Hello and good day!
Back in the 1960's land reform was carried out in Peru.
Land that was long owned by a few dozen aristocratic families was distributed back to the people through a legal construct called campesino communities. "Campesino" loosely means "country folk" in English. I know that is a funny way of putting it, but it is the truth.
The campesino communities are non-profit entities who lease land on 99 year leases.The leases can be bought and sold like titles and for all intents and purposes, the lessor of the land has ownership rights.
Out where we buy cacao, the government made available a budget to build rice mills in addition to distributing land through the campesino communities. It was obvious that rice would be one of the main cash crops. But rice buyers won't come out and buy rice unless it is milled. Back in the 1960s, the only mills were in the big city of Jaen.
These days, it is a two hour drive from Jaen to the district of Huarango where we buy cacao, if the roads aren't flooded.The road was in much worse shape 50 years ago. This made it prohibitvely difficult to engage in rice farming. Farmers, none of whom owned cars, would have to find a way to travel into Jaen with sacks upon sacks of unmilled rice along a terrible road. It would have been ten hours in each direction probably.
This situation was the impetus for building rice mills out in campo and it turned out well.The only problem was that too many rice mills were built. There was too much capacity and not enough man power to run the mills and keep them well maintained. As a result, when we decided to build a cacao processing facility out in campo, there were several defunct rice mills available.
The first mill we rented had a huge rice husk mountain behind it. The mountain was 50 feet tall and 200-300 feet long. You could hike up it and walk around for a while. The view from up there was phenomenal. Unfortunately, the rice husk mountain grew so large that it started leaning up against a back wall, which it caved in.
Also, the mill had been abandoned for so long that it had fallen into great disrepair. We had to spend a lot of time, money, and elbow grease getting that place back into working condition.
A lot of the folks in town weren't necessarily on board with us coming in and taking over that rice mill.The reasoning was that the mill was built for the use of the community, not a bunch of gringos.
However, cooler heads prevailed in the end because it was undeniably better for us to get the mill into use again somehow and we would create good new jobs in town as a result.
After clearing out the bug and rodent infestation, laying down polished concrete in our fermentation room, knocking down some walls and building others, and laying in new plumbing, it was time for us to bring in the fermenter boxes and dryer beds.
This next image cracks me up to think about.Brian already had a lot of equipment built. It was in use at our previous facility in Jaen.Brian and our carpenter Javier broke down all of the cacao processing implements and drove them out to Puerto Ciruelo.
The river in front of Puerto Ciruelo had to be crossed by a slow floating barge platform at that time.It was a big, grey, square platform pulled along a cable by the river's current.
There went Brian, the new gringo coming to live in town, the only gringo who had ever lived out there, the only gringo most of the people in town had ever seen or met, floating across the river on the platform, with his wooden boxes and tables. It must have felt to everybody involved as if they were living in a dream.
Anyhow, we processed award winning cacao and chocolate for two years in that old rice mill. We had to move when the rice husk mountain caught fire and started blowing smoke into our facility. We moved into another defunct rice mill up the road, which also needed to be completely rebuilt.
By that time though, we had the respect and cooperation of the community, and a good stable team of smart, hard workers, and it went more smoothly. We stayed in that second rice mill for 9 long years. Every year we rented more and more of the surrounding land and kept building it out.
Now we are up in a more strategic location closer to the farming communities we serve, in a village called Cigarro De Oro, the golden cigarette. I really do love thinking about my brother Brian floating cacao processing equipment across the river.
That moment has a lot going for it. Adventurousness.
The spectacle of a foreigner coming to settle where almost no foreigners have ever come before.The pride and excitement of a new industry in town.
The knowledge that people are watching and judging your every move. The magnitude of the challenge.The risk of spending money on such a venture.
It is a rich moment.
And the result is a real product that is still available and produced in the same way up to this very day. It is the chocolate on our website and in our shops.
Thanks so much for your time today.I hope that you have a truly blessed day!
Do you have a friend who wants to subscribe to the newsletter? Send them to www.fortunatochocolate.com and have them fill out the pop up!
Follow us on Instagram - @fortunatono4