Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Big Tree Farms Cacao Plantation

A Cacao flower...the elegance of nature is unparalleled.

After pulling some strings and making some phone calls,
I was able to secure a meeting with the cacao division manager
at Big Tree Farms. The cacao farms are on the west coast of the
island, while the vegetable farms are found in the north.

Thats the beauty of Big Tree...different farms contributing
to the same ultimate goal: Sustainable Farming, and empowering
local growers with fair prices and eager buyers.

We met with Gede (pronounced G'Day) in the early
afternoon, and he jumped in our vehicle to show us around.

The road was steep and rocky. Fruit trees of all sorts lined
the roads. I saw guavas, mamey sapotes, cacao, and rambutan.
Little houses could be spotted down dirt pathways off the main road.

Beehives hung in the trees. Could you imagine what
honey would taste like if all the nectar came from the cacao flower?
Or the durian flower? Guava? Get a grip on the potential here...

We pulled over and stepped into the thick, humid air.
It slaps you in the face after riding in the minivan for 1 hour.
What a difference air-conditioning makes.
He led us down a path off the road, and instantly
I found myself in the shady undergrowth of
an organic balinese cacao farm. Wow.

The trees were everywhere. And lots of other plants too.
Thats the beauty of cacao. Its not like a palm-oil plantation.
It requires an intact forest to thrive.
Think about this. We can plant cacao trees in tropical
rainforests...thereby providing crops for local farmers
while keeping the forest healthy and vibrant.

It saddens me so deeply to see swathes of jungle
cut away for rubber trees and palm oil. Even
coconuts. There were some parts of Thailand that
were totally covered in Coconut trees. As cool as that
may by to us raw foodists, its really lame as far
as true biodiversity is concerned.

Indonesia is considering a proposal
to turn 2 million hectares of thriving rainforest
into a palm-oil plantation.
The ignorance of this
numbs me. Its so needless and destructive.
Lets help them realize that cacao is the answer
they are looking for.

So there I was, standing in the undergrowth.
Mosquitoes doing their thing, ants crawling all over the trees.

The ground was wet and messy.
Cacao leaves and debris everywhere. I read
somewhere that cacao likes the ground moist
and sloppy, but jeez... I had two really close
calls while filming Gede, but luckily I gained my balance.

We didnt stay all that long. He was busy, and was nice
enough to show us around. I took some more pics, and
he found a ripe pod for me to try. He said that it wasnt
that good of a sample, but when I tried it, I finally understood
what Chocolate girl was telling me about the fresh cacao.
It WAS good. The one I had before was not ripe yet.

This is the UNRIPE pod...

This one (which was yellow, not green) was sweet and creamy.
The bean was bigger, and more mellow.
Now I understood. To be able to blend a bunch of these
with some coconut water would be a huge breakthrough.

I was also lucky enough to be shown a pod that was attacked
by a fungus. Not super common, but it happens. He opened
it up for me and it was a brown mess inside.

They use compost from cow and chicken manure,
and he never heard of using diluted ocean water.
And seriously, we were about a half-mile from the ocean.
They should really look into that one.

The pods are harvested twice a year, where
they are then laid out to dry and ferment.

Gede told me that 1000 people work
together to make the cacao plantations work,
and I pondered the possibilties on the drive home.
And the cacao operation is just one of 25 that
work under the Big Tree Farm banner.

What can we do to spread this idea?
Can you speak with organic farmers in
your area and form a co-op? Can you
form a cool brand name and sell their products?

Whatever it takes to get local farmers to abandon
the chemical treadmill...give them the customers
and the knowledge that spraying poisons on their
fields only empowers the chemical companies, and no one else.

I am so grateful to be exposed to the genius of Big Tree Farms.
Only two months ago I was completely in the dark about them.
Now I see the implications, both socially, economically, and
environmentally. This model is the answer I believe.

Check out Ben Ripple's talk here on youtube to
get some more ideas. Its one thing to start your own
garden or farm, its quite another thing to get many
other people collectively farming and earning a living
by selling sustainably grown fruits and vegetables.

Let Ben inspire you:

Im so excited to get back home,
there are so many fresh ideas that need
some serious manifesting.

Oh! One more thing.
For all you brothers and sisters in the northern
latitudes...please PLEASE check out this wonderful
company based out of maine...they will get you started
right whether its fruit trees, vegetables, or biodynamics.

Fedco Seed Company