2013-06-10 16.43.19Saturdays in December, we’ll have open factory hours from 10-3, so please stop by to talk story and grab some chocolate. We’ll make sure there’s something delicious to try. Parking right in front of the factory at:

296 Mokauea Street, #101
Honolulu, HI 96819

If you get lost or need more details, give us a call at 808-223-9997

See you there!

X-ray analysis of Martian soil samples has recently shown that the structures are quite similar to the basaltic soils we have here in the Hawaiian islands. Explains a lot, really🙂 Now if we can just warm that planet up a bit (and maybe recreate an atmosphere), we’ll have a vast new chocolate territory…


One of the first questions we often hear from visitors is: why is this dirt so red? The answer is basically that our soils are heavy in hematite, an iron oxide that contributes the distinctive rusty color. We work in a soil structure that is locally known as the Wahiawa Oxisol, and visitors beware–it will stain you and your clothes🙂

“Plants become weeds when they obstruct our plans, or our tidy maps of the world.”

That’s the first sentence of a wonderful book I’ve been reading called Weeds by Richard Mabey. In the early establishment of a cocoa orchard, before the trees mature enough to interleave their canopies and shade out competitors, there is a simply tremendous amount of weeding to be done. Although it’s trailing off a bit in the more mature area of the farm, I have spent a shocking amount of time pulling out grasses and other weeds over the past couple of years, all the while cursing their very existence, and probably wishing that they would simply disappear.

Still–every single one of those plants is actually delivering infomation. Information about soil health, water flow patterns, wind, sun exposure, you name it. And if I can take a step back from hating them so much, the observation of these plants in the wrong place (to paraphrase Emerson’s definition of a weed) can deliver a wealth of data about the farm that are otherwise mostly less than obvious.

So, chalk another one up for nature. She has a way of educating, even if we sometimes don’t want to listen.

Having relocated myself and my family several thousand miles to the middle of the Pacific to grow cacao, all just to make a truly local chocolate, I sometimes have to ask myself: why? Turns out there are a few issues that drive me, so just a quick end-of-year summary here, if only to remind myself:

1) Transparency
The chocolate industry is famously opaque, and that’s just the way the big boys want it. If you check under the hood of any major chocolate manufacturer, the sad fact is that you’re going to find a large amount of pretty ugly information in there, ranging from the relatively moderate (trade imbalances, tariff issues, commodity power plays) to the truly hideous (forced labor, exploitative pricing, insecticide exposures). Even some small craft manufacturers can get a little tetchy when you dig into their supply chain. Our efforts here in Hawaii are aimed at creating in miniature an alternate model–a genuinely 100% transparent process, where visitors and customers examine the inner workings for themselves, without relying on third parties.

2) Environment
The bulk of commodity cocoa relies on freebies from nature to stay cheap. Naturally, these freebies aren’t actually free, but come at a significant long-term cost, usually in the form of deforestation. We’re repurposing heavily abused ex-sugar land, and attempting to bring it into a new and genuinely viable balance. One way we’re working on this approach is through agriforestry–planting Mahogany and Koa as our windrows. Both of these attractive hardwoods deliver excellent carbon sequestration and the Koa has the added benefit of fixing nitrogen, helping to build long-term soil health and nutrition for our cacao.

3) Lifestyle
This is probably true just about anywhere, but especially here in Hawaii rural families have mostly come to consider farming something you do when you have no other options. You may be stuck with it, but you raise the next generation to get the hell out. It’s very important to me personally that we begin to reverse that notion, and so my own decision to become a farmer is strongly driven by my desire to raise my daughter with the thought that working with the land is a noble endeavor. It may be hard and very risky work, but I hope that she’ll always look on farming (in whatever form) as a legitimate and valued choice.

4) Quality
I’m obsessive enough to want control over processes that as a chocolate maker you rarely really have. Verticalizing this particular food is extraordinarily challenging, given the breadth of knowledge required just to get results up to a minimum standard, but there is no substitute for enjoying a truly local and delicious chocolate that you know you grew, fermented, dried, roasted, ground, conched, tempered and molded yourself. We’re finally reaching that point now, and I can’t wait to share the results with you all soon!

Hau’oli Makahiki Hou, everyone, and all the best for 2012!

Very, very exciting to find the first pod set at our Opaeula farm this week. After caring for these trees from seedling on, it almost feels magical to see them set fruit.

A mainland friend recently sent me a link intriguingly titled “Terraforming Maui–The Hawaiian Sugar Industry’s Technological Revolution”. It’s well worth a read, and brought to mind a whole host of issues surrounding our current project to effectively terraform our small site for the benefit and comfort of a new guest: cacao.

At first glance, it might sound like an extraordinary use of the term, but since the arrival of human beings some 1,200-1,700 years ago, the ecosystem of the Hawaiian islands has been so radically altered and manipulated that I don’t actually think it’s much of a stretch.

When we began farming on Opaeula ridge, the site had been fallow from sugar farming for 15 years, and had been colonized by two invasive exotics: Haole Koa (Leucaena leucocephala) and Guinea Grass (Urochloa maxima). Although this pair represent two of our most persistent and omnipresent pest species, the area had settled into a routine of sorts, achieving a new balance after a century of intensive monocrop farming.

So, along we come, with a new use in mind for the site and another major disruption. The first things we did were to clear, rip and disc the entire orchard site, throwing our little 14-acre ecosystem into chaos. Although we’ve still got a ways to go, the orchard is taking shape in a new configuration that will hopefully last many decades. We try to be extensive rather than intensive farmers, but it’s always wise to be aware of our impacts, and this perspective is certainly an interesting one…

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