nutrition and modern medical benefits. In fact, prosperity in the organic market can lift a developing producer into the modern technological 21st century in a few short years. Yet, the challenge remains in how these often small farmers and entrepreneurs can gain access to markets, especially international markets that crave their unique goods. I found out that the Fancy Food Show isn’t just a place to seek out new products but also one that presents an opportunity to transform people’s lives and livelihoods.
It was just this spring when International Executive Service Corps (IESC) reached out to see if I would do a follow up to my work with organic producers in Tunisia by helping promote the country and its goods at the Fancy Food Show. That first volunteer assignment was a weeklong excursion leading potential buyers into the taste, history and richness of Tunisia and her organic products. You can revisit some of my culinary and cultural adventures in my Tunisian Chronicles series.
Imagine the level of my delight and gastronomic titillation just anticipating the acres of food and libations that would be part of this volunteer mission. Visions of olives, prosciutto and cheese danced before my eyes. A global feast of Greek Sheep’s Feta interspersed with Moroccan Chickpea stew and delicate Asian rice noodles awaited my palate. Austrian pepper cheddar would go with an Italian grappa and blueberry gelato. Oh my, the tables of rare salts, plump dates and chocolate truffles would have to be fully detected, inspected and ingested!
After swooning several times in my chair I accepted the mission and went to work figuring out just how I could create opportunity for Four Tunisian Organic Producers at the Fancy food Show. IESC had picked the top four, cream of the crop, organic producers to visit the show in New York City. They came not only to meet potential buyers but also to experience the staggering marketing potential this show presents.
The group was a cross section of Tunisian producers who had awesome goods and wanted to expand into the US market. Mr. Malek Lakhoua from Domaine Sidi Mrayah carried samples of his award winning olive oil. Moncef Ellouze from Sté AGRUMIA proffered bags of fat succulent almonds which were, it turned out, a highly sought after item. Mr. Leith Tlamncani from Herb Bio Tech Aroma had just invested in top notch equipment for his dried herbs and exotic essential oils. Mr, Mustapha Sghaier Green Fruit carried samples of succulent deglet nour dates, date syrups and sugars. Every one of these categories figured in well with the fit and natural diets and products the show featured. Trends it seemed were in the producers favor and as we walked the floor and made business meetings I could feel the excitement grow. Buyers and exhibitors were hungry for these organic products! Business cards were exchanged and follow up notes written. My heart quickened with the knowledge that new producers, given the right introductions, could take a giant step into new international markets!
Suddenly the Fancy Food Show took on a new and deeper meaning. Yes, it is still row upon delicious row of fine cuisine and exotic victuals waiting to be discovered and stocked in our favorite retailers’ store. It is indeed a place where food trends are born and the entrepreneur creates that new item riding high on the next wave and never looks back. It is also a place where small producers from emerging sectors and communities have a place to learn about food marketing, make connections and begin playing in the International food symphony. Once they strike a few chords it is only a matter of time before they crescendo. The new business provides more jobs in their districts and villages. The fresh revenue leads to upgrades of systems, facilities and capabilities. Organic products helps people and businesses thrive.
My take away (aside from a few extra pounds) this year is to keep exploring and tasting fine organic foods while sharing and mentoring someone emerging into the market. As our organic industry continues to grow at double digits we must share our expertise and cultivate more organic producers. In doing so we change the way people eat and the way people farm one bite and one farmer at a time, all over the world.