Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Ndali Vanilla Gift Swap

A little girl sitting with her Grandmother at the Kasemire Organic Farmers Association Uganda
On Sunday lunchtime my family stood quietly in the kitchen for once as I was waiting to listen to the BBC Radio four Food and Drink program with Sheila Dillon.  I’ve worked for my local BBC on Sundays on the BBC Radio Northampton Kitchen Garden show for about 18 months.  I love the radio its like painting pictures with sound and for longer than I can remember I have indulged in The Food Program in a quiet moment. 

But this show was different. The report from Uganda in vanilla was mine. I have no idea how the producer Dilly managed to condense the hours of recordings I sent to her into the amazing concise program I listened to but she did it and as Shelia’s familiar voice opened and William Sitwell set the scene and I was mesmerised listening to the people I interviewed and remembering the incredible difference a fair price made to their lives.

Twitter and my phone went crazy after the program. I had no idea how many people I knew were listening, and my children were so very proud of me.

Listening to the program was in someway surreal, however it certainly brought back the realization that our choices, our decisions our habits have impact far beyond cupcakes, and we have to change the way we think about food. 

On my return from Uganda I felt so different.  It’s a hard feeling to describe but I am somehow haunted and the feeling just won’t go away. It wasn't the poverty; it wasn't the desperate need of basics.  It was the unfairness.  The unfairness as decent hard working farmers who stood in front of me, looked me in the eye and said we don't want charity, we just want a fair price for what we have grown. It doesn't seem like an outrageous request. 

 "We don't want charity, we just want a fair price for what we have grown"
Lulu Sturdy, who owns Ndali estate, is the most incredible woman. She can be pretty cut off from the rest of the world at times, sometimes her electricity is out and other times there is no internet connection for days.  It's not a life of luxury ! ... she lives very simply and throws her entire energy and effort into her estate the community and the people, and she already has 20% of the vanilla farmers are on a fairtrade deal.  That is a truly amazing achievement .. but if we bakers ( and yes I mean you when I say we)  demanded more Fair Trade Vanilla then more of the people I met could benefit from a decent price for their crop.

If I am honest I've never really been radical about much.  I was pretty apathetic about most issues that people got worked up about at university and until now I've actually spent most of my life thinking about myself .. but something almost took me over as I stood and listened to these proud people asking for a just price. I’ve always had a very strong sense of fairness. As a child if something wasn't fair I'd then never give up. It's a basic almost childish instinct and so I decided that I must do something. 

The thing that really shocked me was learning that vanilla is a cash crop.  It's really easy to steal and I met farmers who had been robbed.  One poor farmer had even been tied up whilst a gang stripped his harvest in front of him, and damaged the orchids so the next crop was done for too ...  and there are no state benefits in Uganda. 

The worried farmers are then approached by unscrupulous buyers ..  and the vanilla is sold unripe, often for less than it cost to grown out of fear.  This cheap vanilla isn't good though. It has not had the time to mature into the beautiful plump dark rich vanilla that makes our cakes taste so amazing.   

As I chatted to the farmers it became clear that Fair Trade has been helping the farmers to form associations to close down the places stolen vanilla can be sold.  As well as teaching the farmers to grow sustainably Lulu and new team also work really hard to persuade the farmers to keep their crop on the vines to ripen naturally ..  which is why the vanilla is so flavoursome. 

I realise that I can't cart off the entire baking population to Uganda...  but I can bring Ndali Vanilla to my own community  ... other food bloggers .. and so I have arranged The Ndali Vanilla Gift Swap on Monday 24th September and I am delighted that it will be held at Fortnum and Mason.  

It is also the start of The Big Fair Bake Campaign which seemed so appropriate. 

So  .. on the afternoon of Monday the 24th September at 3pm I am inviting Bloggers to take part in the Ndali Vanilla Fair Trade Gift Swap.   I have just 50 spaces and lots of Vanilla to send out.

On the day 
You will need to bring along your gifts to Fortnum & Mason's 4th floor at 3pm (your forms must be attached securely in an envelope.)  Your gift needs to be entered into the swap by 3.45pm. Your gift get’s a number and a category.  At the end of the event you get to pick out the tickets (According to how many gifts you brought with you) out of the bowl and leave with the gifts correlating to the number that you have picked from the bowl it's like a raffle and you will leave with someone else’s gifts.  I wanted to add a bit of gentle competition to it all ...  so I am delighted that author and Sunday Times food writter Lucas Hollweg has kindly offered the very difficult job of judging the best the gifts. 

 The timetable is as follows: 

4 - 6pm Lucas & team will judge the entries and pick the winning gifts.

6.15 pm you pick a ticket out of all the entries and you leave with a gift.  

The gift categories are:
1 Biscuits
2  Cake  / cupcake
3 Sweets
4 Preserve .... * NEW catagory 

The Prizes are as follows
1 Best Biscuit - New color Kenwood K-Mix
2 Best Cake / cupcake - New color Kenwood K-Mix
3 Best Sweet - New color Kenwood K-Mix
4 Best Preserve ... * - Fortnum and Maison Hamper 

and runner up prizes New color Kenwood Hand Mixers and Blenders 

Prizes are from the leading brand of kitchen appliances Kenwood.  (hurrah for British design!) 

The Rules

You must first email me with your postal address so I can send you some Ndali Vanilla.

You must then share your  Fair Trade Ndali Vanilla recipe and blog about your gift using the Fortnum & Mason Ndali Vanilla / Fortnum logo used here in your blog post.

You may enter up to 3 categories. Minimum entry is 1 category. 

Any combination of ingredients can be used .. e.g. strawberry and vanilla or chocolate and vanilla .. or just plain vanilla. ..  the choice is yours.  

You must provide an envelope with your forms (that I will email)  inside and your name and email address. Ingredients must be clearly marked to accommodate any food allergies.

All gifts must be packaged in a way that is appropriate for someone to open them to judge easily and for someone else to transport home. 

Prizes will be sent directly to the winners.  If you win you will need to leave your address with me at the end of the day. 

All decisions by the judge are final and there are no cash or product alternatives. 

All the gifts must be handmade using Ndali Vanilla and any other Fair Trade ingredients wherever possible.   

You must be over 18 to participate. 

Some of the recipes will be published and therefore if you participate then you also agreeing that your recipe may be published (and credited to you) at a later date.

Please note that it is free to participate.  I am delighted that the Fair Trade Foundation will be coming along and they are providing gift bag with some more Fair Trade & Kenwood goodies in to take home with you.

My sincerest thanks to Fortnum and Mason and Kenwood for their generosity and to Lucas Hollweg from the Sunday Times for helping show that we can change things for the better one bite at time.

Green vanilla pods that have been left on the vine to mature are plump and full of vanillin


  1. I can't believe it, I was spellbound by that programme at the weekend, it taught me so much. I had simply no idea that producing vanilla was so achingly labour-intensive. Well done with all your hard work, I only wish I was nearer F&M to be able to meet you and take part.

  2. Wow Vanessa, what a fantastic idea. This will be such a good way of spreading the word about a very important issue. I really hope the event is a huge success. I loved coming along to your Christmas gift swap and would dearly love to attend this one too but sadly I am teaching cookery that day. Perhaps I will tell them all about vanilla and show them this post as part of the lesson!
    Now I am off to listen to you on the food programme xx

  3. Good work taking up/publicising this issue - fair trade is so important and yet so easy for us to support - we all just have to be sure to get in everyone's faces a bit and keep reminding them!
    The gift swap sounds like a lovely idea too - will be really interesting to see what people come up with - vanilla goes into so very many things :)

  4. Both the programme and your blog post have stopped me from taking an ingredient I love for granted. Thank you for reminding me to think about my ingredients often.

  5. I would love to come xx

  6. Your blogging has made me look at fair trade in a whole new light.

  7. would love to come but it's my birthday that day and I will be at a wedding in Kent!... amazing idea though x

  8. Fantastic Vanessa, I would love to join in, I'm still in France and will have to organise after ballet care for my little girl, next week once we are home, but I'm sure that won't be impossible.
    I'll email you my address and would love to enter two categories.
    The programme was superb, and you'll be delighted to hear that I have found Fairtrade Vanilla here in Brittany which I have used when I've poached peaches and in my Apricot and Vanilla Jam.
    Jude x

  9. What a lovely idea to bring together people who love food in a cause that will give lots of deserved publicity to the cause of Fair trade
    bravo to you and I would love to come

  10. What a fabulous idea! Great sequel to the Christmas Gift Event last year. I would love to come along, I have emailed you x

  11. I WOULD love to participate and I am IN London that week, arrive on the 23rd September, so I CAN be involved! I will email my London address and PLEASE ask if you need any help, I am happy to help too! Karen

  12. THOUGHT I left a comment but it's gone! YES I am in Vanessa!

  13. So sorry I can't take part. I heard the Radio 4 programme. Congratulations! I've twetted a link to this post. Hope your Gift Swop Event is a huge success. GG

  14. An absolutely fantastic idea, and I shall be doing my utmost best to take part. Will e-mail as soon as I have everything sorted!
    best wishes,
    Paula x

  15. What a wonderful idea and a great way to raise awareness of such an important issue. I only wish that F&M was nearer and I could make it. Thanks for the invite x

  16. I would have loved to take part in this - particularly as I missed the Christmas event - but sadly I'm unable to. I will be with you in spirit and will make something and blog about it instead. Hope you all have a wonderful afternoon.

    I hate unfairness too and think this is a wonderful way to raise much needed awareness - what an imagination you have and more importantly you always do something about it. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  17. Lovely post! Good work here Vanessa! I so wish I could come to this but will be working. Hope it's fabulous.

    1. I wish I could but just back to work after summer holiday & have already booked a day off for blog camp. SO sad to miss this.

  18. Would love to come and take part, thank you Vanessa. The programme and the trip was fascinating. I still have Ndali vanilla in my cupboard but I will only be buying Ndali Fair Trade Organic vanilla from now on. I didn't realise either that Ndali is the only vanilla to be certified FT in the UK?

  19. What a lovely article on a fascinating subject. Thanks for sharing.

  20. I would love to join you again, if you would have me. The last event was so lovely. Your articles have made me think about vanilla and fair trade in a new light. Inspiring! xx

  21. Really enjoyed the Radio 4 'Vanilla' Food Programme and wish I could be with you all for the Gift Swap. Sadly, I am in London the previous day for the Cake & Bake Show and I don't think 'im indoors would be too pleased if I left him 'home alone' for a second time so quickly! Have fun. x

  22. Wonderful idea, Vanessa! Looking forward to taking part.

  23. An interesting post Vanessa and also interesting polictically.
    I was born in Tanzania and was 'pushed out' due to the Amin aftermath in Uganda. The soldiers literally came and took over our house. I was 4 and my sisters much younger. I therefore have very mixed views about the country itself but do feel sorry for these ordinary, honest people who as you say, just want to earn a fair wage for their work.

  24. Hope you have a fantastic response - such an interesting post. I'm a little too far away in Scotland to participate in your swap, but I'm sure there will be lots of willing bakers out there!

  25. Hi, sadly I can't come that week as it's too close to Blog Camp and FBC. I'm sure everyone will have a great time though.

  26. A very interesting read and thought provoking for sure. I can't join in but will watch with interest and be there in spirit I'm sure it will be a fabulous event and help raise the profile of fair-trade even more. We all need to take note. x

  27. Hi there - I am so excited to have found this and to be taking part! so ridiculously excited in fact that I have just written my first blog post about it! Really looking forward to receiving the vanilla and getting going with the baking - thank you so much, a really great idea. Linda

  28. Very sorry I can't make it Vanessa. I know it will be a fabulous event and I hope it goes well. Charlotte X

  29. Oh god, if I'd known this existed I would have definitely taken part and helped in any way I know how.
    My boyfriend has spent four years in Uganda helping to develop sustainable farming solutions and support rural schools outside Kampala. This event is inspiring!


If you are reading my blog I must warn you that I am not impartial. I want to influence you. I want to make you stop for just a moment and consider the effect of a lifetime of seemingly insignificant decisions and how making small delicious choices can change the world.

I believe that we can change the world one bite at a time.

It's a delicious revolution.