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Sugarsnap Goes to Suriname

by Abbey Duke, Founder & CEO

by Abbey Duke

I am in Suriname for two weeks for a farm to table project (more on that below). While I’m here, I’m going to be writing daily blog posts about what I have learned; what I have been working on and (of course) what I’ve been eating.

Why Suriname?

In September of 2018 we had the wonderful opportunity to host Joey Dragman, a fellow from the Young Leaders of the America’s Initiative (YLAI).  YLAI brings entrepreneurs from across Latin America and the Caribbean to the US for programming and mentorship.

A group of a dozen YLAI fellows spent about a month in Burlington. They included young entrepreneurs from all kinds of fields. And we were lucky enough to be paired with Joey. He owns a catering company in Paramaribo, Suriname and is very interested in bringing more of a farm-to-table ethos to Suriname.

Joey was a lot of fun to have with our team and he threw himself into the experience. He helped with a 500-person conference at the Champlain Valley Expo; he helped cook for a wedding at ECHO; he harvested kale and carrots at our farm on a 40 degree, rainy day; he served food on the UVM campus.  At the end of his period, he cooked traditional Surinamese dishes and served an amazing lunch to all of the other fellows and the Sugarsnap team. It was a great experience for all of us.

After Joey returned home, we worked together to apply for funding for a “reverse exchange”. We were one of 60 reverse exchanges nation-wide that were expected. So… here I am in Suriname.

The YLAI exchange and reverse exchange program is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs via Meridian International Center as the implementing partner.

How Suriname Compares to Vermont

Suriname has about 500,000 people, one major city and a lot of forest. That is about where the similarities end. Suriname’s official language is Dutch; it is on the northeast coast of South America but is considered a Caribbean country. About 90% of the country is tropical forest and most of the population live in Paramaribo. The cuisine here is very interesting and reflects it’s history. Suriname is populated by people from a number of different heritages, especially Indonesian, Chinese, African and Dutch.  So the traditional foods include: sausages, satays, rice dishes, tropical fruits and vegetables… all with a bit of a fusion twist.  I’ll post more about my culinary experiences in future blog posts.

Planting, Cooking and a Farm-to-Table Seminar

While I am in Suriname, I am helping Joey with a wonderful project at a local orphanage. We are building a new greenhouse on the grounds of the orphanage and then holding two workshops for the kids and staff: one on planting and one on cooking. The orphanage has 21 kids from 8 to 13 years old and they live in the home for up to two years.  Here is a photo of us with the greenhouse under development.  Joey is on the left and Moreno Jackson (a YLAI alum and partner) is in the middle.  A greenhouse in the tropics allows the grower to control how much water gets to the plants as well as hang shade cloth and netting to control insects. It’s definitely not needed to increase the temperature.

Next week, we will be hosting a seminar for chefs, food entrepreneurs and farmers. I’ll be presenting about my experience and work with Sugarsnap as well as how Vermont has grown it’s food economy through a lot of work and collaboration, including the Vermont Fresh Network, the Vermont Farm to Plate network, Vermont FEED and a whole lot more.

Plus, I’ve already had some memorable meals… more on that later.

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