William Binns is an thriving businessman from the nearby Quebrada Pastor, utilizing the increase in tourism to his advantage. At age 25, he has already established a grassroots organization called Heidy Organic Chocolates. Named after his daughter Heidy, William produces chocolates made from his family cacao farm. From the pod to the puck, these balls of chocolate are created with a lot of love.
We hiked down to Willy’s farm to learn the process of creating chocolate, something I have eaten all my life but never questioned its origin. A cacao farm is its own micro-ecosystem, where plant and animal life flourish before my eyes. Parrots (suli) flutter amongst the plantain, pifa, and lemon trees. Thick clusters of bamboo line the river bank, which rushes after the latest rainstorm. As we walk along, we chop down selected cacao pods, which come in a variety of colors- purple, yellow, and orange. A large basket of pods is collected and ready for de-seeding. The chocolate cocoon is cracked open using a machete and inside are seeds coated in creamy, white goo. When sucked on, the flavor is similar to a sour-patch kid! We had to be careful not to suck too many, as those would not be allowed to be sold. William follows strict health regulations to ensure his chocolate is made safely.
After separating all the creamy seeds from their pods, they are left to ferment and dry for several days in two specialized boxes. Once dry, the seeds are toasted over a woodfire, deshelled and grinded by hand. The whole family gets involved in the process, inviting over cousins and aunts to join in on the fun.The liquid form is then placed in moulds, which can be used to make hot chocolate or brownies. William also sells cacao nibs (the product after de-shelling and before grinding out the oils), cocoa butter (the oil drippings of cacao after it has been grinded), and chocolate bars (grinded cacao with sugar and milk added, then placed into a different mould). William currently sells his chocolate products to various supermarkets, hotels and tour companies who then sell them to tourists. He is currently aspiring to initiate a tour business for visitors to hike through his farm and learn the chocolate-making process. Once William establishes this tour company and completes his laboratory, he will then be able to branch out and also sell artisanal products made by community members.
The main objectives of William’s tourism venture are three-fold. For one, the profits provide an economical gain for his family, enabling his children to be sent to school, go to the doctor and consume healthier food. Secondly, William hopes that by introducing tourism to his community, there will be a push towards environmental stewardship and sustainable practices. When one cares for their natural environment, products made directly from the benefitting trees-like chocolate-will be made possible. Finally, Heidy Organic Chocolates strives to preserve Ngäbe cultural identity while integrating modern influences. By selling products such as naguas, chacaras and woven baskets, these long-held customs will not be forgotten. On the contrary, they will be revered and valued once more.