Haiti, Plants and Sarah Kombucha
I first came to Haïti in January 2016 to meet Sarah-Maude who had ran off with Lawyers without Borders to join the gang of NGOs. The president of the country had stepped down. NGOs were that day more than ever effectively running this beautiful but impoverished gem of the Caribbean.
Having arrived at the house I would stay at, the first thing I did was grab the guard and ask him about all the plants in the garden we were staying. It was my first time in the Caribbean and the local plants are always the first thing in my list of need to knows.
In the coming weeks I would learn that traditional plant medicine was common knowledge amongst Haitians, though few would admit it off the bat, it being very much part of the pagan religion of the country, known as voodoo.
Through a network of expats I met a Nun, Soeur Dieudonne who had a small workshop inside of a technical skills school where they made some food products, called Prosolma. They needed help so I spent the next weeks going into their classes and giving classes on using the scientific method for food product development. It went well, people were happy and the products got better. It gave me something to do other than having grainy skype meetings.
In the last few weeks of staying in Haiti, I had grown my kombucha making to a respectable size of about 20L batches. Some decent recipes had been developed with the help of the son of a voodoo priest named Junior. I got some labels made, stuck them on the ubiquitous national beer bottle, capped them and did a product launch. Sarah Kombucha was born.
The launch was a ruse to find someone to produce for me. Melior Joseph, Founder of Chocomax, a person of integrity, who had proven himself to be a great friend, would be that person.
So I left Haiti to continue business as usual travelling the world helping people make their kombucha and experimenting with a new flavor every week at Mabrasserie coopérative de solidarité brassicole in Montréal, Canada.
Fast forward 10 months, I get a call from the nun (soeur Dieudonne). She says they have some money to buy equipment and asks if I can buy for them a tea-bagging machine and come again to Haiti to make sure it works. For sure, I told her "that sounds like some great pro-bono work, let’s do it".
I found the machine, go it checked by my engineers, got it shipped and installed in Haiti, then I flew down to Port au prince. It took 3 days to get the machine adjusted and working. Suddenly the team of 5 people that previously could make 120 tea bags in a day could now make the same amount in 2 ½ minutes. “You guys will have to spend that extra time sourcing some more teas to package”.
Haiti is a wonderful country with wonderful people. Since one of our missions is to develop local economies, we hope our work can make a difference in some people's lives.
We had a little party to celebrate, I flew back home, then back to business as usual hoping to come back in the near future.