A Haitian bakery and the breadfruit tree

Jérémie is a town with a population of around 97,000. It is a lovely seaside town on the peninsula of south-west Haiti – that long toe that sticks out at the western end of the island of Hispaniola, very close to our island, Jamaica. It is the capital of the Department of Grand’Anse.

The centre of the town of Jérémie, Department of Grand’Anse, Haiti. Photo: Bruno Le Bansais – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12880116

Jérémie and Les Cayes were badly damaged by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake on August 14. Buildings collapsed and people were caught under the wreckage. Sadly, the earthquake also affected the beautiful, forested Pic Macaya, the nearby National Park named after the second highest mountain in Haiti, causing landslides. Up until a week ago, according to reports, rescue operations were going on to pick up survivors in that area.

Nearly 5,000 residents still suffering from the effects of the recent earthquake received konparèts, including 257 persons (pictured above) at the Jérémie Breadfruit Flour and Bakery on August 19. (Photos courtesy of Pierre-Moïse Louis)

However, despite the sensational headlines – political dramas, social upheavals, and the aftermath of the the earthquake – life goes on in Haiti. Yes, life goes on, as it always does.

The earthquake, which has killed over 2,200 Haitians and left many injured, missing and homeless, has left many Haitians without food. But a local bakery, Jérémie Breadfruit Flour and Bakery, has stepped in to help; since the disaster it has been providing tasty and nutritious meals – close to 22,000 in just one week after the earthquake. These included konparèts and breads.

Delicious konparèts!

What is a konparèt, you ask? It is a traditional food in the town of Jérémie. It seems to be similar to the Jamaican “bulla” – a kind of bun. It is satisfying and filling. The Bakery, established five years ago and owned by Pierre-Moïse Louis, has been baking konparèts made with breadfruit flour. Although it was damaged by the earthquake, the bakery donated its entire stock to local families in need.

Konparèts in the oven. Yum!

So what is the recipe for konparèt? Well, traditionally the ingredients would include root ginger; extract of bergamot, vanilla, and almonds; cinnamon, star anise and cloves; grated coconut and cane syrup (locally obtained); flour, baking soda, butter, animal fat, and a pinch of salt. For much more on this 100-year-old tradition and other baked goods from the area (including “dukunu” – does that ring a bell, Jamaicans?) read this wonderfully detailed article shared by Trees That Feed Foundation.

An employee of the Jérémie Breadfruit Flour and Bakery demonstrates peeling a breadfruit.

So now we come to the trees – and to be specific, breadfruit trees. The Trees That Feed Foundation has been donating breadfruit trees for the past ten years in Haiti (“we wanted that food to be used by Haitians, for Haitians,” they say) and is encouraging also the development of other breadfruit products. From these donated trees, the fruit flourished, the flour was created – and the konparèts baked. The Bakery in Jérémie, partnering with Trees That Feed, had been producing thousands of the buns every month for schools, children’s homes, and others, even before the earthquake. The Bakery also runs cooking classes using breadfruit flour and encourages entrepreneurship among the local people.

Pierre-Moïse Louis says of the current post-earthquake efforts:

We are focusing on konparèts because it is very nutritious and ready to eat, so people don’t need to cook. People in Jérémie are living on the streets now because their houses were destroyed and, because of the aftershocks of the earthquake, they are afraid to enter the rest of houses which are not still solid. They don’t have any food and water so they need ready-to-eat foods, because they don’t have kitchens to cook.

Source: Caribbean Philanthropic Alliance/Trees That Feed Foundation/Tree Planting Project

Trees That Feed Foundation, co-founded by Jamaicans Mary and Mike McLaughlin, is a major partner in the Caribbean Tree Planting Project (CTPP), which is taking place in 22 countries and territories and is spearheaded by the Caribbean Philanthropic Alliance (CariPhilAlliance). The first (but not the last!) Caribbean Tree Planting Week took place in July this year. Since February 2020, the CTPP has planted more than 1.5 million trees across the Caribbean – mainly in Haiti. The next goal in sight is to plant two million trees between July 2021 and June 2022, across the region. Meanwhile, the CariPhilAlliance is working with Trees That Feed to see if it can expand the Bakery’s production of konparèts, besides other activities.

A little girl has collected her konparèts.

According to Trees That Feed:

In addition to being flavorful, these baked goods are made with breadfruit which is rich in iron, potassium, vitamin A, and other vitamins and minerals. These meals are also made from coconut, ginger, and molasses which provide protein, iron, potassium, antioxidants and other nutrients. A single breadfruit tree has been found to produce enough fruit to feed an entire family, and can live up to 80-100 years, providing entrepreneurs in Haiti with professional opportunities for years to come.

Life continues, because it has to. We can help each other along the way. If you would like to donate to the Trees That Feed Foundation, you may go to: https://www.treesthatfeed.org/donate

Do click on the highlighted links above for further information on this project and on the Caribbean Tree Planting Project’s ongoing work. More partners are always welcome! Get involved! If you are on social media, follow CTPP on Facebook and on Twitter @caribbean_trees

As Maya Angelou says:

No matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.

PS. On a literary note: Jérémie is known as the “City of Poets.” Founded in 1756, prominent poets such as Etzer Vilaire (1872 – 1951) and Emile Roumer (1903 – 1988) were born in the town. General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, the father of Alexandre Dumas (of “Count of Monte Cristo” fame) was also born there.

Breadfruit konparèts aplenty – happy customers in Jérémie.

Many thanks to Professor Rosalea Hamilton, Pierre-Moïse Louis, Trees That Feed Foundation, Jan Voordouw, CariPhilAlliance, and Caribbean Tree Planting Project for helping me compose this article and for providing photographs.

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8 thoughts on “A Haitian bakery and the breadfruit tree

  1. Many thanks, this is a very nice newsletter and important story for people interested in food systems around the world.
    Our hearts, minds and efforts are there to support our family in Haiti.
    Thank you Trees That Feed for working so long and hard to get it to this stage.
    Give God the glory, look at what he has done!
    Mike

    Like

    1. Dear Mr. Terrelonge: Yes, I think it is an important story in terms of food security. One example of what can work, something that can be replicated in different ways. Thank you for your support for our close family in Haiti, so close to us really! Trees That Feed are caring, loving people. Thank you so much for your wonderful comments, and please stay safe and well in these difficult times.

      Like

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