Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Baking with Breadfruit in Haiti

CTI volunteers Camille and Natalie George
CTI volunteer Natalie George is blogging from Haiti, where she’s joined her mother Dr. Camille George, CTI Board Member, Program Manager and Professor at the University of Saint Thomas. 

The George’s are in Haiti helping locals take advantage of an underutilized food source: Breadfruit. Breadfruit grows in abundance in Haiti, but spoils just days after ripening. CTI has developed a set of tools that villagers can use to preserve breadfruit as affordable flour.

Natalie and Camille are in Port-au-Prince, helping Haitians open a breadfruit bakery and showing “field to fork” proof that breadfruit can be harvested, transformed into flour, and processed into delicious and nutritious food products.

Baking sans Power 

What I take advantage of in my everyday life is the sheer luxury of electricity. It seems so normal to have a fridge that works all the time, and a light switch that turns on no matter what, however in Haiti things do not work the same way as they do in wealthier countries.

In Haiti, the government rations the use of electricity, and though every day varies, on average it will turn off around 9 AM and back on again around 7 PM. Some people have personal generators that they use to keep it on, and bigger companies, like our hotel, have some sort of deal with the government that allows them to use a small amount during the power outages. But overall, the average Haitian does not get any electric power within those hours.

So when we lost power the first day we began experimenting with recipe's in the bakery, we had to think on our feet. Not content to sit around twiddling my thumbs, I put on my leadership pants and rallied up the few of people left in the bakery (which quickly grew into a group spectacle) and we figured out how to get the propane working in the stove and oven, so we embarked our next quest.

Haitian Rum Cake

After some time of fiddling around with the propane stove, it was time to bake, and we decide on baking the Haitian cake, which includes rum and raisins. The recipe and baking turned out to be a GREAT success! They mini cakes were SUPER delicious and we all felt like we were some official top chef bakers (or maybe just me…). I didn’t want to stop there, especially since we had a few hours to kill AND a working stove. So, I decide that we should make another pizzelle batter and then try making cookies out of it.

Haitian Rum cake made
with breadfruit flour
With my new found baking confidence, I start mixing away and completely get ahead of myself and put in ¼ cup of salt instead of ¼ tsp of salt… needless to say the Haitian women helping me thought it was hilarious and they started scooping it out. Those magic makers were able to save the batter and we continued on our cookie quest. The cookies were too hot to taste right away, so we decided to let those cool while we made another batch of the Haitian rum cake.  This time, we added molasses to see if it would taste sweeter since the first batch some people commented that it still contained the “breadfruit taste” which is a strange bitterness. Again, a great success!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tending to Orphan Crops of the World

By Laura Dorle, Intern

Peanut's harvested from UMN plot in 2011
Last summer, CTI and the University of Minnesota (UMN) collaborated in growing six “Orphan Crops”: tef, finger millet, pearl millet, sorghum, grain amaranth, and groundnuts (peanuts).

Orphan crops are important food crops for subsistence farmers in many African as well as Asian and South American communities, as they have a strong cultural importance, and are often more nutritious and drought resistant than many of the large commodity crops.

Most agricultural research has focused on increasing the yields of commodity crops, such as wheat or corn. However, simply growing more food is not enough—not when between 15-50% of crops are lost after harvest, often due to post-harvest spoilage and inefficient processing methods. That is why CTI is committed to filling some of the gaps in the research by working on orphan crops, focusing on the post-harvest side of the value chain helping bring rural farmers out of subsistence living while improving their livelihoods.

Tiffanie Stone, a recent graduate of the University, was the student intern on the St. Paul Campus plot last year with the guidance of Agronomy Professor Paul Porter and other UMN and CTI colleagues.

This year, we are at it again, and I’ve joined the team, along with many of the great folks from CTI and UMN who originated the project.  I’m Laura Dorle, student intern with the Orphan Crops project and a junior in the Environmental Science, Policy, and Management Program at the U. With a particular interest in food, agriculture, and international development, and a great desire to learn a lot more in those areas, this project was the perfect opportunity to do so.

The plot has been off to a good start thus far. The crops were planted in late May. In addition to the crops from last year, we also planted cowpeas, fonio, quinoa, mung beans, and Bambara groundnuts. Most have been doing very well, despite heavy rains early and intense heat. As usual, there is group of stealthy weeds that are thriving right along with them, and a lot of volunteers have been out there working hard to battle them, the leafhoppers, and Japanese beetles.

When the crops begin to mature at the end of the summer through the fall, we’ll be able to use them to do field tests of CTI’s post-harvest equipment including prototypes of groundnut processing technologies that are being developed for a program in Malawi and Tanzania funded by the McKnight Foundation. We will also be testing CTI’s new pearl millet processing suite on additional grains.

I’m really excited to be working on this project. Be sure to stay tuned. More updates to come as the process continues! And we’ll be organizing some field visits starting in mid-August!