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Wet And Barefoot

Wet And Barefoot

Hello and good day!

When new cacao farmers decide to join our project, or when existing farm partners decide to expand their planting, many of them go to the clone garden that we sponsor to pick up baby trees.

The trees in the nursery are what we call "mother tree" clones.

The original mother tree is from the farm of Don Fortunato Colala, the fellow who our company is named after.

Back in 2009, we worked with the USDA to do genetic testing on cacao trees all throughout the canyon where we operate in northern Peru.

When the results came back, we learned that every single sample that we sent in was at least a 98% pure expression of a thought to be extinct genetic variety of cacao called Nacional.

One tree, however, was a 99.99% pure expression. This is the mother tree.

It was the fourth sample that we took from Fortunato's farm, and this is how we came up with the name of our initial products, which were, and still are, called Fortunato No. 4.

When we began our cacao buying and processing journey, the trend out in campo was towards pulling up the native cacao variety, Nacional, and replacing it with industrially bred genetic hybrids.

The economics of life in the jungle imposes this decision on a lot of folks.

If the price per unit is low, and non-negotiable, the only way to make more money is to increase volume. This is the promise of hybrid cacao trees.

They are bred for yield and disease resistance. Farmers are able to produce more units.

The sacrifice is flavor.

In general, industrial cacao trees produce very bland chocolate.

Also, their artificially high yield exacts a price from the soil.

Nutrients are used up faster than they can be replenished.

The trees are not well adapted to the environment they find themselves living in. Whereas Nacional trees, being heirloom and native, are symbiotic with the environment.

Native trees give more to the ecosystem than they take, which is regenerative.

This allows for an agroforestry style of farming in which the natural environment thrives while simultaneously providing better economics for farmers.

Industrial hybrid trees kill off surrounding plants over time, which slowly, but surely, eliminates the option of having a multi-crop farm, which the campo farms all plant.

I've written about all of this many times before, but every time I write about it anew, my heart begins to beat fast, and I get fired up.

It's so nice to come up with a solution that makes solid sense and that actually works in real life.

Replanting pure Nacional has allowed us to produce delicious chocolate and our cacao farm partners have been able to earn a much better living than they otherwise would have.

Now here is something that I've never had the opportunity to write about.

I'm happy to tell you about it, because it isn't something that most chocolate companies would even think to mention. It is the kind of thing you would only know if you have lived and worked up close and personal with cacao farmers.

The work of cacao farming is carried out in a climate of extreme heat.

Also, the cacao harvest coincides with the rainiest part of the year. This means that cacao farming is very wet, slippery, and muddy work.

As a result of the heat, most farmers wear sandals or go barefoot.

Men tend to work shirtless.

Women wear tank tops.

Everybody wears shorts or skirts while they work.

 I wrote about scars and how every scar has a story.

Out in campo, there are a lot of scars on people's bodies.

This is a function of doing hard, physical labor, while scantily clad, and in an environment that is mushy and slippery.

A cacao pod is roughly the shape and size of an American football and has a husk the thickness of a squash's husk. Chocolate is made from the seeds inside the husk. To break the husk open, you either have to crack it with a rock, or cut it with a machete.

We encourage using rocks, but machetes are a cacao farmer's tool of choice and are ubiquitous.

Imagine sitting on a stool in the rain in front of your house, holding a wet and slippery football in one hand and trying to hack it in half with a machete in your other hand.

Now imagine doing that all day every day, hacking away at hundreds and hundreds of footballs per day. It only stands to reason that sooner or later, one of the footballs will slip out of your hand and you'll cut yourself.

Scars on hands from machete cuts are super common out in campo.

To plant new cacao trees requires tilling the land in preparation for planting. The most common method for tilling out in the district of Huarango is a furrower pulled by oxen.

In the United States, furrowers are usually machine operated.

But that is not the case in campo. Most folks still till the land using animal power.

The style of furrower that you see a lot is an inverted triangle with wooden handles sticking out of the back for farmers to grab onto.

On the bottom of the furrower there are a series of shovel heads that dig into the soil as the furrower is pulled along. The farmer walks behind the furrower, holding the handles and managing the balance of the inverted triangle.

Furrowers can easily tip over to one side or the other and it takes real strength and attention to maintain them upright. Some furrowers have a little wooden platform for the farmer to stand on, so that the farmer doesn't have to walk all day.

As mentioned above, the work of tilling is done by farmers who are barefoot or wearing sandals.

It is not wide-open flat plantation style terrain out there. The land is bumpy and uneven, and farmers have to navigate the oxen and equipment through multi crop farms.

Furrowers tip over often, and the jerkiness of the work throws a lot of people forward. This causes a lot of foot and leg injuries and a ton of scars.

My brother, living in campo, and not wanting to stand idly by while hard work was being done, has driven many furrowers over the years and has had many close calls.

Thankfully, he managed to evade any serious mishaps.

Culturally, our cacao farm partners are extremely stoic and tough. They accept their work and its risks with amazing equanimity.

This is yet another reason to choose chocolate companies who operate ethically and pay their cacao farmers fairly.

Everywhere in the world, not just where we operate, people are putting their bodies at risk so that chocolate lovers can enjoy something delicious.

An economic structure that keeps them toiling in inescapable poverty is insult to injury.

Thank you so much for time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!


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