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A Very Chocolatey Education

Wow. What a day. After arriving well after 11PM last night, we started the day bright and early in Quito, the capital city. Miriam met us after breakfast for a quick hola and at the same time Frank from Mindo Chocolates (mindochocolate.com/) also joined our group.

After breakfast, we talked a little bit about what the day would bring and while we were visiting, Guy (pronounced Gi) a sign maker from Montreal decided our group looked like fun and since his friends hadn’t arrived from LA, he asked to join us on our travels.

GoBe Girls (Juliette and Jody) with Jeff Stern

We started the day with a chocolate tasting with our friend – Jeff Stern a super chocolatier and owner of Gianduja Chocolate (Irresistible – check him out at giandujachocolate.com). Jeff filled us in on the evolution of the cacao tree and how in the past two months the first group of “super cacao” trees has produced. These trees yield much more and the taste and aroma is superior. There is currently only one plantation that is producing – and they already have an enormous amount of demand – which is expected to grow.

We sampled cacao and Jeff’s dark chocolate-covered golden berries (a lot like gogi berries). The combination of tart and sweet was amazing. The dehydrated berries taste like a cross between an apricot and a cranberry. Deliciouso.

After lunch, we met with Jose Valdivieso, the Director of Conservacion & Desarrollo (Conservation & Development). The mission of this organization is to fight poverty. They specialize in providing support and education to 40,000 cacao producers in Ecuador (there are about 130,000). Jose spoke at length about the introduction of the super cacao variety, which from his perspective will be a great thing for the cacao industry. Currently, Ecuador produces only 2-3% of the world’s yield, but it is considered the highest quality. Over the next several years, he expects demand to exceed production.

Jose is doing excellent work. He (and 300 other people associated with his organization) are continually working to create synergies and opportunities that will expand Ecuador’s growing agri-tourism market.

There are a lot of parallels that can be drawn between Michigan and Ecuador. The most significant being the reliance on agriculture as an economic stimulator. And then there is the constant struggle of producers/farmers who in addition to knowing the best possible way to coax the most out of their land, must also think about the end-result and focus on growing their businesses and becoming sustainable.

Ecuadorians are incredibly optimistic and entrepreneurial people. I think Frank from Mindo put it best this morning when he said: “People always ask me how come you guys are always happy? And I say, because we eat chocolate.”

That’s one way of looking at it.

Tomorrow we travel south to see our friend Samuel VonRutte (aka the chocolate purist). He operates a plantation and grows 250 acres of the highest-quality tradicional cacao. His chocolate is superior in taste (we’ll be bringing some back for sure) and surrounded by all that chocolate, you can imagine, Samuel is one happy guy.

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Our GoBe Monster

Laura, of LolaMade monsters here in Minneapolis, made us our very own GoBe monster, a talisman of good luck indeed. Check her out! Follow the adventures of our GoBe monster through Ecuador and check out other LolaMade ceatures here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/LolaMade

Salinas de Guaranda: A model for indigenous rights and microenterprise

Another stop on our upcoming trip to Ecuador … Salinas De Guaranda.

Salinas has become an example of community-owned economic enterpise in Ecuador. Famous for their production of high quality cheese exported to European markets, Salinas also has coopertively-owned manufacturing facilities for sausage, chocolate, candies, mushrooms, yarn and sugar. 

Salinas is surrounded by meadows and mountains of the beautiful Andean valley at an altitude of 3550 meters. Salinas was established as a civil parish in 1884. At that time the only source of work was in the area’s aSalinas De Guarandample salt mines. It was laborious work to evaporate the salt water . The process involves cooking the salt water in large pots to dry the content and shape the remaining salt residue into balls for transport and resell.  

The entire community has been organized into various economic development cooperatives and Salinas residents have been successful   in creating jobs resulting  in a stable and progressive economy, strictly using resources of the area.

Salinas also has several attractions including majestic rock outcroppings, and the Chazojuan waterfall.  The area has endemic fauna like the tiger and unique mountain birds.

mLive Story – Ecuador: Chocola-Tour has ties to Michigan

Many thanks to Kim Schneider, our dear friend and exceptional travel writer, for this compelling piece. Kim’s account eloquently captures the motivation behind Go-Be …. the human connection that ultimately feeds us all.

Click here to read the article – Ecuador: Chocola-tour has Ties to Michigan

Fermentation

Take the Chocolate Challenge

Chocolate Exhibit

Chocolate Exhibit

Today in Minneapolis the third city-wide snow emergency this year has been declared and our streets are blanketed with several feet of snow.  While I’ve always been a lover of a good snowfall, the warmer climates of the Global South are beckoning. GoBe’s January Chocolate adventure to Ecuador can’t some soon enough! And, thanks to the good folks at the Minnesota Historical society, I’m lucky to have access to the perfect primer for the trip. Chocolate is on exhibit at the Minnesota History Center (just a few short miles away in St. Paul), on loan from Chicago’s Field Museum.  

Chocolate will engage your senses and reveal facets of this sumptuous sweet that you’ve never thought about before. You’ll explore the plant, the products, and the culture of chocolate through the lenses of science, history, and popular culture.

Hone your chocolate knowledge with this quick chocolate challenge: Chocolate Challenge

And if you want to learn more, join us on the Pod to Port tour of Chocolate January 7th -17th (more information in previous post). It promises to be a delicious journey.

January 2011 Trip to Ecuador: The Origin of Chocolate and the Celebration of Indigenous Culture

The Origin of Chocolate and the Celebration of Indigenous Culture  January 7 – 17th, 2011

Join us on an adventure to Ecuador and experience the wonders of one of our world’s most coveted treats – chocolate. We’ll visit cacao farmers and learn about the product of chocolate , pod to the port. No trip to Ecuador would be complete without time to revel in the spectacular landscape and vibrant indigenous cultures of the country so we’ll treat you to a few off-the-beaten path Ecuadoran treasures. We’ll stop for a night in Mindo where Michigan/Ecuadoran couple, Barbara and Jose, operate Mindo Chocolate (mindochocolate.com). The final days of our trip will be spent in the company of Miriam and Jamie Vasquez (and their families) who will host us in their rural indigenous community, Peguche,  sharing their vibrant Kwiche culture and sharing their love for chocolate-making and entrepreneurship.

Click here for the full itinerary for the trip: GoBe January 2011 Ecuador Trip

  Contact Jody Treter with questions at (231) 342-0696 or jodytreter@gmail.com 

Miriam talks about her dream .. the Casa de Cacao

In this series of interviews, Miriam explains her vision for the Casa De Cacao and how this new microenterprise will benefit her family and her entire community.

Many thanks to our dear friend, Kim Schneider, for producing and editing these interviews with Miriam,  her husband (Luiz) and Mimi Wheeler.