Change Your Life, Volunteer in Morocco!

Have you ever dreamed of visiting the exotic kingdom of Morocco? Have you yearned to savor couscous tagines in Marrakesh or to awake to strong tea and morning prayers in Fez? The country conjures up dreams of old movies and foreign intrigue as it straddles Africa and the Mediterranean Sea. It offers mysterious foods and flavors and also boasts a wide range of organic producers yearning to enter the international market.  If you have the right skill set, there may be an opportunity for you to savor Moroccan flavors and help organic growers all in one elegant mission.

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Dominican Republic Mission: Why am I Here?

pina-truckAt the turn of the century, I used to traverse the globe in search of organic producers. I gallivanted off to Ecuador and Peru customarily accompanied by Fair Trade USA. I traipsed and traversed continents to develop direct relationships with banana growers: important because bananas were our biggest single selling item in terms of volume. I remember long dusty drives on bumpy roads through poor villages only to arrive at some overheated office to meet a group of hardworking Spanish-speaking farmers. I often sat a bit dumbfounded, understanding about half of the conversation, I would ask myself “Why am I here, why me?” Continue reading

The Fancy Food Track to Opportunity



Tunisian Olive GroveIn 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.

fancy Food OlivesImagine 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.

Fancy Food Tunisian MissionThe 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.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Tunisia

Lets make peaceWhen I was in my twenties I had a Jack Russell Terrier that was the love and (sometimes) loathing of my life. He was rambunctiously filled with energy and vigor, wreaking havoc most of the way. Despite being rather small in stature, his presence was as big as a house. Besides digging holes, killing varmints and crashing through the woods after coyotes, the little hellion used to win awards. I would travel hundreds of miles, along with other humans similarly taxed with over exuberant Russells, to race our little beasts against each other.  His name was Dylan Ferguson and not only was he fast but also competitive and would come home with multiple ribbons, cups and other kitschy items I cherished at the time. Looking back I realize it wasn’t about the ribbons or the awards but seeing the amazing way that dog was in his zone, doing his very best and outperforming. He was realizing his true doggy essence. That was his true reward.

That is why when I received the email notifying me that I had won the Frank Pace 2013 award for my volunteer work in Tunisia it made me reflect on the true meaning of earning an award.

The email read, “We are pleased to announce you were selected as one of two volunteers to receive the Frank Pace Award for 2013. The Frank Pace Award was established in 1989 to honor IESC’s first President, Frank Pace, Jr.  The award is given to volunteers who, in the judgment of the selection committee, performed the most outstanding project during the year.  You were selected for your work supporting the IESC Tunisia SME Project, for which you facilitated an organics buyers’ mission to Tunisia.    You were noted to have gone above and beyond…”

The Frank Pace Award was established in 1989 to honor the first International Executive Service Corps (IESC) President, who envisioned a partnership that would provide expert business advice to companies in developing countries.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognized organic agriculture as one of the pillars in enhancing food security, rural development and sustainable livelihoods.  I believe the international market for organic food exports is an example of an industry that can provide a unique opportunity. My work bringing knowledge and awareness to the organic businesses in Tunisia resulted in real economic benefits and was an excellent project within the IESC mission.

Not only was the work supporting the IESC Tunisia SME Project enjoyable, but I reaped many personal benefits facilitating the mission. This mission brought the wealth of history, culture and the flavor of Tunisia to me and to the prospect buyers from North America. I was so impacted by the rich culture and warm people that I was moved to pen several blogs entitled “Tunisian Diaries”.

Being able to share my business acumen with organic producers gave me a sense of purpose and helped me to realize I have something special to offer. In fact this volunteer mission allowed me to be my best self as a professional and as a human being. Even though I was not able to attend the award ceremony in Washington DC on May 14th 2014, I received the greatest gift of all.

Just as Dylan Fergusons’ award was being his true self, my true award is not material. Instead it is a gold nugget in my heart that says you are human, give so that others may thrive and in doing so you thrive as well.

Won’t you share your special gift, whatever it is because someone needs your expertise? Go for that award! Awards