Last month, designer Tanya Taylor traveled to Haiti with President Bill Clinton to visit the Haiti Coffee Academy (yum!) she built in partnership with the Clinton Foundation. She visited the rural roasting facility that supports up to 250 seasonal workers, teaches sustainable skills, and helps the ongoing reforestation efforts in the region, through the sales of a special coffee blend sold at La Colombe in New York City. I spoke with Taylor about her trip and the story behind the academy.
Glamour: What gave you the idea to establish an academy like this? Why coffee?
Tanya Taylor: I am always looking for interesting opportunities to support social entrepreneurship, especially in areas of the world that can have difficulty attracting interest and investment. After the earthquake in 2010, I was curious as to how I could become involved with a project in Haiti after many years of being fascinated with the country’s culture. I went to a talk where I heard Donna Karan passionately describe her love for the country, my parents honeymooned in Haiti, my dad worked there with the Red Cross, and I grew up hearing their stories and wanting to find an opportunity to make my own impact. Haiti used to be responsible for over half of the world’s coffee production and now Haitian beans are a rarity outside the country’s borders. I was fascinated with their history with coffee, inspired by work the Clinton Foundation had established in Haiti, and the expertise La Colombe has with coffee roasters. It was a thrilling project to jump on board with!
Glamour: How did you connect with the Clinton Foundation?
TT: I have a friend who had worked at the Clinton Foundation for years. I asked her to connect me with the team that worked in Haiti. Of course I knew a lot about the Clinton Foundation, but from my very first meeting with them, it was clear that they were true leaders with a deep understanding of Haiti and the challenges that the Haitian people faced in rebuilding their country and their livelihoods.
Glamour: How hard was it to get this up and running? Any particular challenges?
TT: It has definitely been a learning experience! The remote location of the academy—four- to 10-hour jeep ride from Port au Prince, depending on weather — is certainly one of the biggest challenges. As was ensuring that local farmers were driving this project forward and had the right physical and educational tools to make it successful. Thankfully, the Clinton Foundation’s team brought in expert coffee roasters La Colombe (whose coffee I drink every day in my office building in SoHo!) and their team was instrumental to the academy’s success. When I went to visit the completed academy in February 2014 it was amazing to see the collaboration between La Colombe and the local farmers. The crops that had been planted and the educational classrooms and roasting facilities that were built all will increase their coffee yield by up to 10 times the current production. It is so cool to see a project like this come to life in a little over a year and how quickly it begins influencing the surrounding communities. The farmers and all involved on the project were so honored to have President Clinton visit the academy and his and the foundation’s passion for Haiti is extremely inspiring to continue with more projects like this in the future.
Glamour: You mentioned that the coffee academy employs dozens of workers and helps aid in reforestation in Haiti. What other ways is the academy and your work benefiting the people/environment there?
TT: The academy currently employees 13 full-time workers, generates employment for almost 20 growing partners and 75 to 250 seasonal workers. In addition, the academy has a learning center where the farmers meet and educate their neighbors to ensure that best practices are spread throughout the farming community of Thiotte. Improving the quality and particularly the quantity of coffee coming from the academy is key to attracting international buyers and building the profile of Haitian coffee. Planting trees in a country plagued by deforestation is definitely an added benefit of the project as is improving the overall morale of the community.
Glamour: How can people get involved? Anything they can do to help?
TT: A the end of 2013, the academy announced a partnership with the Four Seasons Hotels in New York and Toronto. Each hotel will serve Haitian Coffee from the academy. We hope to expand this partnership in an effort to expose more people to the quality and unique story of Haitian coffee. If your readers are not able to taste the coffee at these hotels, then I would encourage readers to visit La Colombe’s websiteto taste Haitian coffee from other parts of the island. It is important that we all learn about where our produce comes from and try when we can to support projects that have the passion to change communities like this one.