Saturday, July 10, 2010

STEP 1.5 in "bean to bar": Dia de Compras

We forgot a step from our last post: step 1.5, which is to go around to every farm and collect the cacao from each farmer.

(1) Farm
(1.5) Buying Day and Collection
(2) Collection and Drying Center
(3) Chocolate Factory
(4) Kallari Cafe

Oops, but here it is now!


At 6:30 am, we need to be at the Collection and Drying Center.

"Make sure to bring money for lunch, water for the day, and your patience. Tomorrow we'll be traveling to Kallari's communities and making cacao purchases from the farmers."

At 6:00am, I was still shoveling food into my mouth. Egg sandwich, yogurt, and whatever else I could manage to gulp while simultaneously trying to keep my eyes open. Here is the Centro de Acopios at 6:28:46, when we arrived:

We tried to entertain ourselves while we waited (not too hard, since we already crack each other up without trying) and one of the results was this picture:

ME, holding my favorite rock! Looks crazed, huh? It's 6:30 in the morning, what can you expect? (Hey Grandma Judy! It was like the worry stone from Ireland you gave me. A nice little stone bump to rub. PS I still have that!).

About 30 minutes later, Miguel, a quiet Kichwa farmer strolled up the hill at a leisurely pace. We all said good morning and sat quietly, enjoying the sounds around us. A taxi roared up the hill with Jorge in tow. As he got out of the taxi, he laughed. His eyes looked relieved, "And I was in such a hurry!" A few minutes later, Miguel picked up a grasshopper by its leg from the fence. We watched it breath and flutter.

Finally Juan arrived with the keys, and we took off in a taxi at 8:00 am. Lady Gaga's Bad Romance played loud and proud as we cut through the city streets of Tena. The taxista knew the neighborhood and his car well. It wasn't long before my head was bobbing up and down across the rough gravel roads, and rocks were flying into the underbody of the pick-up. This is one of the bridges we crossed over as we rushed towards the community. Steel bridge knowledge in tow, Adam reassured me that it would not fall down as we drove over it. But I was still scared..

The truck had 4 blue barrels, a tripod to hold the scale, a taxi driver, and 5 passengers (one of which had a wad of cash to buy cacao). We travelled from 8am until 1pm from the Centro de Acopios to Punibocana to Altoposuno and back to the Centro de Acopios. Both of these communities are on the community map that was posted on the ecoalum site, can you find them? We are thinking of returning to Punibocana for some community workshops... here is the view:

(Altoposuno above)
(Altoposuno above)
(Punibocana above)

Cacao can grow in the forest without perfect rows of trees or extensive fertilizer or even insecticide. If you have enough patience and dedication (or time!) to brush fungus and ants off new budding flowers that will later be mazorcas, the red pods will dot the lush greenery on their own. Around the corner from the last picture in Punibocana...

We were doing business. Don't you wish this was your office?

Here, you can see Jorge communicating with the cacao farmers about prices and procedures. As Byron directed us through the maze of gravel roads, I hung my head out the window like a dog hungry for sunshine. Why would any one want to live anywhere else? Turns out, the houses in Altoposuno and Punibocana are on stilts for tigers. Other houses that are close to rivers use them to avoid flood damage. I slapped a mosquito on my leg, and realized that paradise may never be found. But as Adam recently pointed out, there's just about everything here: tiger meat, water, sun, farms of every kind, lush vegetation... and a whole ton of bugs.

In the first community, Punibocana, Byron greeted farmers with small talk about the harvest or follow up with business from the last collection while Adam and Miguel set up the scale. Jorge shuffled through his papers and ran his finger down the list that tells which farmer is organic and which isn't. Byron says that they already know everyone, but they check just in case.

Benoit, the student doing research on organic certification and the rainforest alliance stamp of approval, says that most cacao farmers "grow their crops organically by default. They can't afford fertilizer in the first place."

Alex, another student doing complementary research told us that "the certification is something that seems to be mostly for advertising purposes. The farmers don't understand what it means or why it is important. But people abroad are willing to pay for it."

Vilma's husband, Raul, says that Kallari is being fooled by farmers who say they are organic but use chemicals at key points during the cacao tree's life. Vilma chimed in and said that other farmers sell to the intermediaries behind Kallari's back... with the harvest from cacao trees that Kallari donated! Traitors, they said... but, back to the cacoa...

First, it is weighed.

This is noted. Kallari pays 40 cents per pound that is non-organic and 50 cents per pound for organically grown cacao.

The farmer signs in acknowledgment.

And is paid accordingly.

Passing up the cacao

Pouring it in the bins

And all of it mixed in, yummy!

We collected an astoundingly low amount of cacao this trip. But given that it is the end of the harvesting season, it makes a lot of sense. The farmers from Punibocana gave us most of their last harvests. In total, there was probably a little under 500 pounds.

After driving 40 minutes out to Altopusuno, we were welcomed by dead silence. No one was around besides a man and his horse. They informed us that everyone had brought their last rounds last week so we stretched our legs and congratulated one another for a job well done. In the past, collection days have taken up to 12 or 19 hours. We were done in a clean 4.

Back in the Centro de Acopios, we pour the wet cacao seeds into the fermentation bins.

Within these three levels, the cacao are left to ferment. We put the wet pepas in the top third row where temperatures are monitored and stirred meticulously. The technician knows when and how to push the seeds into the second row, and finally the bottom row for a perfect process.

Here you see our work in a wooden box, and a solar drying bed in the upper right-hand corner. The clever design let's gravity do most of the work since the seeds are pushed straight into the drying bed from the bottom row as soon as fermentation is done.

Good night and farewell!

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