The Field of Chocolate Dreams

After four years of research into the emerging field of Hawaiian Chocolate and Cacao, taking several workshops, networking, reading up on the topic and a little planning it was finally time to put some cacao plants into the ground. In September 2013 I bought 250 small baby cacao seedlings from one of the Cacao farmers and Hawaii Chocolate pioneer, Tom Sharkey. A team of yard workers helped me to plant the little trees with smiles but a lot of labor and hard work whilst having the warm Hawaiian sun streaming down on their backs. It was an exciting moment to finally see the vision and some years of a dream come to life one plant at a time. A beautiful scene indeed.

It turned into December and I just returned from a trip to Europe. I called Sharkey to come and see my little field of dreams and how it was progressing. We drove to the orchard and he stepped out of his car ahead of me. The small trees were all still in their protective hoops to prevent them from being eaten by the Chinese rose beetle. I could not see the trees from the car but…I could see Sharkey’s face, and it wasn’t smiling at all as he walked from tree to tree looking down into each hoop. In fact, his face looked kind of gray and pretty concerned.

I hurriedly got out of my car to join him and heard him call out to me that, this one is dead…this one too is dead. They are all dead! As I ran to the field we looked down into each and every hoop confirming they were all indeed dead. From lush and green happy little trees they had turned into brown, dead sticks with no life at all. Whatever could have killed them all?!

Did the Chocolate Dream end here?

Asking around among all the people working around the fields, I finally tracked down the sad mystery. One of the guys who helped out with our yards had seen what he perceived was me ‘breaking my back’ picking weeds around the cacao. I in fact enjoyed taking care of them as it was a work of love, but he was right, handpicking wasn’t a sustainable long term solution. To kindly help me out he wanted to kill the weeds more effectively and had very carefully sprayed some roundup, weed killer around the plants. He had been extremely careful and made sure not to come into contact with the cacao plants, besides they were covered with protective hoops with a pretty thick mesh. In spite of having been so careful little drops of the spray must have been carried by the wind on to the baby plants or the soil had been soaking up sufficient amount to kill the fresh plants from the roots. It was just quite a shock to him too to discover what had happened and he was very remorseful.

As it is very costly both with plants and the labor, I was left not being sure when or even if I was going to be able to re-plant the whole field of dreams again. Did the chocolate dream end here? I simply did not know what to think so I just decided not to think at all. And…wait, there is always a silver lining in the dark clouds isn’t there?

The Silver lining and the spirit of Aloha

During these hours of dark clouds the rays of the Aloha spirit emerged in action and Sharkey who did chocolate out of love and knows the value and the dream first hand, truly felt me. Right there and then he offered me new plants and also said he wanted to introduce one of his farmers. A couple of years later I would come to realize that this very farmer, Colin Hart who still works with me is one of the major assets to the new and growing Hawaii Cacao and chocolate industry.

I met Colin some months later when it was about time to replant the new baby cacao seedlings. We instantly enjoyed working together and could spend several hours non-stop talking about the topic of Hawaiian Cacao and Chocolate. The way we worked together also felt right, was super fun and always filled with Aloha. A couple of years later he was invited to the University of Hawaii under a scholarship to do research in harvest, fermentation and post-fermentation practices. If you know a little about how chocolate is made you would know that there is a lot more to chocolate than what meets the pallets. Before I started this chocolate journey I personally did not know anything about how chocolate is made or even that the beans go through a fermentation process before the rest of the process. I was familiar with the unethical practices that was rampant in certain areas in the cacao industry where children are used for labor or forced labor, and that farmers sometimes are not paid fairly and even being enslaved. But what I was oblivious about was what happens between the time the beans leave the farm and reach the shelves of the stores. Good quality chocolate really starts at the farm and Colin having more than 12 years of practice plus being a total nerd in the subject really makes him good at what he does and Aloha Feels was getting the full benefit.

Colin Hart with baby Cacao trees 2014

The Blessing in Disguise 

In conclusion, from the devastating discovery of 250 dead trees came one of the biggest blessings to the quality of Aloha Feels chocolate, and that was a terrific farmer. Especially as the purpose of Aloha Feels is to advocate for fair labor and working with love we now had an ideal situation. Colin truly works with 100% passion and love for the Hawaiian Chocolate and Cacao industry and when he is handling the cacao I can see that he is in his element and sometimes I even see bliss on his face. He also introduced me to another absolutely critical piece in the puzzle, the producer and manufacturer Dylan Buttenbaugh the founder of Manoa Chocolate. But more about this in another blog. For me, unless I can work with a team that has great team spirit and works with aloha I would not be able to create my dream at all, so it all turned out well.

From the accidental death of the trees emerged our dream team working with all the Aloha Feelings. I count my blessings over and over and am deeply grateful to be able to share this work of love and aloha with those of you that enjoy our chocolate bars.

Thank you for reading and supporting our work. Let us know if you would like to read about any specific topic in the future. I plan to maybe write about how chocolate is made and what is special about the Hawaii Cacao and Chocolate industry in the next blog. For now, I hope you enjoy a piece of dark chocolate every day. It is good for your heart, your health and your mood.

Deliciously Yours and With Aloha!

Kazemaru

Aloha Feels

PS I find these short clips I recorded with Colin pretty fun. Take a look

Producing Chocolate in Hawaii &  The Why of Chocolate Business