CAPTION: Jennifer Boggiss (right) with school principal, Sela Tapaatoutai-Teisina, and students from Vava’u High School. Photo: SUPPLIED.
Established Tongan vanilla grower Heilala Vanilla has set up a new charitable foundation to benefit the island community of Vava’u.
Award-winning Heilala Vanilla has launched the Heilala Vanilla Foundation to help improve health and education services on the island.
The partnership between Heilala Vanilla and the people of Vava’u began as an aid project 10 years ago, helping to rebuild after a cyclone. This initial act of kindness by Heilala Vanilla founder John Ross, led to the founding of Heilala Vanilla.
Heilala Vanilla has since revived the Tongan vanilla plantation land and created a world-class product based on the principles of fair trade.
Jennifer Boggiss, Heilala Vanilla director, says establishing the foundation shows that Heilala Vanilla’s commitment to the people of Vava’u is long-term and extends beyond the vanilla plantation.
“From the start Heilala Vanilla’s ethos has focused on supporting livelihoods, practising organic environmental sustainability and equal partnership with our growers,” says Jennifer. “The people of Vava’u are an integral part of our business. While we are proud of what we have achieved over the last decade in terms of providing employment and infrastructure, the remoteness of Vava’u means access to resources and equipment can be limited. The Heilala Vanilla Foundation aims to offer practical assistance in the key areas of education and health.”
Heilala Vanilla will contribute a percentage of sales of vanilla beans grown and exported from Vava’u, and some funds from other sources, to the foundation.
The company continues to invest funds into the research and development of 100% pure vanilla products with new products planned for the future.
After three years of research and cultivation of vanilla plants, Heilala Vanilla’s first crop won instant praise from foodies and celebrity chefs, and several awards. The labour-intensive nature of Heilala Vanilla’s growing methods has resulted in the richest grade of vanilla in the Asia Pacific region with its highly coveted aroma, shine and plumpness. The annual crop is taken to Heilala Vanilla’s Tauranga base in New Zealand where it is processed and packaged into vanilla paste, extract, beans, sugar and syrup and dispatched to chefs, gourmet food manufacturers, speciality food retailers and supermarkets.
“Our vanilla is unlike any other grown in the world,” says Jennifer. “Each region produces vanilla with different characteristics. So to produce a distinctively different vanilla is very exciting.”
Heilala’s first vanilla harvest in 2005 was 40kg; last year the company harvested nearly five tonnes and now exports its products to six countries. Jennifer says the long-term goal of the company is to make Tonga globally synonymous with premium vanilla.
“We want Heilala Vanilla to be to Tonga what Fiji Water is to Fiji. In other words, our aim is to put this tiny South Pacific nation in the minds of foodies everywhere,” she says.
The Heilala Vanilla Foundation’s first official project will be working with Vava’u High School. Jennifer recently met with the principal of Vava’u High School, Sela Tapaatoutai-Teisina, to discuss their immediate requirements.
The principal and her team identified the Home Economics Department as the first priority, and compiled a list of equipment needed. This includes cookware, kitchen appliances and sewing equipment. The next project will be equipment and teaching materials for the school’s science department.
“The school’s Home Economics Department comprises one broken oven, one bench and a very limited number of utensils,” says Jennifer. “The teacher has incredible passion for teaching her students food preparation and the nutritional properties of food.
“Obviously Home Economics has a great synergy with Heilala Vanilla and we see the incredible importance of working with young people in Tonga. Food is a central part of their community so it would be great to bring new food preparation techniques to the students that they can take home to their families.”
To find out more about the Heilala Vanilla Foundation and the product range visit www.heilalavanillafoundation.
About Heilala Vanilla
Heilala Vanilla began as an aid project over 10 years ago, when a vanilla plantation was established by a New Zealand family, in partnership with a local family from the village of Utungake in Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga. In 2005 the first crop was harvested and brought back to New Zealand, and was snapped up by local chefs.
Since these small beginnings and a first harvest of 40kg of dried vanilla pods, Heilala Vanilla has grown spectacularly. This has had a significant impact on the local community, providing employment and infrastructure.
Products are sold into specialty food retail and fine dining establishments and gourmet food manufacturers. Markets have been established in New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and the United States.
Retired New Zealand dairy farmer John Ross and his son-in-law Garth Boggiss, who has a horticultural background, have built up a vast knowledge of growing this very specialised crop by meeting and visiting vanilla growers in many parts of the world (including Tahiti, Reunion Is and Costa Rica). A plantation in both Tonga and in Tauranga has enabled a complete focus on the intricacies of growing vanilla.
Heilala Vanilla has a range of award-winning 100% pure vanilla products, including Vanilla Beans, Vanilla Extract, Vanilla Paste, Vanilla Sugar and Vanilla syrup.