WHY WE ADMIRE MASHPI CHOCOLATE ARTESANAL
I first learned of Mashpi at the online Dallas Chocolate Festival in September 2020. We became fast friends after Valeria (the sister-in-law of owner, Manu) after she told me about the holistic work they are doing in Recinto Mashpi - Pacto, Ecuador.
I'm truly in awe of every detail they have considered and accomplished. So often, I see examples of companies that are either environmentally or socially minded. Mashpi Chocolate Artesanal is a great example that thoughtful actions make both possible:
- Locating in the Mashpi Shungo Reserve in an effort to protect Ecuador’s Cloud Forest through permaculture and regenerative agroforestry systems. Easy to say – much harder to do…
- Investing in Place = Investing in People – They’re actively improving the quality of life of [all of] the inhabitants of the Andean Chocó. Their holistic projects span across sectors including organic nacional cacao, edible forests, tourism, and scientific research. Not to mention leading the way with Slow Food and organic principles!
- Creating smooth and approachable tree-to-bar chocolate onsite from organic nacional cacao paired with locally sourced ingredients like panela (unrefined cane sugar) from nearby Pacto and high value, local fruits, spices and seeds like wild harvested passion fruit and even using cacao pulp!
- Using earth-friendly packaging – boxes free from resins, plastics and glosses and plastic pouches without foil so both are 100% recyclable.
In reading their stories, you’ll notice respect and honor as they refer to their coworkers and partners. They’re building community holistically and the natural result is local women are thriving. Plus, they're making some innovative and crave-worthy chocolate. Their remarkable Pulp-Filled Bar is like ten tiny liquid-center cacao pulp truffles - with sweet & tangy cacao fruit filling contrasting the earthy, sensual dark chocolate. And my personal favorite is their Passionfruit and Black Pepper Bar - using wild harvest passion fruit that is so perfectly balanced - seemingly dancing on my tongue with the fine flavor cacao - the passion fruit lingers with bright, floral fruit notes that leave me torn between perfectly satisfied and wanting another square.
Now, in their own words…
WHY MASHPI CHOCOLATE ARTESANAL’S LOCATION MATTERS TO WOMEN
Bringing Jobs to Rural Women
The first step in starting to transform the reality of women in Mashpi was making the decision to build the processing workshop within the Mashpi Shungo Reserve. We knew it would be difficult to produce chocolate in the rural area, but this allowed us to generate paid jobs for our neighbors, and we chose to focus on bringing on females.
By having our workshop within the reserve, without migrating to the city and by working to change the exclusion and access to information that happens in rurality. Also by processing our own material in house and giving our partners the opportunity to see the end product of their work.
Knowing the End from the Beginning
In general, in the chocolate world what happens is that cacao is farmed, harvested, fermented and dried and then transported to be turned into chocolate somewhere else, most of the time in the other side of the world. We differ because we do the whole process in the same place, from having planted the cacao trees years ago, to packaging the finished product. This is empowering to our collaborators because there certainly is power in knowing the end product of your work and in being closer to its consumers. It is not the same for us that someone who comes to visit the farm to be able to take a finished chocolate bar, made by us, than for someone to come, see the plantation and just walk away with an idea of what cacao is and that it will be further produced somewhere else.
Finding Confidence Bar by Bar
At the same time, we were trained in chocolate making, this was a joint process. However, the neighbors that we brought into the project were presented with the task of finding their self-confidence, which had, for generations, been destroyed by the silent mistreatment of the patriarchy. You cannot imagine how a lack of self-confidence can affect the workplace and learning.
Connecting Over [Making] Chocolate
Other important moments in our journey to empower these women have been the long talks during the making of the bars, secrets that will never leave the workshop. Discussions about the daily life of being women, being single mothers and the possibility of being heads of the household, the different forms that masculinity can take and the variety of ways of communication in couple relationships.
Empowerment work as a woman is a constant state of consciousness that we must keep in mind on a daily basis: as individuals, as a family, as a company, as a society. It is a deep healing as humanity.
Growing Together – In Every Step of Business and Life
We recognize the labor capacity of rural women in all areas, specifically in agriculture, processing, and marketing. We think that the educational deficiencies that exist in rural areas can be overcome by achieving self-learning that allows our neighbors to participate in different positions.
Beyond being workers at Mashpi Chocolate Artesanal, they are friends with whom we exchange our daily lives, our joys and problems, access to land, work and, of course, the love for chocolate. We grow together not only as a productive project, but as women, mothers, and partners. We respect the times that our companions require to share and guide their children, and we accompany in the care of the children if necessary.
Creating a New Benchmark
The exchange and healing that we have with our co-workers is perceptible in the rest of the Community of San José de Mashpi (located about 65 km. northwest of Quito, the capital of Ecuador), and they have become a benchmark of independence, reduction of violence, recognizing themselves as single mothers capable of being heads of the household.
Empowering Women Beyond Cacao
For our products we use organic sugar cane from Pacto, a community nearby Mashpi. The work of the women of Pacto is beautiful, many of them are single women who support themselves through the cultivation of organic sugarcane, they are very strong, independent and conscious women, who have a strong relationship with nature. They plant and process all their sugarcane crops, fighting for the defense of nature and against the mining threat that threatens our territory. By using their raw material in our chocolate, we help them continue in their fight.
One of our main objectives is to be able to grow as a project, including our collaborators as partners and to generate more work spaces for other female neighbors.
HOW MASHPI CHOCOLATE ARTESANAL EMPOWERS WOMEN
Women’s Work vs. Women’s Pay
Misogyny in Ecuador is a deep rooted problem. Ecuadorian women are systematically excluded due to their gender, and the problem is when they are poor, black or when they live in rural areas. Rural women are forced to do double the work, they find themselves having to take care of the home as well as take on productive chores (for example: taking care of the cattle, chickens, guinea pigs, working at cattle farms, harvesting heart of palm), but the employers only recognize the “head of the family” (which in the Ecuadorian society happens to be the male figure), unknowing of the work that the women that is involved, and not providing fair pay.
Thriving in Life = Thriving at Work
We perceive that women tend to pay more attention to detail, and in our case, this shows right through the product. A chocolate that has not been worked properly shows signs easily, and we feel that chocolate that has been handmade by women who are going through situations of domestic violence or hardship would somehow show signs of it. A woman cannot focus on doing the best job if life is hard at home.
Creating a Great Team
We really enjoy working with our colleagues, it is entertaining, we constantly have important conversations during work, and we have a very fine, sweet, coordinated and at the same time critical taste when we have to review new creations. In order to talk about the experience, I will have to make a brief description of each of the women who accompany Mashpi Chocolate Artesanal.
Narcisa is demanding, she is aware of the cleaning of the workshop, of the quality control of each of the bars and products that will leave the workshop. She is a community leader, head of her household, takes care of her parents, and her son.
Karina is a very sweet woman, single mother of three children, with good taste to mix and find interesting flavors.
Manuela (Manu) is the person in charge of PR for Mashpi Chocolate Artesanal, both in selling the product as in generating relationships with other projects that work under the same mindset as ours. By searching and working with people in other communities, the vision of empowered rural women is more easily spread.
Valeria (Val), also from Ecuador, is Manuela’s sister-in-law now residing in Reno, Nevada, USA. After years as a stay-at-home mom, she too has been empowered to be a business owner and importer of Mashpi Chocolate Artesanal and other consciously produced and fair products from related projects. It’s tiny and just starting here, but its my way of supporting these amazing women in my home country.
Agustina is fun and creative, all the recipes come from her imagination, she is always creating new recipes and experimenting with flavors. She lives in the Mashpi Shungo Reserve together with her partner Alejandro. Their children are the animals and plants of the edible forest, which they take care of together. The relationship between Agustina and Alejandro has been a benchmark of feminism for our colleagues: it is the leading by example from where they have learned equal treatment in the daily exchange of the home, and in the work relationship.
Empowering Men too!
An anecdote that comes to mind is of one day when Narcisa and Karina (sisters) arrived at the workshop at Mashpi Shungo to let us know that their father, 70, had taken on the task of learning to cook. In the Ecuadorian men’s mind, cooking is a female chore. Their father figured that if Alejandro (Augustina’s partner) is able to cook at home, then it must be OK, and so could he. This helps to start breaking the traditional male-female roles within the Ecuadorian household.
ABOUT MASHPI CHOCOLATE ARTESANAL
Mashpi Chocolate Artesanal is produced in the “Mashpi Shungo” forest reserve. Shungo means “heart”in the Kichwa Language. In this reserve we have the workshop in which we artisanally elaborate 11 flavors of chocolate bars, cacao pulp, vinegars, dehydrated fruit along with our semi-processed cacao products such as cocoa powder, cocoa nibs and cacao liquor. Our products are consciously made and we use other fruits and spices that are endemic to the Andean Chocó Region.