Shawn: At the beach party we hosted for our farmer partners I received one of the most meaningful gifts ever. I don’t mean from farmers but I mean anyone - ever. This farmer leader - Mr. Livingston - and I have developed a relationship over the years. He gave me his grandfather’s ivory tribal warrior wrist band. It was passed down from his father who received it from his grandfather. I was speechless. Expressions of gratitude were not enough.
Lawren: Twabwike is an amazing young woman we met on our Tanzania trip last year. She is a student at Mwaya Secondary School and participates in our Sustainable Lunch Program, Empowered Girls, and our Saturday Girls Tutoring program. Last year I learned her story—that she has been an orphan since she was very little and has taken care of herself and managed to thrive, despite her many obstacles and hardships. Over the last year my dad and I thought about her many times and when I saw her when we visited Mwaya last week, I was elated. In a split-second decision, we decided to bring her with us to Mababu for the week to meet our farmer partners, learn about cacao, speak to the Empowered Girls group we have at Mababu Primary School, and simply enjoy the experience with us, as a treat for her now being the TOP FEMALE STUDENT AT MWAYA. Spending time with Twabi (her nickname) last week was an honor and a joy—it was the highlight of our trip for me. She radiates warmth and positivity and even though she’s still learning English and my Swahili is rudimentary at best, I learned so much from the wisdom she shared. Her perseverance is unmatched and her spirit is contagious. I am honored to call her a friend. To say she is my greatest inspiration is an understatement; and I am thrilled to watch her future unfold over the next few years. I know she will be in our lives for a long time to come.
Shawn: We were asked to host Visioning session for 200 girls in the Empowered Girls club in the remote village of Mababu, Tanzania (where we buy our cocoa beans). Lawren took the first part of the session, creating a simplified definition that “vision is hope + a plan”. I asked the girls “Can you remember a time when you imagined a future and it happened as you imagined it?” The ensuing discussion for the rest of the afternoon turned from sorrow to joy. One of the best days of my life.
Lawren: Inspecting cocoa beans can be tedious, but it’s important! We perform a cut-test of a random bean sample and test moisture, fermentation, color, size and more to ascertain whether the beans have met our specifications. The farmers also do this themselves throughout the entire cocoa harvesting season. This trip, my dad roasted some beans over a homemade fire under a tree with the farmers and we all crushed them in our hands, smelled, and tasted to assess the flavor profile.
Shawn: The beach party was good but preparing for it was a memorable time for me. I watched the farmers as they gathered in a central place in the village - both men and women - to prepare the rice, the goat, the greens, and the fish. I was so enthralled by their cooperation, laughing and working and talking; in a word - community. I found myself hoping some of it would rub off on me.
Lawren: Profit sharing is always exciting! This year we were thrilled to hand cash to the new Mababu CCF Chairwoman, Mama Mpoki. As always, we translated our financial statements into Swahili and explained the profit share to the group line by line. Then the executive committee signed their names to the agreement. We’re excited to see what creative ways the group will choose to invest their money this year.
Shawn: Traveling anywhere with my daughter is fun but traveling to a place like this where touching moments abound is quite another thing. I found myself practicing enjoying the present - wherever we were - even if we were exhausted, sitting on the floor at 5 am, waiting for the next leg of our trip in the Dar Es Salaam airport. We enjoyed each other’s company sharing with farmers, talking to students, or greeting villagers. This trip was special and memorable. We were able to take a 3 day layover in Istanbul on the way to Tanzania, which was also very fun.
Lawren: One of my favorite activities is doing a chocolate tasting with the farmers. We try to do this on every origin trip. The logistics of keeping chocolate from melting when traveling with it halfway across the world in a carry-on are actually pretty hilarious. The hot and humid conditions upon arrival are typically already difficult, but on this particular trip Tanzania was experiencing major power outages (read: virtually no power for the week and severe water shortages) so creativity was required. But we kept the chocolate safe and sound and the farmers always love tasting the chocolate made with their beans– a product of their hard work! This time we also were able to share with them the Target Made to Matter™ collection bars, which we created with their beans, and they were so excited with the packaging and the flavors. While tasting the Askinosie x Target bars, we also read a letter from Target to the farmers! They loved it!
Shawn: Most companies in America don’t have a multi-year vision plan. Our farmer partners in Mababu do. After working with the Mababu farmers for two years on theirs I now see it actually coming to fruition this year and that is gratifying. They have a 10 year plan with nine distinct points. I am grateful to Ari at Zingerman’s for helping us help them over the last few years. I am really looking forward to seeing this unfold each year as I go back and see the progress. This year we helped the farmers dedicate their new office (point 1).
Lawren: Like last year, we honored our farmers’ hard work with a party on the beach of Lake Nyasa. This year though, we were celebrating our 72% Mababu, Tanzania Dark Chocolate bar being a Specialty Food Association sofi Finalist! We presented them with a plaque and then shared a delicious feast we all prepared together earlier in the day of goat, chicken, rice, greens, beef stew, and more. There was some football-playing, some dancing and a lot of laughing. Great memories were made and we now think this beach party will become an annual tradition!