by Brian Horsley
Many people who’ve never had the chance to visit cacao country must wonder what a cacao farm is like. In some parts of the world cacao is grown industrially, on large and modern plantations, and often monocropped, without significant biodiversity. In our area of the Marañón Canyon all cacao is grown on small, rustic farms, between .25 and 1.5 hectares in size, and intermixed with other crops and vegetation.
Because the farms where we harvest our Pure Nacional cacao vary in altitude, there are a wide variety of crops grown within, next to and around the cacao. In the low end of our altitude range, along with cacao we find rice, bananas, coconuts, citrus fruits, pineapples, mangoes and papaya, among many other plants. At the higher altitude end, we find primarily coffee, sapote (a native fruit), corn and alfalfa, among many others.
Of course almost all small farms raise various plants and animals for their own family consumption, in addition to the cash crops mentioned above. As one example, Fortunato, the farmer whose cacao Fortunato No. 4 chocolate is named after, is located in the upper middle of our altitude range, and grows or uses the following plants and animals on his farm, among many others too numerous to list:
cacao, coffee, mango, orange, key lime, limon (a sweet green lemon), sapote, alfalfa, sugar cane, cucumber, noni, coconut, banana (3 varieties), guanabana, guaba, chili pepper
cows, pigs, dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, ducks, chickens, turkeys, peahens, cuy (guinea pigs), bee hives
Cacao groves in the Marañón Canyon almost all have a thick layer of decomposing material on the ground, composed of old cacao pods, fallen fruit, branches and leaves, etc. This material is nature’s finest organic fertilizer, and helps to maintain a balanced, nutrient rich soil base which allows ancient Pure Nacional cacao beans to develop without the use of chemical fertilizers.
Walking in a cacao grove on a hot humid afternoon, among the dappled shade of the tall fruit trees, ducking under coffee and cacao branches, picking fresh oranges, bananas and mangos to snack on, listening to leaves crackle underfoot, and the ever present hum of cicadas overhead, has to be among the finest nature experiences available. And when Fortunato invites you to eat cuy lunch with his family, or try some of his fresh honey, that’s when it becomes one of the best days you could ever have.