THE VALLEY OF VANILLA
TAHA'A, THE SOCIETY ISLANDS
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A CONVERSATION WITH ILANDA HIOE
VANILLA FARMER ON THE ISLAND OF TAHA'A
Ilanda Hioe is a vanilla farmer on the island of Taha’a in the Society Islands of French Polynesia. She cultivates vanilla on a piece of land that her family has owned and farmed for over one hundred years. The vanilla orchid and its beans grow plentiful on the island with Hioe and her family tending to the vines in a traditional manner, never employing unnatural techniques to hasten the growth or the drying process.
We work with nature.ILANDA HIOE, VANILLA FARMER
We love everything that
surrounds us here. We want
a positive relationship with our environment.
S+O — WHEN DID VANILLA FARMING BEGIN IN THE SOCIETY ISLANDS?
Hioe — Vanilla has been growing on this swath of land for many years. Vanilla arrived to Taha’a around 1919. People tried to grow vanilla on the other island groups, but the yields proved not that great until they started production on Taha’a. This land comes from my grandmother who hails from the Moe’ino family. She was born here, and it’s been almost one hundred years that my family has lived here.
S+O — WHAT MAKES TAHITIAN VANILLA DIFFERENT?
Hioe — It was only recently that this question was raised. It has its own distinctive fragrance, and our farming process is different from other places in the world. A large difference is that our vanilla is never cooked in water as other places that utilize different methods to hasten the process. We give the time for the beans to wholly express themselves. When our beans are almost ripe, they still cling to the plant. Then we cut them and store in a dark place until they are fully ripened.
S+O — HOW DOES THE PROCESS BEGIN?
Hioe — We start from planting. Vanilla is an orchid that goes on a host tree. We secure the vine to the tree used as a pole. There’s always coconut husk at the bottom of the trees designed to help with the water supply and humidity bestowed upon the plant. Then we leave the orchid vine to grow for at least three years. The first flowers will appear only then, and will need to be pollinated by hand.
S+O — WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE POLLINATION?
Hioe — Then we must wait for nine months or more for the beans to grow and mature before they can be harvested. Again, we do not employ unnatural techniques to hasten the drying, so after this if there is ample sun, the beans will be fully dried within three months. It could take longer if there is more rain.
S+O — WHAT ARE THE USES FOR THE VANILLA GROWN HERE?
Hioe — It’s a premium product and the quality we grow is amongst the highest. This is why our product is mostly used for cooking. We export the longest and most beautiful beans for cooking. But for the beans with a slightly lesser quality, there are other uses for it including the cosmetics industry for beauty treatments and perfumes.
S+O — HOW ARE THE FARMING TECHNIQUES CHANGING ON THE ISLAND?
Hioe — People are not really enthusiastic about farming in the open air because it requires more work for fewer yields, whereas in greenhouses the higher humidity rate helps us get better yields. In the open air, it's different. There aren't too many open air farms left. The youth today prefers growing the beans indoors because it's straightforward, and the plant doesn't grow on the trunk of a tree, they're concrete poles, it's therefore easier.
S+O — WHY DO YOU CONTINUE THE TRADITION?
Hioe — It’s not only because it is vanilla, it’s also because it is a family legacy. We work with Nature. We love everything that surrounds us and this is what we want, a positive attitude towards our environment. We have all sorts of fruits growing, but vanilla is our job, our treasure and our future. So our love for Mother Nature is what keep us going.
S+O — YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU ONCE LIVED IN THE UNITED STATES. WHAT MADE YOU RETURN TO TAHA’A?
Hioe — When you have a visceral love for your land, you will come back. You can tour the world, visit every corner of it, but in the end you will want to come back. It’s where I belonged, and I came back to restore what my elders had started and worked hard for.
S+O — WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT TAHITI?
Hioe — It’s known for its lifestyle, for the Mana, which makes us different from the rest. We call ourselves Ta'ata Mā’ohi “the offsprings stand clean, nothing can spoil us”, this is because we eat our own food that we grow. The fish come from our ocean, and that which we plant with our own hands is consumed. That’s why we stand clean. We love Taha’a and Taha’a loves us.
When you have
a visceral love for your land,
you will come back.
Exclusive Edition 009 TAHITIAN VANILLA
Vanilla was introduced to The Society Islands in the early Twentieth Century. The island of Taha'a proved to have the best conditions for growing the orchid plant which has led to the island being referred to as the Vanilla Isle. The Valley of Vanilla follows traditional techniques of open air cultivation and hand pollination to product the highest quality vanilla for culinary purposes.
TAHA'A, THE SOCIETY ISLANDS
Taha’a, known as the Vanilla isle, is a small island in the Society Islands chain of French Polynesia. Accessible only by boat from nearby Raiatea, it sways to the rhythms of the laid-back Tahitian lifestyle with one of the most desirable of all the island resorts just off-shore.