At the seventh annual Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden http://www.fairchildgarden.org/ Chocolate Festival, January 25-27, 2013, I took an informal survey of the participating chocolatiers and vendors. “Where does your chocolate come from, and is it Fair Trade?” I asked.
To my delight, a majority knew the country of origin of the chocolates they were selling and offering as samples – and most of those said their products contained Fair Trade chocolate.
A word of explanation: Chocolate is sweet, but many of the people who grow it live bitter lives. Chocolate comes from the seed pods of a small tree, Theobroma cacao, that grows in equatorial regions around the globe. Many cocoa growers struggle in misery and poverty, enduring a subsistence economy, child slavery, and the duplicity of brokers who falsify weights and misquote prices.
The Fair Trade movement strives to end exploitation of indigenous farmers and agricultural workers, promote sustainability, improve productivity, and promote social and economic development. “Fair Trade certification ensures that farmers receive a fair price, allows farmers to invest in techniques that bring out the flavors of the region, and strictly prohibits slave and child labor,” says the Fair Trade USA Web site.
One vendor told me his chocolate came from Belgium and Venezuela.
Venezuela’s cacao industry has a relatively good human-rights record and a high-quality product. Venezuela exports most of its cacao to be made into chocolate elsewhere, though with some effort you can find Venezuelan-made chocolate.
Belgium, however, is not an equatorial country and doesn’t grow cacao. Chocolate from Belgium had to be produced using cacao imported from somewhere else – probably equatorial African nations such as Nigeria or the Ivory Coast, where unfair trade practices among cacao workers have been all too well documented.
Fair Trade and then some
At the other end of the spectrum, Fair Trade is necessary but not sufficient, says Santiago Peralta, co-owner of Pacari Ecuadorian Organic Chocolate. His family-owned company’s products have U.S. Department of Agriculture organic certification. They also are Kosher Pareve (non-dairy) and contain sunflower lecithin (an emulsifier and lubricant), which means people allergic to milk and to soybeans (the most common lecithin source) can eat them.
Peralta is concerned with the sustainability of Ecuador’s ecosystem, and strives to ensure that the growing process does no environmental harm and maintains Ecuadorian cacao’s unique genetic stock. Natural cross-pollination reduces the risk of a plague ravaging Ecuador’s trees, he explains, while supporting small family farms maintains a reservoir of genetic material into which other countries could tap if necessary. Pacari pays above-market prices for its cacao, and offers training and support to help the farmers enhance their productivity while maintaining their sustainable farming methods.
Pacari is receiving international recognition for its efforts and approach. In recent months, the firm received a gold award in the 2012 International Chocolate Awards for the best dark plain chocolate bar, and Peralta won the 2013 Outstanding Chocolate Maker award from the Fine Chocolate Industry Association.
Other festival activities
The festival also included:
• Choco-Walk, an exploration of the history and lure of cacao in the garden’s rainforest area.
• Bean to Bar, an interactive exhibit from Mars, Inc., www.mars.com/ that included hands-on demonstrations, informative stories, and samples of hot chocolate made from a 19th Century recipe.
• A plant sale featuring chocolate trees and chocolate orchids.
• Chocolate Spa, offering a variety of spa treatments using chocolate.
• Beer tasting. Gold Coast Brewing brought Brooklyn Brown Ale, Abita Turbodog and Purple Haze, and Schnebly Gator Tail Ale. Whole Foods Market had Young’s Double Chocolate Stout and Terrapin Moo Hoo. Gold Coast Brewing also offered information on how to pair its beers with chocolate.
• Yoga classes for adults and children by Rina Yoga.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is at 10901 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables FL 33156, phone 305-667-1651.
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