After the historically cruel hurricane season of 2008, my family moved from Haiti to the United States where my parents became fieldworkers in Immokalee, Florida—a rural migrant farm town where nearly half the families live below the poverty line. Today I am a full-time college student and I support daily operations at a sustainable farm-to-table business that’s changing our community’s narrative.
I grew up as one of eleven children with parents who tirelessly contributed to the flow of mass agriculture in Immokalee, where we harvest 90 percent of the nation’s tomatoes. I grew up surrounded by hard-working people dedicated to providing for their families, and I understood the difficulty of that life.
Taste of Immokalee was created for them.
In 2014, Immokalee High School students founded the social enterprise, Taste of Immokalee (TOI), and I joined the team two years later. The initial idea was sparked upon return from a Meals for Hope event. When students realized how much they give back to others, they committed to building up Immokalee as well.
Created in partnership with professional mentors, chefs, and food industry specialists and inspired by our family recipes, we create and sell delicious products harvested from the abundance of fresh produce in our community. Every product purchased reflects our culture, family recipes, and hope for an end to poverty in our community.
Our students oversee all elements of the business: brainstorming recipes during mentor-led classes, leading test-kitchen sessions with a local chef, working with a food scientist at our co-packing facility to ensure products are in line with quality standards, facilitating market research with local business volunteers, and tailoring new product flavor profiles. In partnership with Publix, TOI sells various salsas, BBQ, and hot sauces in stores and online. We cycle our profits back into the community to benefit relief programs and alleviate hunger and poverty. Personally, there’s nothing better than seeing a TOI label appear on a new product after months of persistent, thought-out work. I’m always eager to learn how fast it sells, knowing we are helping others. Our accounting, sales, and marketing teams are devoted to their job functions for this very reason.
And that is one of the best things about Taste of Immokalee—we work to help families like mine and others. The product sales help my friends and neighbors in Immokalee, which is a fulfilling and humbling duty—and it makes my parents immensely proud of me, too.
My exposure to the right opportunities has completely altered the trajectory of my life—opening new doors and possibilities outside of fieldwork. Before joining TOI, networking was an uncomfortable, awkward experience that I dared not try. However, encouragement from TOI’s directors made it impossible for me to default to my reserved nature—they provided me with the necessary training for personal development while instilling business savvy and a hustler mentality that pushed me out of my comfort zone. Within months I was a confident and passionate spokesperson for the company, spouting bold enthusiasm during speaking events throughout the county, and taking advantage of dual enrollment college business courses. Running this business did wonders for my growth, and I now plan to pursue a career in marketing.
TOI provides scholarships and paid internship positions to students in their program, which has secured opportunities for several TOI grads currently attending universities like Columbia and Cornell. Taste of Immokalee breeds leaders who always come back home to sow back into our community, and I’m proud to say I’ve become one of those leaders.
Taste of Immokalee is home.
Photograph courtesy of Taste of Immokalee