Cacao Travels: Grenada – Cacao Enterprises & Other Sites

This is blog#3 on my Grenada-Dominican Republic cacao trip, highlighting travels around Grenada, particilaely visits to cacao/chocolate enterprises. (Part one covers my experience volunteering on a cacao farm.)

Grenada is beautiful. Check out some photos of the natural environs here (scroll through end of photo set), and a video with some bird sounds from the cacao farm.

It’s a small island that’s easy to explore, which I did quite a bit by running. The first day, I ran from my lodging in St. George’s up a mountain to Grand Etang Park, which was a delightful adventure with some heavy rain and wind thrown in. Several tourist busses passed me on the way up and down, and not once did I wish I were on them. Out in the open, going at a slower pace, I felt I was able to see more of the surroundings and experience them with all of my senses, including hearing jubilant music from several churches and diverse birds; scents of flowers, ocean and pure air; and the coolness of the day’s weather. On other mornings, I ran north and south on the road that passed by Kim’s farm, past a vibrant palette of mixed colonial-style homes (photos). (Interesting running-related side note: On the flight leaving Grenada, I sat next to Grenadian runner Kirani James, current 400m world record holder, until the flight attendant moved him to a seat with more legroom. I’m rooting for him in the Olympics. UPDATE – He won – Grenada’s first Olympic gold medal!!!)

On weekdays, I saw children and workers on their way to school and work. Schools have different uniforms, so the road becomes a rainbow of cute kids. One morning, I stopped to explore some petroglyphs (see photos) north of Kim’s farm, which I later photographed after rubbings proved lackluster. On my last day, I enjoyed one last walk through the beautiful farm path, then took a longer run up to Caribs’ Leap in Sauters, on the northern tip of the island. On this precipice overlooking the ocean, the Carib natives leaped to their deaths to escape the French invader-colonists

The bus system is user-friendly and efficient, making Grenada a great place to travel on the cheap. It’s a decentralized network of independent minivan operators that travel different interconnecting routes around the island. You can get on and off the bus anywhere along the road on which it travels. You just wave for it to stop to get on, and knock on the wall or roof to request a stop. Each van has a large sign on top of the windshield naming the towns/cities at its endpoints and other major cities in between, so they’re easy to spot. There’s a conductor in each vehicle who takes your fare (charged by distance), helps you find your stop and transfer.

I visited several sights through the week. On my first day, I walked around St. George’s, which was quite quiet, being Sunday. I explored the harbor, Fort George (see photos), an old church being restored (see photos) and the town (see photos), and enjoyed local food at a cafeteria-style restaurant. Midweek, I took the bus to Belmont Estate (see photos, and more photos), an agrotourism destination and one of the farms in the co-op that sells cacao to the Grenada Chocolate Company (GCC), and owns part of GCC. It features a multi-crop estate with significant cacao plantings, cacao fermentation and drying (the main site for GCC’s post-harvest processing), a restaurant, cultural performances, a small native animal zoo and GCC’s retail shop. It also has a credit union where I changed money—how nice to find a cooperative bank! I walked the farm on my own and took a tour focused on cacao processing, with a really well informed and energetic guide.

After the tour, I went to GCC’s retail shop, which has fabulous confections as well as their bars and powders. As the day was hot, I had to eat the confections right away (cashew, mango and ginger with drk chocolate). Wow, they were just sublime. Waiting for the bus back, I met Maurice, GCC’s confectioner, who was working in construction before landing his current job. GCC arranged training for him, and he’s clearly a natural, given the quality of his creations. (Photo of copper pots – once used to polish cacao so it looked pristine, in order to maximize prices.)

Kim took us on numerous excursions, being a fabulous host. A big highlight was visiting Diamond Estate, a soon-to-open chocolate factory in Victoria that’s co-owned by L.A. Burdick, a U.S. Chocolate Company, and the Grenada Cocoa Association. The Burdicks visited Grenada after Hurricane George and felt compelled to help cacao farmers rebuild and improve their incomes, leading to the creation of a non-profit that supports farmer training and crop improvement (funded, in part, by sales of L.A. Burdick’s Grenada-based products), and, eventually establish a joint venture chocolate company. Diamond Estate was once a working cacao farm and post-harvest processing facility, so both parties are excited to see the operation revived and expanded.

The factory will handle all steps from fermentation and drying to roasting, grinding, blending and tempering to produce bulk chocolate for L.A. Burdick and, hopefully, other customers, using beans from multiple origins. It’s a great economic development for the local community and stands to boost farmer prices through direct sales to a processing plant. Larry Burdick happened to be in Grenada the same week, and it was terrific to meet and talk with him. He’s really excited about the potential to improve the local economy and farmer livelihoods. Apart from this endeavor, the Burdick’s have been funding effort to map cacao genomics on the island and promote the planting of fine-flavor strains that would fetch a higher value for farmers. The Burdicks are a model for the chocolate industry, blending high quality, passion, innovation and ethics with a spirit of humility, collaboration and open-minded learning. Getting to know Larry left me hopeful about the potential to expand those values and inspired to help make that happen.

Visiting GCC, in Hermitage (see photos), was another highlight. It was later in the day so production had closed down, but we were able to tour the facility and I had a nice chat with Mott, a very impassioned, focused and inspired human being. GCC is a cacao factory in miniature, containing small-scale machinery, including a hand-made cacao butter press (built into a shop press) and winnower. GCC’s processes involve a lot of hand labor, from hand sorting beans to hand wrapping bars. The tropical humidity also adds moisture to the sugar, so they have to dry it before use. Solar panels provide much of the power to run the operation.

Mott founded GCC to create a visible, viable model of chocolate production grounded in fair labor and wage practices, as well as exceptional quality. GCC is partly owned by a co-op of cacao farmers, which Mott helped found as a way to obtain cacao and improve farmer livelihoods. Grenada regulates the cacao trade, so farmers cannot sell directly to independently companies. Production amounts to about 1,000 3.5 oz bars per day, per Mott. GCC’s bars are all dark chocolate: 60%, 71%, 82%, 100%, 71% with nibs and 71% with sea salt. They make an incredible cacao powder as well. The chocolate is incredible, and has won several awards. It’s not so easy to find, but the bars and powder can be found at some specialty food shops and Chocosphere.com.

In addition to these, we went to a rum factory near Hermitage and a nutmeg plant in Gouyave. The rum factory (see photos) has a large water wheel that powers the machinery used to press juice from fresh cane. From there, the juice is boiled down, then fermented using natural yeasts form the environment, then distilled in a wood-powered still that uses waste wood. We had a taste of rum, which had strong flavors of cream soda, and headed on our way.

The nutmeg plant (see photos) is one of only a few on the Island, since the nutmeg and mace trades are also controlled by the government, like the cocoa industry. Here, we took a short guided tour. Farmers bring freshly harvested nutmeg, enveloped in its bright red mace, to the facility. (A pulpy fruit surrounds this, which is removed at the farm and used to make jam, among other uses.) Pricing is based on visual inspection of the mace (three grades), as well as size grading of the nutmeg. The mace is removed, then the nutmeg is placed in large trays to dry. Once dry, the nutmeg is placed in a machine that cracks the shell and drops the output on tables where women sort out spice from shell. Workers then pack the whole spices in large just bags for additional processing and export. Outside the factory, I bought some lovely mace-covered nutmeg. (Unfortunately, I left in its plastic bag, causing most of the moisture-bearing mace to mold. So, if you buy this, keep it aerated.)

Delicious food of many origins topped off the trip. Breakfast at Kim’s farm featured a smorgasbord of farm-fresh fruit and bread or oatmeal, along with eggs for those so inclined. Yvonne brought bakes one morning, a light biscuit-type bread, which were far better than what I had from commercial establishments.

On my first full day at Kim’s farm, I enjoyed a calaloo stew with dumplings made by Yvonne. Calaloo is a green leafy vegetable that Kim grows on his farm, which resembles collards a bit. The dumplings are essentially flour and water, kneaded and left to sit a bit, then cooked in the stew. Mark, one of the UK duo, made wonderful spaghetti sauce from garden tomatoes, scallions and herbs. Kim and Yvonne cooked traditional meat; legume and dumpling stew over an open fire for a group of cacao-philes including Larry Burdick and his factory operations head, Jim. I did not partake of the meat, but admired the effort and enjoyed stimulating conversation, easy camaraderie and some chocolate, capping a great week with aspects that defined my experience, and which I will remember fondly until my next visit.

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