IWM: Erika Vohman

We interviewed Erika Vohman, founder of Maya Superfoods and Maya Nut Institute. We found out why everyone can benefit from this ancient superfood, how these products are enriching the lives of indigenous women in Central America, and the powerful lessons she’s learned from working with the “poorest of the poor”. 

How did you stumble upon the benefits of Maya nut?

I learned about the Maya in Guatemala when I was working there, I learned it was an ancient food, important to the Maya people. I researched it to find out if anyone had studied its nutritional values and found research that had been done by the Instituto de Ecologia in Veracruz, Mexico by a group there who wanted to use Maya to reverse deforestation and land conversion to crops. Their research proved Maya is a super nutritious food, very high in tryptophan and important minerals. I was hooked at that point and became determined to help that group achieve their mission throughout the neotropics.

If you could get one piece of PR for Maya, what would it be?

I would love people to know how much Maya can help them with stress, insomnia and gut health. It has such powerful benefits for people suffering from those things!

Is it really a nut?

No, technically it is not a nut. A nut is a seed with a hard outer shell. Maya is a seed with a soft fruity covering. Nuts tend to be high in fat and Maya has almost zero fat. Maya is not allergenic either, and has been tested and proven to be safe for people with allergies to peanuts and tree nuts.

What is your favourite way to incorporate Maya into the foods you eat?

I add Maya to my recipes whenever I’m baking anything. I make Maya granola, Maya sugar cookies and Maya drinks all the time. For smoothies I use the light roast so it doesn’t overpower the fruit. Every day I take one “shot” of Maya stirred into water 4 times a day for my digestive system and to feed my gut flora.

Why is Maya still not part of mainstream superfood collections and smoothie recipes everywhere?

I think people don’t know about it yet and we haven’t been able to invest in the research necessary to get the health benefits publicly acknowledged.

Is it challenging to market and sell a product that is still “undiscovered”?

Yes, but also thrilling to see how organically the news about Maya superfood spreads around the world! Every week we get orders from all corners of the continent – and even Europe!

How does the work you do through the Maya Nut Institute empower rural and indigenous women?

All of our Maya is sourced from women that we trained and who are part of our “family”. For almost all of them, we are the first organization to give them training and education and this is their first paying job. Through the simple act of including them, we change their lives forever. Through Maya production and sales, many of these women have doubled or even tripled the family income! We work with the poorest of the poor. Most of our producer families earned less than $300/year before we started working with them.

What have you learned from the women you work with?

I’ve learned how intelligent and fun human beings are, and how creative people can be, even if they have never been to school and can’t read or write. We have an innate intelligence and that can be channeled to create massive positive change in the world. I have learned the vast difference between the way women and men see the world and how the different sexes solve problems. That has been the most interesting thing I have learned from them. Women are innate caretakers, of the family and the environment. The modern world is missing that quality and because of that, we are in the sad state we are in today, destroying the environment and resorting to violence to solve our problems. Women in positions of leadership make very different decisions than men.

Can you do good and pay the bills?

Everyone who does their best in life, be it a secretary, plumber, computer repair man, cleaning lady, etc. is doing “good”. Every single person who has a job, whatever that job is, is “doing good” but some are more publicly revered than others. Development work, helping the poor, is actually a very self-serving act because people give us so much credit and call us “saints”. I want to honor the farmers and the blue collar workers, they make the world go round and by helping them, I help myself. (We couldn’t agree more!)

We love your new website! Was it difficult to organize all you know and do and put it online?

No because you made the process really easy for us! We would never have made such a great website without you. (You’ve made us blush!)

Where can Canadians buy and taste Maya?

You can buy Maya on our website or on Amazon!

Learn more about what Erika is up to on the Maya Superfoods and Maya Nut Institute websites. Follow Maya Superfoods on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram too.