Chocolate Artisan Profile: The Do-Gooders

Cacao growing is a brutal and harsh endeavor. It can only happen near the equator in some of the most challenging climates on earth, and most of the small farmers who grow it live in poverty, subject to the whims of weather, outside buyers, and political unrest. One of the major developments in the last few years have come from chocolate makers determined to give the farmers more equity in the bean-to-bar process.

There are too many fair trade companies to mention here, so we will just highlight a few. Go to their websites for more information and to buy their chocolate.

Tava - Tava is an Australian company that is deep in the true grit of growing cacao. They are currently moving their facilities and so their chocolate sales are down for the moment, but we are impressed by Langdon Stevenson and Samantha Madell's commitment to South Pacific cacao growers. Samantha even contracted malaria on a recent visit to one of their farm partners! (She's fine now.)

Akinosie - Askinosie is a chocolate company with a funny website and a serious mission. Their website offers some hefty opportunities for corporations' Christmas shopping (i.e., a million dollar gift certificate for Askinosie chocolate) but their mission is clear: share profits fairly with farmers. Shawn Askinosie, the owner, spent 19 years as a criminal defense lawyer then got obsessed with chocolate. He just returned from a trip to Mexico to sign a new profit-sharing deal with his farmers.

Taza - Not to be confused with Tava, Taza is a Massachusetts-based company that works with farmers in the Dominican Republic as well as farmers in Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico. They got their start making wonderful drinking chocolate inspired by founder Alex Whitmore's trips to Mexico, and now they produce fine chocolate with grinders also brought back from Mexico.

Grenada - Supposedly the world's smallest chocolate house, Grenada is not only working as a co-op with local cacao farmers, but also an organic company committed to using solar power. They produce some wonderful chocolate from their 150 acres of cacao trees in Grenada.

The most successful efforts seem to be happening when the farmers are linked to strong economic support - not just given higher prices out of charity or Western good will. Some buyers and artisans are working to truly change the economic conditions on behalf of the growers, and as the market shifts this can only benefit them.