Making a (delicious) difference

September 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Wind Energy Tips

Confronting the distressing sight of children in need, some people salve their consciences by making a donation. But freelance graphic designer Chairit Imjaroen wanted to do more, to volunteer his time and energy. And he found a rather novel way to add value to his efforts.

Farmsook ice-cream comes in Thai tea, green tea, fresh milk, chewy chocolate, cookies cream, banana strawberry, strawberry sherbet and coffee almonds flavours.

Chairit and several of his friends regularly help out at Baan Sanrak and the Baan Nok Kamin Foundation, two residential homes for underprivileged children in the greater Bangkok area. On his way to visit the kids he would often buy some ice-cream _ usually an inexpensive local variety made from coconut milk _ to distribute as little treats. A health-conscious person, Chairit became concerned about the amount of sweeteners used in the commercial ice-cream he was buying for the children.

“I didn’t think that all that sugar could be good for their health in the long run,” he explained,

This led to Chairit purchasing a home ice-cream maker so that he could exert absolute control over what went into the frozen dessert.

Eager to develop his skills, he attended several courses organised by leading hotels to learn more about creating healthy food. He also got tips from a team of nutritionists who take care of children with cancer at a hospital in Bangkok where Chairit and his pals also do voluntary work from time to time. And from all this information he was able to devise a recipe for a low-sugar ice-cream made from cow’s milk.

Chairit Imjaroen, founder of Farmsook Ice-cream.

“It took time to adjust the ingredients, but what we settled on finally is a much healthier choice for children,” he said, revealing that the sugar content of his ice-cream is only 11%.

“It always makes us glad to see how the children’s eyes light up as they’re raising that first scoop of ice-cream to their lips.”

After writing a piece about his low-sugar ice-cream for his blog and posting photos of this and other voluntary activities of his on social media sites, Chairit began to get lots of emails from people anxious to purchase some of his ice-cream and give it to needy kids.

All this encouragement and moral support gave Chairit the confidence to enter a contest organised by the Thai Social Enterprise Office to find the most worthy social or environmental enterprise set up to tackle a specific social problem by generating income through the sale of products.

Chairit spreads the word about his social enterprise at a promotional event.

His low-sugar ice-cream project won the hearts of the committee and he walked away with first prize in the healthy-foods category and a cheque for 50,000 baht. And that was the starting point for a community venture he decided to call Farmsook Ice-cream.

Using “farm” in the title is meant to let consumers know that the ice-cream is made from real milk, he explained, while “sook” is the Thai word for “happy”.

“Because it makes me happy to make ice-cream. And if you give someone an ice-cream you, too, will be happy all day,” he enthused.

To put his award-winning project into effect, Chairit, now 42, spent the prize money on a commercial ice-cream maker and a supply of ingredients. He taught children resident in the two homes how to use the new machine and drew up a marketing plan that includes finding new buyers.

“Now I purchase ice-cream made by the children and sell it to customers,” he explained.

It was probably inevitable, given the nature of this business, that Chairit would become the target for accusations of child-labour abuse.

“I knew that whenever money is involved, problems always crop up,” he said. To take the wind out of his decorators’ sails, he went into detail about the finances of this social enterprise. He explained that while a 4oz cup of Farmsook ice-cream retails for 40 baht, the wholesale price is 28 baht. The unit cost of ingredients accounts for 20 baht in the wholesale figure; the children who make the ice-cream receive 7 baht for each cup sold; and the remaining one baht goes into a fund to buy equipment and raw materials for any further groups of children who may decide to join the Farmsook programme.

Some of the profits are used to pay a teacher hired to teach English to the children, Chairit said, going on to explain that the children make ice-cream in their spare time under the supervision of officials running the homes in which they reside; the kids work for less than three hours a day, twice a week, he added.

“People who don’t understand the overall concept have said to me, ‘If you want to help children so much, why don’t you just make a donation to some charitable foundation?’. But, you know, the skills the children learn from making ice-cream could be useful to them in future years. I am willing to volunteer my time, but I want to use that time to do things that pique my interest while also giving something back to the community. My way requires an input of planning expertise and creativity rather than money,” he reasoned. Chairit hopes that involvement in this group activity will give emotional support to the more withdrawn or isolated children and help draw them out of their shells.

“It’s amazing how much they can learn in such a short period of time,” he said.

A girl, now aged 19 but whose name must be withheld, said that taking part in Chairit’s programme gave her the idea of opening up a small bakery shop of her own after graduation. She is currently doing a food-and-beverage course at a vocational school in Bangkok.

“Making ice-cream was exciting and I found it a great way of occupying my free time,” she said. Ronasit Poomma, now a regular Farmsook customer who orders about 150 cups of ice-cream from Chairit weekly for his staff members, said he first came across the project on YouTube and was impressed.

“I give it the thumbs-up. Chairit is someone who dares to make difference for the sake of others,” Ronasit said. “We’re glad to be able to support his creative project and be part of making a contribution to the lives of these children.”

A business that is also a social enterprise is a very new concept to many people, Ronasit noted, reasoning that this is why some members of his staff didn’t understand Chairit’s motives when he first turned up at the office to give a presentation on his product and the idea behind the project.

“For me, it’s clear what his social objectives are and how the performance of a business like this can be measured,” Ronasit said. And the quality of Chairit’s product is what sealed the deal, apparently.

“He also makes a delicious difference to people’s lives. You know, even if someone has a good business plan and lots of support, if the product isn’t any good it’ll be difficult to sell,” reasoned Ronasit, who is acting managing director of Picnic Corporation.

At the moment Farmsook products are mainly sold through word of mouth. Business sustainability will be a big challenge for Chairit, but he is aware of this and is taking steps to market his ice-cream to a wider section of the general public.

“When we sell our ice-cream at a special event, I try to educate people about my project. Our ice-cream is unlike any other. It’s more than just healthy; it brings real joy to people in the community.”

And it’s important, Chairit said, to support the community that we are part of in every way possible. He is hoping that his business example will inspire many other people to find interactive ways to tackle social any problems or deficiencies that exist in their own neighbourhoods.

“This is a fun way of giving,” he said, “and it’s always better to give than to receive, isn’t it?”

Baan Sanrak is located on Phutthamonthon Sai 4 Road in Nakhon Pathom province.
Baan Nok Kamin is on Serithai Road in Bangkok’s Bang Kapi district.

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About the author

Writer: Sukhumaporn Laiyok
Position: Reporter

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