certified organic vanilla sourcing

Sustainably Sourced Organic Vanilla

More expensive than silver…but so delicious!

Ever wonder why your local health food store seems to be constantly out of vanilla? Or why suddenly vanilla costs so much more than it did a few years ago? Even the products that have vanilla in them (ice cream, yogurt, and chocolate) have drastically gone up in price.

While vanilla has always been one of the world’s most coveted and expensive crops—it requires hand-pollination and a lengthy curing process—a “perfect storm” of factors has recently culminated in massive worldwide shortages.

Why is Vanilla Expensive?

On top of a move by major food manufacturers to include more real vanilla in their mainstream products, global warming stepped in and dealt a major blow to the island that grows 80% of the Earth’s vanilla. 

Madagascar, off the east coast of Southern Africa, experienced a major drought in 2016. The lush mountains of Sambava in the northeast, home to the vining vanilla plants, were hard hit, as was the rest of the country where nearly 1 million citizens were perched on the brink of starvation. The next year, the strongest cyclone in 13 years decimated crops again. This double whammy decreased the expected harvest by a third and has caused prices for this baking staple to skyrocket. Vanilla now costs more than silver – almost 20 times what it did a few years ago. 

Harvesting Organic Vanilla Beans

Vanilla is already a high maintenance crop even before this added devastation. The plant, which is an orchid, needs a lot of room for vining and doesn’t produce flowers for three or four years. When the flowers finally bloom, they must be quickly hand pollinated in a brief 24-hour period. This involves climbing ladders and fertilizing with a toothpick-sized wooden needle – a painstaking process. One vanilla bean is produced from each flower and when harvested, the beans undergo a labour intensive curing process that lasts for many weeks. 

On top of all of that, these dramatic shortages have caused large corporate interests to move into Madagascar, stockpiling vanilla, further plummeting the amount available. 

Wondering what all of this means for you, our valued Gathering Place customer?

Simply put, it means that we’ve had to increase the prices of both our vanilla powder and our vanilla beans. We’re sure you’ve noticed and we wanted to explain what’s happening in case you didn’t understand. We also wanted to give you a bit more information about where our vanilla comes from.

Certified Organic Vanilla from India to Madagascar

For eight years prior to 2016, we sourced all of our certified organic vanilla from our Farmers’ Cooperative in India. This is before the current global shortages and also prior to a plant virus hitting the vanilla plants of India. There was no organic solution to this devastating virus, most farmers lost their entire crop, and our Indian supply of vanilla completely dried up. 

Looking for another small-scale, farmer-direct supply, we looked, of course, to Madagascar. Ryan toured the vanilla producing region of Sambava, Madagascar on a sourcing trip and saw first hand how the farmers of this impoverished country are at the mercy of large corporate interests who are buying and warehousing all of their vanilla.

Ryan met Dylan who owns a small vanilla enterprise that produces high quality vanilla, cured using the traditional process that results in the prized Bourbon Vanilla. Their beans are grown organically. In fact, no chemicals are used throughout this entire region, but due to the immense cost prohibition, the farmers are not able to afford the certification process. 

We were so impressed with Dylan’s small operation that we secured him as a supplier. Currently, most of the vanilla we import from Madagascar goes directly to local food manufacturers like Earnest Ice Cream in Vancouver https://earnesticecream.comand Tree Island Yogurt in the Comox Valley http://treeislandyogurt.com. Our vanilla is used to make Earnest’s absolutely delicious vanilla ice cream (with real vanilla flecks!) and Tree Island’s to-die-for Vanilla Bean Greek Yogurt. 

We are also pleased to report that our Indian farmers have recovered from the virus that ruined their vanilla crops and are back in operation. All of the certified organic vanilla we now receive from India is sold direct to customers—via store shelves or our website—in the form of vanilla powder and vanilla beans

Here’s our recipe for vanilla extract using Gathering Place organic vanilla beans. Enjoy! 

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