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UF scientist develops turkey sausage to help feed hungry Haitian children

By:
Tom Nordlie (352) 392-0400

Source(s):
Sally Williams williams@animal.ufl.edu, 352-392-2993
David Dinkins ddinkins@co.st-johns.fl.us, 352-904-0430
Char Farin char_farin@ncsu.edu, 919-515-4022
Bette Gebrian bette_haiti@hotmail.com,

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — For millions of Americans, eating turkey is an essential part of the holidays, but for some Haitian children it represents a chance for a better life, thanks to University of Florida faculty members working to improve nutrition in the impoverished Caribbean country.

Sally Williams, an associate professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, has developed a low-cost turkey sausage that’s being used in a charity program that feeds infants and toddlers from the poorest families in villages surrounding Jeremie, a city of almost 100,000 in southwest Haiti.

“Children in Jeremie get very little protein in their diets, and what they get comes mainly from rice and beans and polenta,” Williams said. “They don’t get a meat source.”

Animal protein helps children avoid a malnutrition-linked illness called kwashiorkor and other health problems common in Haiti, she said. Children under 5 years of age comprise about 15 percent of Jeremie’s population; malnutrition affects 30 percent of them.

Every three months, Williams oversees production of about 200 to 300 pounds of the sausage at UF’s animal sciences department; the sausage is canned in Jacksonville at the Department of Agriculture Canning Center, a facility operated by the city of Jacksonville and UF’s Duval County Extension Service. UF personnel began sending the shipments in July 2005; funding comes from a three-year U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.

When the sausage arrives, it’s sliced into 2-ounce portions and used to feed children ages 6 months to 3 years, as part of a feeding program operated by the Haitian Health Foundation, a volunteer organization based in Norwich, Conn.

Comprised of 83 percent mechanically separated turkey and 17 percent soy protein and seasonings, the sausage offers a nutritional profile that includes 15 percent protein and 18.5 percent fat, Williams said. The ingredients are stuffed into casings about 3 inches in diameter and cooked. The finished product is cut into 1.5 pound portions then packed in water and canned. Sliced, the sausage resembles bologna and has a mild turkey flavor.

“The kids like it – that was our first concern,” Williams said. “But there were no problems getting them to eat it.”

This spring, the program is expected to take a giant step forward as production of the sausage moves from Florida to a meat processing facility in West Virginia. The plant, owned by the brother of Putnam County Extension Director Edsel Redden, will manufacture and can the sausage free of charge. The goal is to boost output to about 1 ton per month.

Redden has been involved in Haitian relief efforts since 1989, and visits the country about six times per year. This week, he’ll accompany another shipment of turkey sausage to Jeremie.

UF is pursuing related projects to improve nutrition, agriculture and education in Haiti, said St. Johns County Extension Director David Dinkins, who helps Redden oversee the program. North Carolina State University is also involved in the work.

“The turkey sausage is an immediate measure where we can go in and feed people,” said Dinkins, based in St. Augustine. “It’s very important, but it’s an interim solution. Ideally, we’d like to get Haitian farmers producing more of their own protein foods.”

Perhaps the most fully developed effort aside from the turkey sausage is an aquaculture project that produces tilapia fish to feed children in Gressier, a community in southern Haiti. With local assistance, UF faculty have established 16 concrete ponds; altogether they yield 1,100 to 1,200 fish per week. Each fish contains 4.5 to 5 ounces of edible product.

An agricultural demonstration and training center is planned for the near future in Jeremie, Dinkins said. The project, begun in 2003, is a collaboration among UF, North Carolina State, the Haitian Health Foundation and two other charitable organizations, FISH Ministries and the Christianville Foundation.

Char Farin, a professor with North Carolina State’s Department of Animal Science, is leading a project to improve the genetics of goats raised in Gressier. Using artificial insemination techniques, researchers will crossbreed native Creole goats with Boer goats, known for their superior meat production.

“Initially, we’re doing this as a demonstration project to make sure it works,” said Farin, who became interested in working with Haitian agricultural relief efforts after speaking to Redden several years ago. “Beyond that, we’re looking at expanding into other communities two or three years down the road.”

Other projects focus on production of chickens, eggs and hogs, Dinkins said. The overall program is expected to continue indefinitely, though it may change over time as some needs are met and others identified. Additional funding is provided by the Rotary International volunteer organization and U.S. church groups.

“I’ve been to Haiti twice,” Dinkins said. “People say Haiti gets in your blood, and it does. You go over there and you see the need, and the potential, and you just want to help.”

Bette Gebrian, public health director of the Haitian Health Foundation, said the relief efforts are greatly appreciated.

“We look forward to a continued relationship with the University of Florida,” Gebrian said. “The commitment of Dr. Williams, Edsel Redden and many others to save the lives of children in Haiti is a fine example of how joint work of field health professionals and academic experts can make a difference.”

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