Our story in Madagascar is well documented and unbelievably valuable for the community, but the story of the generation of that relationship still blows my mind. At the time, when we went to Madagascar to develop Vanilla Beans and Extract all of the farmers and the people who processed these beans had no idea what they were even used for. These people were doing back breaking work with no idea about the end use of the product. We travelled to Madagascar and began developing relationships locally.
One person stood out among the rest on that first trip. A young and vibrant guy met us for drinks one night and the first thing he said was “I’M YOUR GUY HERE”. He was adamant. We were young, having drinks, and traveling on what was a wild adventure across the world so we were happy and agreed with him, “sure thing buddy.. you’re our guy”, but we had plenty of budding relationships locally and thought more of him as “maybe one of our guys here in Madagascar”. He was unique in that he had a great education with a business degree. He understood the relationship building process in business and knew what he was doing. He knew his position in the community and he knew what his family farm could accomplish. He knew business, he knew real relationship building, and he knew the farming process. Months and years went by with us working with several businesses and taking quite a few flights back and forth, to and from this sparsely populated, distant, but incredibly vibrant African Island.
We discounted our new young friend and his claims but finally, after many conversations and his unwavering statement that he was OUR GUY for this project, we gave him a full order. One Metric Ton with beans 14 centimeters or above, exactly 23% moisture content, and we needed the Vanillin Content over 1.5. These are extremely high quality standards with the precise specifications we require. This young ambitious guy and his family farm represented a smaller and lower capability to us than most of the farms we had worked with up to that point, so we didn’t expect much.
Five days later we got a call. Our order was ready. FIVE DAYS!?! We were used to waiting six months for orders like this. We were blown away by the idea that he could have prepped the order that quickly to our standards and were thus still skeptical. We went to the farm and began the tour. It was a small but clearly efficient and well-organized agricultural process. He took us into their curing barn and opened several crates of vanilla. It was perfect. The aroma was the nicest we had ever experienced. The beans were all to our exacting standards. I looked at him and said “YOU’RE MY GUY” and our business and personal relationship was cemented in that moment.
These stories of Essential Spice are more important to me than just the method by which we find amazing quality. In this case, Madagascar can be a dangerous place with much of the country having extremely limited access. Going to these farms requires travel on precarious roads and hikes through jungles with machetes to clear the way. We built this relationship with this family and their farm through work and time on the ground with them in Madagascar. Our young, vibrant, and ambitious friend died years ago in a car accident and near that time I also learned that he named his son after me. The news of his death and his son bearing my name deeply affected me, but also cemented the importance of these relationships and what we build with these families and communities. Our relationship with that family has never been stronger. Will, a member of the Essential Spice team and part of the crew that goes out to develop these relationships with me, refers to the matriarch of the family as “mom”. These are personal relationships built over time, which creates something special, something more than just a product brought to market.
We’ve worked with this family through building every part of their export business. We helped them get their exporting license and build production processes. Everything about the scale and production capacity they have now is a product of our relationship. The prosperity and meaningful work that this brings to their family and community makes this a relationship I’m extremely proud to have developed and one of the closest personal family relationships we’ve developed through this process.