Student-led company supports agriculture in developing nations: 'Most important part is the people'

MILWAUKEE -- A Milwaukee college student is going global -- founding a company that supports agriculture in developing nations.

When they sat down to work on a class project three years ago, Joshua Shefner and his classmates had no idea it would lead to an international business.

"I took the idea and ran with it," Shefner said.

Joshua Shefner

The engineering students teamed up with a nonprofit and traveled to Africa to build passive solar dehydrators.

"Passive solar dehydrators work without electricity. It's low-cost, built with local materials," Shefner said.

In some villages, farmers produce more fruit than they can sell.

"There are two million mangoes that are grown and wasted each year in this community alone," Shefner said.

Rather than let that fruit go to waste, Shefner and his team taught the farmers how to safely dehydrate their fruit.

Joshua Shefner

"Dried mango, dried pineapple, dried coconut, dried papaya, dried guava," Shefner said.

Then they created Blue Mangoes -- a crowdsource-funded company to sell the all-natural, organic, dried fruit in Milwaukee.

"We'll have our first products in February," Shefner said.

With a price tag of $3 to $4 a bag, the company's profit margin is small, but its impact is enormous. Blue Mangoes buys from more than 100 farms, providing local workers income and their families opportunity.

Joshua Shefner

"The women's cooperative we formed there is hoping to use the money to get more kids into the private school, and each community has their own little story like that," Shefner said.

Each package will include the story of the community it was grown in -- and how their lives are a little sweeter thanks to some Milwaukee students.

"To us, the most important part is the people," Shefner said.

Outpost Natural Foods has agreed to sell Blue Mangoes dried fruit in its Milwaukee stores beginning in February. The company will also sell its product online. If you would like more information, you are invited to visit