Meet the Staff: Yogurt, Cheese, and everything else

Today I’m interviewing Blaise Roosvelt. I have some questions for the person in charge of generating revenue for Second Mile's business program.

Blaise is responsible for, Tou Natirèl (All Natural), the social business branch of Second Mile Haiti’s activities, and a project that came out of a desire to generate sustainable income, in Haiti, through food transformation.

We started making yogurt, the first culprit in a list of bright ideas, back in 2013. Blaise came on board to take over production in 2015, when we finally realized that our midnight yogurt-making efforts were no longer cutting it.

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We’ve introduced him before, and while you may have even tasted one of the products he makes and sells from inside the recovery center, his role has evolved in recent months. Come to think of it, the last time we checked in with Blaise, he hadn’t yet become the Father of Staff Birthday Celebrations. So there’s that.

I had warned him about my impending interview, yet from his desk inside the building we’ve devolved to call “Kay Blaise,” literally, Blaise’s house, our technician looks up sheepishly, like a school-boy caught reading comics.

The building, built through a grant the organization received in 2015, is a hodgepodge of rooms and corridors.

First, there’s a hallway that leads to the kitchen where test tubes are neatly arranged on a countertop and milk gallons from local farmers sit waiting to pass inspection. Next there’s the kitchen, with a propane stove top, a deep sink, a refrigerator, a freezer, and two industrial-type shelves stocked with aluminum pots, colanders, and an array of jars and thermometers.

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The door to kitchen remains closed for cleanliness but a big window above the stove allows for visibility through a center corridor, where Blaise sits now.

In just a few paces you arrive in a box shaped room, where Moringa leaves hang to dry and oil presses rest, bolted to Blaise-imagined pressing stations. The room leads both to a secret storage closet and the outdoors, an extension of the coconut oil operations. The smell of coconuts drying in the sun, makes it official.

Teaching a mother

Teaching a mother

Blaise does more work than all of us combined.  

I caught a glimpse of his screen when I walked in. The subject in question, is not comics, but a PDF with chemistry formulas I won’t pretend to understand.

And on that note, I start asking my questions:

Blaise, you seem to always be studying something. What was your favorite subject when you were in school?

I enjoyed Biology the most, because it’s the science of life. Biology tells us how the body works and how all types of metabolic process occur in the world. It helped me appreciate the importance of all of the transformations that are possible, in people, in food, in trees...

He trails and I resist saying “Ok smarty pants. We get it. You’re super qualified for this job.” Instead I smile, and Blaise laughs shyly. He knows, he’s smart. I don’t need to tell him.  

And he is, in fact, super qualified for his job. He has a degree in Biology, with a concentration in microbiology. He took additional coursework in food science and worked in a hospital laboratory prior to taking on the renegade role of Yogurt Maker, which eventually led to Chicken Caretaker. But of course, he says it better.  

I’m a technician. I’m responsible for production at Tou Natirèl. I make yogurt, cheese, moringa powder, coconut oil, mango jam, and I also manage the chicken production.

Yogurt Training with Elise, 2015

Yogurt Training with Elise, 2015

Basically, he does everything. Although he does have some help.

Blaise teaches the women at Second Mile Haiti how to prepare both coconut oil and Moringa powder, which means that on teaching days, some of the production steps are completed through practical exercises.

Second Mile mothers assist with coconut preparation

Second Mile mothers assist with coconut preparation

Blaise is also assisted by an intern who helps feed and process poultry. But when it comes to yogurt, cheese, and jam, Blaise prefers to go it alone.

Something about mitigating contamination risk ... and science.

"So then, what’s your favorite? You spend all day making these products. Do you enjoy them, as well?"

Yogurt, I love the yogurt. But all the products are very delicious.

I can tell the equalizer in him had a hard time admitting to prefer one product over the others. But I was happy to hear that he wasn’t too humble to speak positively of his work.

I knew the answer to the next question, in theory. But I was curious to hear Blaise’s take.

"What do you see for the future of Tou Natirèl? How do you hope to grow?"

What I hope in the future of Tou Natirèl is that we can reach a wider client base. I hope we can produce larger quantities and start selling different sizes of product. I hope that Tou Natirèl can also target young children in Haiti, who are in need of nutritious products, like the ones we make here. And I hope that our profits will continue to grow so that we can help even more mothers and kids through Second Mile Haiti.

Blaise circa 2015

Blaise circa 2015

I have just one final question. But it requires some backstory.

When Blaise had been working at Second Mile Haiti for no more than 3 months he came into Jenn’s office, to request a meeting with such seriousness that we thought he might quit. His proposition wasn’t more pay, or more time off, and he wasn’t planning to quit. He simply wanted to celebrate his colleagues on their birthdays. And he wasn't requesting funds for these celebrations, just permission.

After that day, Blaise collected the birthdate of all Second Mile employees and proceed to gather the team each time we had a reason to celebrate. Glass-bottle coke and sugar-orange, Couronne, for everyone!

Birthdays have evolved over the years. We have pasta and even pizza some times and the occasional cake. But for the most part the staff share the responsibility of purchasing these goodies and make a point of gathering whether or not we’re around to participate.

And Blaise is still the ring leader. Each month, he takes the time to print the names of upcoming birthday-havers and puts it on a wall for all to see.

I ask, "What prompted you to start staff birthday parties?"

At Second Mile, we're a family. And I hope that it will always stay that way.

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Tuesday November 7th is Blaise’s birthday. Will you join me in wishing him a Happy Birthday!

“Bon Fèt!”

Have you tasted any of our Tou Natirèl products? Tell us what you think!

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