VFF's philanthropic work began over 20 years ago with the simple idea of being directly involved in helping people to help themselves. We've come a long way since then, and believe in the model of continuity and gaining strength and momentum through high-impact networking.
The Vatheuer Family Foundation
Hans Jörg Vatheuer made his career as a successful civil engineer, business owner, and land developer in Portland, Oregon. In the early 1990's he volunteered his time in a humanitarian mission to Oaxaca, a poor state in Southern Mexico. The group went into the mountains of rural Oaxaca to install a sanitary water system for a community. He was surprised that the U.S. sponsor had obviously not considered realistic long-term goals or lasting commitment as a critical component of its work. Following this trip, he decided to return on his own to finish the water system, and organized and built water systems in two other communities.
After spending much time in the mountain communities, Hans began to realize the people had many potential needs, such as waste water disposal, diet supplementation, health services and education, and reliable income. He wanted to help and tried various projects such as raising rabbits, introducing novel vegetable and berry crops, and building a central community bathroom, shower and laundry facility. One project led to another, and soon he was researching how to grow fruit trees after concluding that a consistent source of income would help the people the most.
In 1996, Hans founded the Vatheuer Family Foundation. The mission of the Foundation at its inception was to improve the quality of life of the indigenous population and to further the local economy through agricultural projects that would ultimately be self-sustaining and provide a vital source of income. Hans started planting apple trees in 1995, after having located several varieties from Southwest Asia that could withstand the year-round temperate climate of Oaxaca. By 2005, the Foundation was working with growers in 12 rural mountain communities, with thousands of apple and peach trees that were bearing fruit and selling in the local markets in the city. Some villagers also began producing rootstock and grafting thousands of apple and peach trees which were sold to various communities, government and private projects.
While Hans was back home in Portland, his trusted project manager Edgar Martinez nurtured the projects along, teaching the people new techniques, problem solving, and coordinating all activities. Edgar was instrumental in founding Proyectos Para un Futuro Mejor and Frutos de la Mixteca. These two organizations represent the non-profit and business activities of VFF in Mexico, respectively.
In 2006, work began on a fruit processing plant near the city of Oaxaca. The communities took turns sending teams of men to provide labor. By April 2009, fruit processing equipment was assembled and installed, and interviews for a food engineer were underway. The plant began experimental trials of producing various dehydrated fruit, including locally grown pineapple and mango, and jams from the apples and peaches in our program. These original products met with varying degrees of success and the current focus of the processing plant is to develop new products with real market potential, and to strengthen local market relationships and partnerships.
Hans passed away in 2013 and left a legacy of hope and energy to the next generation of VFF leadership. In addition to the projects in Mexico, VFF provides scholarships at Portland State University, funds medical research at Oregon Health and Science University, and is partnering with several other organizations, both in Mexico and the United States.
Our model continues to seek the most effective means possible to achieve our goals, which for us has meant moving from an independent experimental basis to a more collaborative approach. As our Foundation grows, we hope to continue gaining insight from our partners and resources by working together towards mutually beneficial results.