Wednesday, March 30, 2005

An Ambulance for Mexico

In 2002 I wrote The Vanilla Chef and self published with the idea of donating $1.00 from the sale of each book to a medical fund for the poorest of the Mexican vanilla farmers. I chose Mexico because that's where vanilla originated. And I chose to self-publish because, contrary to how it may appear, authors receive very little for the sale of books, and I would not have earned enough to donate money from books published through mainstream publishing.

Last September, my friend Victor Vallejo, contacted me saying that the Papantla region Red Cross needed an ambulance, triage, and surgical equipment for emergency services for the people who live on ranchos. Although Papantla is a rural city of over 150,000 people, it is seriously lacking in services we take for granted in the United States. After a fire in December of 2002 where there was serious concern that the central part of the city would burn down, they FINALLY were able to secure a fire truck. And although the Mexican Red Cross has a small office in town, they have no supplies or equipment. This is especially frustrating as the Red Cross in many countries fulfills the same services that private ambulance companies provide in the US. The Red Cross unit helps people in need inside and outside of town with emergency care.

Yesterday we spoke with American Medical Response, a company that sells ambulances. They said they would be happy to donate an ambulance for the Papantla Red Cross!! We haven't finalized the details yet, but it's a milestone for us in our efforts to help farmers in the center of the Mexican vanilla industry.

We still need to secure triage and surgical equipment, wheel chairs, and other medical supplies. If you have connections to groups who can donate materials for this project, we would be very grateful. The Vanilla.COMpany is using the money we've set aside to pay for gas and other necessities to get the ambulance and equipment to Mexico. We are also donating several hundred copies of The Vanilla Chef to be sold to tourists visiting Papantla. All of the proceeds will go to keeping the Red Cross unit viable. We're excited about bringing this project to fruition.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Launching The Vanilla.COMpany

The opportunity for telling the behind-the-scenes story of The Vanilla.COMpany is exciting! It's been a journey of love for all of us who have been involved along the way. Although I bought the URL, in 1995, it wasn't until 2001 that I actually wrote the text, gathered the pictures, chose the products, created a team, and worked with our talented and dedicated web designer, Kathy Long (, to breathe life into our business.

We launched exactly three weeks before the fateful September 11th. The crash had happened, the economy was already weak, and then came the 9/11 tragedy. Not very auspicious for a nascent Internet business. Even worse, the anthrax scare hit shortly after 9/11 -- no one was buying online! We made it through the first holiday season by organizing local craftswomen to join us to put on a boutique. We rented space and set up a beautiful show...and the worst storm of the year struck the weekend of our boutique! Nevertheless, we perservered and we have now been online for three and a half years.

Something I hadn't considered when I launched The Vanilla.COMpany was that I would meet so many people worldwide who would enrich my life and the lives of my staff. People whom I probably would never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise, came to our site for a variety of reasons. Perhaps to thank us for our site content or the quality of our products, or perhaps to inquire about growing or selling vanilla. Some of our exchanges were limited to one or two e-mail notes, but some writers have become like family. I now have dear friends and "nieces and nephews" in such far-flung places as India, Africa, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Tahiti, Mexico and Costa Rica, as well as Europe, Canada and the United States.

When vanilla was scarce we were able to assist farmers in selling their vanilla to the big vanilla bean buyers. It was so gratifying to receive notes from farmers telling us how the money from their bean sales helped their village to buy a truck or maybe a generator. Just sitting in front of my computer, I have been able to network and connect people in Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Somalia so that they could support one another and provide help to each other.

Perhaps the most touching experience for me was when I was diagnosed with cancer. All these wonderful people I had met around the world began to pray for me. In villages, schools, churches, mosques, temples, heartfelt prayers that I would recover and be able to continue my work. I live in testimony to this love and prayer as I am in full remission, something not believed possible by the doctors.

In addition to writing about the vanilla industry and providing information both for consumers and producers, I will introduce you to some of the many amazing projects that are going on worldwide that never make the news. I will tell you about people I have encountered over the past several years who have dedicated their lives to making the world a little better. I welcome stories and news that you would like to share with us and we will post them in this blog. This includes stories from vanilla producers as well as consumers. Have a great recipe to share? Send it along. After all, my vision of this site is to have a wonderful, open dialog about vanilla for us all.