Five years ago, 14 high school students from Immokalee, a Collier County community where the household income is barely over half the statewide average, came up with an idea for a business. They wanted to create salsas and hot sauces that feature produce grown in the heavily agricultural area around them and that represent the cultures of the countries many of them came from—Mexico, Guatemala, Haiti and other Latin American and Caribbean nations. Today, you’ll find those products on the shelves of 240 Publix stores across Florida, including eight in Sarasota and three in Bradenton.
The project was sparked by a grant from Immokalee’s One By One Leadership Foundation. Marie Capita, a former attorney and One By One volunteer, is the grown-up who serves as executive director of Taste of Immokalee, the business launched by those 14 students in 2014. She advises students who do the real grunt work of running a business: packaging orders, making sales calls, developing marketing plans and examining spreadsheets.
More than 150 Immokalee students, many of them sons and daughters of migrant farmworkers who do the brutal work of picking the tomatoes that end up on dinner plates around the country every winter, have now gone through the program. The revenue comes home to fund scholarships and job-training programs. “Immokalee is a very impoverished area,” says Capita, who herself immigrated from Haiti to Florida when she was 5, “and now they have something to be proud of. It gives them a sense of ownership.”