Chocolatier Timothy Moley, founder and owner of sustainably sourced chocolate company Chocolove, completed nine USAID Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer assignments. His volunteerism took him to Indonesia, Guatemala, India, and the Dominican Republic. Moley credits his 1986 ACDI/VOCA-orchestrated trip to Indonesia with giving him the idea of creating a premium, ethically sourced chocolate bar. ACDI/VOCA is one of several implementers of USAID’s 30-year-old Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer program that sends American agricultural experts on short-term assignments in the developing world. Read an excerpt below of Moley’s recollections of his ACDI/VOCA trip and that ah-ha moment in Indonesia that grew into the Boulder-based Chocolove. The full story is available on our “A Day in the Life of USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteers” blog.
While working as a professional taster in Iowa in 1986, I learned about the opportunity to help farmers and producers make higher-quality spices in Indonesia. I instantly signed up for this jet-plane-meets-Peace Corps experience. To prepare, I read books on language, expats in Indonesia, and how to show respect in the culture. The more I read, the clearer it became that I was not only helping farmers, but that I needed to dance carefully with them to collaborate in appropriate and sustainable ways. Sustainability meant (and still should) that the “improvements” we make are chosen together and that as such, farmers and processors continue the improved approaches after I left. I saw myself as an ambassador.
My assignment was in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. In my three months there, I traveled to various spice regions by plane. Once on the ground, I worked eight to ten hours, traveling by 4WD vehicle to spice-growing locations. I met farmers and farmer co-op members, watched processing activities, went to local markets, and followed the supply chain from farmer to exporter for the various spice crops, including cinnamon, pepper, cloves, nutmeg, mace, and vanilla.
One day, while making my rounds in the backcountry, we arrived at a relatively large processing facility that sourced a number of crops from famers. There was a crop I didn’t readily recognize. “What is this?” I asked. “Cocoa,” was the reply. Hmm. I dug into the pile of cocoa beans and smelled them, cracking and tasting them. I was fascinated and lost in my learning process when I was told that we had to drive back to town. After tarrying a few more minutes, my counterparts told me to bring along a sample.
That evening, I was alert and happy when I noticed the late hour and wondered why I wasn’t asleep yet. Then I saw the bag of cocoa beans on the desk along with the shells of several beans that I had been snacking on. Aha and wow! A mind-expanding moment: My cocoa bean snack had me happily productive for hours. I function better when I have a fair amount of cocoa in my system. I snacked on cocoa beans for the rest of the trip. On subsequent trips, the country director would have a bag of cocoa beans on hand for me at the start of each project.
From that moment of discovery, I’ve eaten cocoa beans and chocolate regularly. When it came time to start a company and make a product, I chose chocolate because I know and love it. At least 100,000 people (the number of bars Chocolove produces daily) are happier today and every day because I parlayed my volunteer experiences into Chocolove.