Hello and good day!
We buy cacao from about 500 small hold, multi-generational family farms. Out on those farms, the whole family works. The children work. The old folks work for as long as their bodies can hold up.
The kids go to school, which requires hiking several miles in the morning and several miles back in the afternoon. And when they have time, they help out on the farms.
Take a look at the photo.
This kid is a great kid. He loves working on his family cacao farm. Maybe he loves it a little bit too much. From a very young age, he begged his parents to let him grab a machete and start climbing up in trees to cut down cacao pods.
Given that it is part of the local culture for kids to help with farm work and given that machetes are a ubiquitous tool out in the jungle, it was only natural that this young man would be swinging a blade from a young age.
Unfortunately, he cut off part of his finger.
But the interesting thing is that this young fellow brandishes his finger as a point of pride. He beams whenever he shows it off to anybody and he is always looking for somebody new to show it off to.
And the kid loves cacao farming. He is one of the youngsters most likely to stay and take over his farm when he gets older.
By the way, his family farm is one of the most stunningly beautiful farms in the entire canyon. It is so well taken care of, and the trees are incredibly happy, healthy, and productive. The Vargas family takes great pride in their cacao.
I've mentioned it many, many times before, but chocolate is only fancy and elegant and luxurious right at the very end. Most of the process is extreme blue-collar work and the prospect of physical harm is always present.
This picture got me thinking about how a lot of beauty starts off with gruffness.
Yesterday, out in front of one of our chocolate shops, I started watching a man who was sitting on a bench outside of a local bank. The bank is two doors down from us and this fellow was sitting next to the entrance. I was walking around with a yellow sign that said, "Free Frozen Chocolate Bananas".
It is getting hot here and we are transitioning from free hot chocolate to free frozen chocolate bananas.
Anyhow, I saw this man walk over and sit on the bench. He was a pretty gruff looking character. He was heavy set, with a round belly sticking out and pushing up against a long, loose t-shirt. He was wearing baggy faded blue jeans. He had a clean shaved bald head, earrings in each ear, a thick beard with sideburns going all the way to his temples, and tattoos all over his forearms.
I walked by and offered him a free frozen chocolate banana, but he declined. His voice was raspy and graveled. He just sat there on the bench, hunched over, with his forearms on his thighs, looking down at the ground.
He appeared to just be sitting there thinking, and every minute or so he took out a vape pen and vaped a drag. I walked by several times, and he wasn't moving.
I couldn't help but wonder what his deal was. Then on my sixth or seventh pass, an elderly couple came walking out of the bank. The wife was in good shape. She had paperwork in her hands and held the door open for her husband. The husband was very frail and skinny.
He was bald, with short gray hair around the perimeter of his head. He had on glasses and was walking slowly behind a walker, one tiny little shaky step at a time. As soon as the couple came out, the gruff fellow popped up and put his vape pen in his pocket.
He grabbed the old man by his arm and slowly walked next to him. It was his dad. The mom walked ahead and opened the passenger side door. Then she went to the back of the car and opened up the trunk.
The son and dad walked very slowly down a flight of three small steps and to the curb where the car was parked. At the curb, the mom came over and grabbed the walker and put it in the trunk.
Now the dad was completely dependent on his son. The son lovingly held his dad up and delicately helped him step down the curb and climb into the car. It took a long time because the dad was so frail and unstable and couldn't move well. The son was patient and never tried to hurry his father. One baby step at a time, the father finally was able to sit in his seat.
The son gave the dad a little pat on the shoulder and made ready to climb into the backseat of the car. Before the son could walk away, I heard the dad whisper softly.
"Come," he said, almost groaning. It took all his effort to get that word out. The gruff looking son slid back over to the open passenger side door.
"Yes dad?" he said. He crouched down, sticking his head into the door so that he could hear his dad better.
The dad lifted up his bony hands with great effort and put them on either side of his grown boy's cheeks. "Thank you," he mouthed silently, while managing a very feeble smile. Just to smile required great effort and fortitude on the part of the old man.
"I love you dad," said the son, putting both of his hands on the old man's shoulders. Then the son closed the passenger side door and climbed into the back seat of the car. The mom turned on the car and the family drove off. The boy had come to help his parents with their banking.
I stood there with a yellow free frozen banana sign hanging around my neck, teary eyed. A lot of beauty can be found in gruffness.
Thank you so much for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!