I just got back from a weeklong visit to the Dominican Republic, where a group of us--a mix of Equal Exchange staff, food co-op managers, and Interfaith liaisons--visited cacao-growing communities that belong to CONACADO Co-op, an umbrella organization of about 10,000 cacao farmers.
While I've visited coffee farms before, this was my first trip to cacao farms, and my first time to the D.R. I was excited to finally get a firsthand look at the magical-looking cacao pods growing in the forest. I wasn't disappointed; there's nothing quite like them!
I was also excited to be reunited with some familiar faces at CONACADO. In March 2010, Equal Exchange hosted Basilio Almonte de los Santos, head agronomist at CONACADO, and Ramon Matias Frias Gonzalez, a cacao farmer. I was fortunate to be able to tag along with Basilio and Ramon as they toured New England, visiting food co-ops, schools, and churches that sell Equal Exchange chocolates and cocoas. A highlight for all of us, I think, was visiting a dairy and maple syrup farm in Vermont - small producers from the D.R. getting to see the operations of small producers here in the U.S. Pretty cool.
Since then, our chocolate team at Equal Exchange has continued to work closely with Basilio and others at CONACADO, particularly around the US AID grant focusing on farm productivity. But now here was a whole group of us reunited with Basilio, this time him leading us around farms in the D.R. "Three years ago I had the honor of visiting friends at Equal Exchange in the U.S.," Basilio said. "I have always wanted to host an Equal Exchange group. It has been a dream of mine.”
This mutual exchange, the personal relationships that we've built over many miles and many years, is exactly what Equal Exchange is about.
Then - March 2010
Basilio & Ramon visit Lilac Ridge, a member of Organic Valley Co-op, Vermont
Basilio greets farmers from Lilac Ridge Farm.
Touring the dairy farm near Brattleboro, VT.
Now - November 2013
Equal Exchange visit CONACADO Co-op, Dominican Republic
Basilio Almonte tours the Equal Exchange group around a model cacao farm.
Equal Exchange Sales Representative Shawn Seebach greets Jesusita Cruz, a cacao farmer and member of CONACADO.