Bay Area nonprofit helps farmers in war-torn lands heal history

ROHNERT PARK, Calif. (KGO) -- Roots of Peace, a Bay Area nonprofit working in Vietnam helping farmers improve their crops, has sold its first crop of black pepper from those farmers to one of the top spice companies in the country.

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"This is a historic moment for roots of peace, and Morton and Bassett to have a world class spice company, purchasing fresh pepper from the former battlefields of Vietnam, 40 years after the war has ended," said Roots of Peace founder Heidi Kuhn.

The first large shipment of fresh pepper grown by Vietnamese farmers is being marketed and sold by a major spice import company based in the Bay Area -- Morton and Bassett in Rohnert Park.

Founders Kuhn and her husband Gary are personally involved in the effort. Their charity is based in San Rafael. Most of their family is involved in some way, including Heidi's 88-year-old father.

The Khuns' son Tucker worked with local Vietnamese men and women to run the program in Quant Tri Province. It used to be a notorious battleground. Now, it's connecting Vietnamese farmers and American consumers through spices.

"We're very happy they picked us out to be a major supplier of the product," said Morton and Bassett Spices founder Morton Gothelf.

"We're really enthusiastic about working with Roots of Peace and being able to bring the fruits of their labor to the market, not just here in the Bay Area but all around the country," said Morton and Bassett CEO Rodney Gothelf.

The Roots of Peace story that ended up at Morton and Bassett in Sonoma County started in Vietnam in 2010. They had to get permission from the communist Vietnamese government to work there.

RELATED: Bay Area nonprofit helps Vietnamese farmers get crops to market

The partnership also includes the US Department of State, the Vietnamese government, and MAG -- the demining organization known as Mines Advisory Group.

Farmers put up their own money to learn how to grow pepper vines or taro on land that used to be riddled with landmines and unexploded ordnance. It was left over from the American, Vietnam war more than 40 years ago.

Sadly, many farmers were injured and maimed before the Roots of Peace program began working with MAG.

But farmers didn't let their injuries stop them from growing crops that are lifting them out of poverty -- and it's sending a message that former enemies can learn to work in harmony.

"I think it brings the world back together and makes everybody think of peace in this era where we've had many problems over many decades," said Gothelf.

RELATED: Roots of Peace helps victims injured by landmines

Morton and Bassett is asking to buy all the pepper Roots of Peace can import from Vietnam. They appreciate what it takes to grow the pepper on war-torn land.

"They've done a wonderful job with an enormous challenge," Gothelf added. "To clean up all these mines and munitions -- my hat is off to them, and just honored that they selected us to be a partner."

"Vietnam today has an estimated 3 million landmines and more," said Kuhn. "Here we are at Morton and Bassett, they're healing the wounds of war, removing these landmines, uxos, and cluster munitions and literally giving people a taste of peace. This is a major business transaction, and to sell this fresh pepper f rom the battlefields of Vietnam makes this American mother very, very proud."

Click here for more stunning reports from Cheryl Jennings on Roots of Peace.
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