Do you know where Immokalee is? I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t. It’s in Collier County on the West Coast of Florida. Population 24K+, it’s an agricultural region populated by seasonal workers and immigrants, and happens to be one of the poorest areas in the state. Now, thanks to the benefit corporation, Taste of Immokalee (TOI), there’s an uplifting, hopeful story that’s tied in with delicious sauces and salsa that are sold in Publix.
The story: school age children of the city’s immigrant families are making and marketing some of the best tasting BBQ sauce, hot sauce and salsa you’ve ever tasted with their own local organic produce. They’re doing something they enjoy, and learning valuable skills that have landed some in schools like Columbia University and Cornell.
I was invited to Blue Collar restaurant to meet some of the over 60 students involved in the enterprise. Joining us for lunch were some of the Miami Dolphins players including Kenny Stills, Ja’wuan James, and Kenyan Drake, as well as Univision’s Raul de Molina. We had the chips with the perfectly spicy, rich tomato tasting salsa; a gazpacho made with local tomatoes, and coarsely chopped mushrooms; barbecue ribs liberally marinated in TOI’s Chipotle BBQ sauce with skin on French fries; and a corn ice cream with thyme and blueberries.
Everything was totally delicious, but the story here is really one of hope and a model for entrepreneurship programs. The young people, in a program for high school students, are selected by current students in the program. They’re involved in the entire process of the products – from creation and operations to marketing, sales and delivery. It’s about learning skills and a work ethic that will stand them in good stead in their academic career and beyond. Right now the program graduates 25 to 30 students a year. Happily the program will soon be expanded to elementary school-aged students.
Next time you’re thinking of getting salsa, BBQ or hot sauce, think of Taste of Immokalee and the children. Besides being available in Publix, you can order them online atwww.tasteofimmokalee.com.