What does chocolate have to do with planetary regeneration, social change, monetary policy, and the future of human kind?
Cacao, the almond-sized seed responsible for crafting chocolate, has an ancient history as a currency; sacred offering; and holy drink. Â Nowadays, like so many things in our commercialized world, it is little more than a commodity. Â Cacao is one of the most valued and traded commodities in todayâ€™s global market, and it is second only to coffee in terms of its economic importance in the Global South as a luxury commodity.
Cacao and Chocolate are as intimately intertwined with the global economy as we are. Â All the complexities, injustices, inefficiencies and downright insanity that define the globalized economy are at play. Â In the midst of this complexity, there is a small group of Fair Trade businesses and entrepreneurs trying to shift the market. By advertising and selling products produced according to a standardized set of practices, these businesses hope to ensure social and ecological health.
Unfortunately, the Fair Trade solution still operates completely within the current dysfunctional global system. Â The products are sold at a premium to the final consumer, and only a very small portion of that premium ever makes it back to the farmers. Â Consumers in the Global North shop at stores like Whole Foods and buy expensive bars with environmental sustainability and social justice written all over them…literally. But, this expense still relies on externalization of costs in order to compete with all other chocolates. In the end, very little money ever makes it back to the hands of cooperatives and farmers who are certified Fair Trade or Organic.
Cacao prices are still subject to the whims of global speculation. Unpredictably rising and falling, prices cause farmers to lose control over their production. Fair Trade offers no solutionâ€¦â€˜Organicâ€™ gives an extra few cents per bushelâ€¦farmers ultimately lose their ability to feed their families. Â Meanwhile, their children are swept into the storm of consumerist coco-cola culture becoming addicts of television and sugar. Debt-loads and desperation lead farmers to sell to big corporations who are eagerly waiting to buy up valuable land shifting the land-use into larger-scale plantation-based farming. Â Heirloom varieties of cacao are lost; family farms and invaluable expertise disappears; biodiversity, cultural diversity and the hope for a better world vanishes in a flash flood of money and flashy marketing promising a better world. Â Meanwhile, consumers continue to shop at Whole Foods buying the latest raw, organic, and fair trade bars – they feel good about how they are doing their part to help. Is there anyone to blame in this predicament? How do we accept responsibility for and how do we understand our part in this carousel?
At this point you might ask yourself: â€˜Why on Earth is this man, an owner of a chocolate business, telling us all this and asking these questions?â€™
Well, there are two reasons:
- Transparency is essential â€“ in business and personal relationships. Â If we forever hide the truth from each other it becomes a cancer.
- Nova Monda Cacao and Chocolate is not a â€œFair Tradeâ€ business. We do not rely on third party certifications to convince consumers we are doing things the right way. We do our absolute best to make direct connections between growers of cacao and lovers of chocolate. Â We do our best to tell the story, to bridge the gap, all while supporting and nurturing the building of real community. Our business Â regenerative.
What is Regenerative?
Instead of paying an outside certification company to certify the co-ops we work with, we do it ourselves. Â We document our adventure by directly connecting and communing with the beautiful people who grow the cacao that ultimately becomes Nova Monda Chocolate. Â We become their friends and we become their community members. We also do our very best to offer opportunities to the growers in Ecuador and Nicaragua to become community members with the community of people who enjoy their chocolate. In turn, chocolate lovers are afforded the opportunity to become community members with the folks growing cacao in the hills of Ecuador and Nicaragua. In this circle of community, a beautiful story of mutual indebtedness occurs and it is the lifeblood of our Â regenerative business model.
Nova Monda is a quest to answer the question: What if we acted as if we lived in a world where everyone knew everyone else?
Thankfully, through social media this is truly possible: Â The farmers we work with are our friends on Facebook, we talk with them regularly on Skype, and we work with them personally every harvest. We do this because we believe the world is much too small to go on pretending. We recognize we live in an interrelated and interdependent web of life and we understand itâ€™s time we start behaving in a manner that honors this truth.
We pay prices negotiated independent of the global commodities market â€“ prices that represent our true costs and needs and the true costs and needs of our growers. Â We cooperate to add real value in the locations where cacao is grown. Â We invest in their future, infrastructure, and communities just as they invest in ours. Â We create reciprocal trading relationships. Â We learn, we grow, and we most certainly donâ€™t claim to be perfect. Â We believe we bring something to the marketplace that is of real value…not only because itâ€™s the best damn chocolate your likely to taste anywhere in the world…but because it is crafted with real care. Â It is the application of strong ethics, strong vision, and constant questioning and questing. Â Our unabashed and uncompromising goal is to have a business that is carbon negative – putting more carbon into soil and forests than we emit through our activity – with no externalized costs. Â We want to give more than we receive. Â We call this Regenerative Enterprise.
Regenerative Enterprise is an idea born from the Financial Permaculture Institute’s work in participatory economic design. Â This is a process where communities come together to imagine and design the businesses, organizations and institutions that will support a healthy human and non-human community. Â In this framework it is the participation of the whole community that empowers the creation of a â€œbusiness ecologyâ€ meeting the needs of the entire community. Â Instead of entrepreneurs pretending to â€œgo it aloneâ€ and the government trying to regulate on behalf of constituents, creating a system where everyone is serving opposing purposes while lobbying and shouting for their own selfish endsâ€¦Financial Permaculture and the participatory design process offers a place for consumers; producers; and processors to come together and act like citizens. Â The thoughtfulness of this vision is especially apparent when we all realize that there is NO ANSWER to the questions we are asking. There are no answers to the questions in your heart. Â How do we live in a better world? How do we create a better world for ourselves, for our children, and the planet?
We keep trying.
In our quest for the holy grail of cacao we have found something unimaginable: the Holy Grail is the quest itself. Â It is not the answer. It is the question.
IT IS NOT THE CERTIFICATION THAT MATTERS. Â IT IS THE PEOPLE AND PLANET THAT MATTER.
This is a radical idea.
This idea was nothing new when we started using it to empower our actions four years ago. Â However, this idea has now spread across the Nation and world like wildfire. Â It seems to me this radical idea is the very foundation of the Occupy movement.
Now, I will end this blog in a way that pushes my edge, making me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. Â I want to ask you, the person who is reading this, to join me. Â I want you to join me in a simple way: buy the chocolate I help bring to the market. Â This business model has no margins for large ad campaigns. But, it does have room for storytelling. Â Iâ€™d like to tell the story of how permaculture, ecovillages and social activism led me to start a chocolate business. Â How an old hippie and Sandanista sympathizer showed me the ropes and conned me into starting a business to â€˜walk my talkâ€™…but all of that will have to wait for another day.
Nova Monda is striving to walk the talk. Â We bring chocolate to market that is absolutely uncompromising in integrity. Â We spend time and money to be friends with farmers and consumers. Â We plant trees, we build soil, we live our sotry, and we tell our story because we believe in a better world.
Buy our chocolate. Join the adventure. Â This is not a scam, this is not a scheme…it is a plan. Â It is a plan to create a better world. Vote for this plan with your dollars and follow us as the plan unfolds.