Food Job: Vanilla Queen

Patricia Rain, the Vanilla Queen

I admire Patricia Rain. I think you will find her story to be wonderfully inspirational. It again shows how one dedicated person can change the world.

Becoming a true Queen isn’t an everyday occurrence. Rather, it is earned through years of dedication and hard work, rather like the fairy tales of old where the heroine endures many tests to prove her worth before being bestowed with the title and keys to her Queendom.

Perhaps my early childhood intoxication with the fragrance and flavor of vanilla was an indication of what was to come, but my conscious journey began in 1985 when I wrote The Vanilla Cookbook, after reading an enticing article about the King of Tonga and a royal decree for his vanilla crop.

The book catapulted me into the position of “vanilla authority,” and eventually to a conference in Puebla, Mexico, where I spoke at a conference on the foods of the Americas. After the conference I took a bus to the Gulf Coast, birthplace of vanilla.

The vanilla farmers of Mexico knew of me from my book, and I was astonished to learn that I was a local celebrity. They asked for help to rescue their struggling vanilla industry. My work, largely voluntary, slowly expanded until I launched The Vanilla.COMpany in 2001, just before 9-11 and the anthrax scare, and just after the crash.

Holding a bootstrap business together was an enormous challenge. But hold on, we did. Our women-owned and operated, socially conscious company continues to grow in ways we could hardly have anticipated.

Through the extraordinary power of the Internet, I met farmers in such far-flung areas as Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, India, The Americas, and Africa. During the five-year crisis when vanilla was unavailable and prohibitively expensive, I coached farmers new to the industry through the steps of selling their village’s crops, and I became “auntie” to many young men and women who often traveled hours to reach an Internet café.

Vanilla by Patricia Rain

It was gratifying to learn that through my assistance the farmer’s lives improved.  Over the years, I visited the world’s vanilla growing regions, and my interest as an anthropologist ultimately led to writing, Vanilla: The Cultural History of the World’s Favorite Flavor and Fragrance.

In gaining the farmers’ trust, my reputation spread globally and I am now known everywhere as the Vanilla Queen, an honor I don’t take lightly. But, in the greatest test of all, I learned that I am really their queen.

In December of 2003, I was diagnosed with advanced metastatic breast cancer.  I was advised to “put my affairs in order and to enjoy my life.”

Word spread quickly around the world, and in the most humbling and transformative experience imaginable, the farmers organized their churches, mosques, temples, villages, and schools to pray for me.  Letters, advice, and prayers poured in from around the world, and continue to do so, incorporated into their daily lives. The upshot of the story is that I am cancer-free.

The farmers and I are now launching an International Tropical Farmers Network created with a determination to teach sustainable agriculture and to empower the producers of the products we love so much.

And this how I went from being an ordinary woman to earning my title as the Vanilla Queen.

One thought on “Food Job: Vanilla Queen

  1. What a moving story. Congratulations on a wonderful career and being cancer free!

    Vanilla is gold to me. My mom gave me two shiny black pods this summer and I’m hoarding them in a dark drawer until the “perfect” time and recipe. :)

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