As the first and only organic and Fair Trade chocolate factory in the U.S., bringing Theo Chocolate opens in a new tab to our stores as part of our Whole Trade Guarantee opens in a new tab makes perfect sense. They have a bar for everyone, but I’m partial to their Ivory Coast Dark Chocolate Bar with 75% Cacao and the Venezuelan 91% Chocolate Bar. And you have to check out their Jane Goodall “good for all” bars opens in a new tab, which are now exclusively available at Whole Foods Market stores. Learn more opens in a new tab about their high standards for social and environmental responsibility. Their excellent outreach work is exemplified by Juanita Vilchez’s story below.Chocolate is a divine subject for chocolate lovers around the world. Many do not know, however, the story of chocolate’s raw material, the cocoa bean. Cocoa, known in Latin as Theobroma cacao — literally the “food of the gods” — has been the anchor of indigenous farmers across Latin America for centuries. Theo Chocolate, the only organic, Fair Trade bean-to-bar manufacturer in the U.S. (based in Seattle, WA) buys organic and Fairtrade cocoa from the diverse farms of the Cabecar and Bribri indigenous communities in the remote region of Talamanca, Costa Rica. These indigenous farmers intercrop organic cacao, banana and other fruit trees with food and fuel crops in a way that preserves water and soil quality along with fragile tropical ecosystems.Juanita Baltodano Vilchez, 48, is the President of the Talamanca Small Producers Association, or APPTA as it’s known by its Spanish acronym. APPTA was formed in 1987 to market the farmers’ organic, fair trade cacao and bananas to raise farmers’ standards of living but also to promote an agricultural model that could conserve tropical ecosystems threatened by logging, tourism development and large scale agriculture. The Talamanca region holds at least three percent of the world's biodiversity — but its human communities are among the poorest in the country. APPTA farms lie in the crucial ecological buffer zone of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, La Amistad Biosphere Reserve.Juanita’s story exemplifies the challenges of rural life and the benefits of community enterprise and fair trade. Juanita had a difficult childhood, being abandoned by her father at birth. In her youth she saw her estranged father give each of her five brothers 25 hectares of land each while she was left to fend for herself. In her adult life she has dealt with a serious tumor and a contentious split with her husband but has remained the strong center of her family and her community. She became a rural leader after her children were grown and eventually she was elected the first woman president of APPTA. To this day, she still farms the land she bought herself. With the help of her daughters and grandchildren, she grows both organic cacao and banana, along with the traditional food crops of the region including yucca, rice, beans, and local tropical fruits.Juanita is an eloquent spokesperson for the benefits of fair trade. She states that while the stable and above market prices of Fairtrade are critical to APPTA’s farmers, it is not all about the money. Other benefits are equally important such as the strong sense of ownership of the association felt by the farmers, their resulting self-esteem, and the tangible benefits of APPTA’s community and technical assistance. APPTA has also built a community school, a local cacao processing plant and trained local extension agents with the premiums delivered by Theo Chocolate.Juanita and the staff of APPTA are dedicated to bringing the concepts of sustainable agriculture into the daily lives of farmers through training and collaborative projects such as their own sustainability measurement tool. In addition to international standards, APPTA is now measuring ecological and social sustainability according to the definitions of the farmers themselves.APPTA’s deep commitment to sustainability, quality and integrity has become a perfect match for Theo’s dedication to handcrafted, excellent quality chocolate that is sweet for the planet as well as the farmers’ profits.
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