A Foodie Fundraiser for African Cocoa Farmers
While discussing Fair Trade labeling in 2012 with the late director and activist U. Roberto Romano following a screening of his documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate, I learned that he believed this system—intended to help farmers—was, in fact, compromised and ineffective. I began to say, “I know a chocolate shop in San Luis Obispo that started a non-profit to help African cocoa farmers…,” when he interrupted me:
Tom Neuhaus [and his Project Hope and Fairness non-profit] is practicing Fair Trade as it was envisioned. Tom’s model works.
— U. Roberto Romano
We proudly support Project Hope and Fairness and Tom’s chocolate shop Mama Ganache Artisan Chocolates which provides a market for sweet treats that are often organic, often vegan, and always genuinely fair Fair Trade. On April 26, 2014, Project Hope and Fairness presented a foodie fundraiser in Paso Robles benefitting these African cocoa farming communities. This event took place at lovely Pear Valley Vineyard.
As a chocolatier, co-owner of Mama Ganache Artisan Chocolates, food science professor, and co-founder of Project Hope and Fairness, Tom Neuhaus has committed himself to improving the economic sustainability of rural African cocoa farming communities. “I’m in the business of chocolate to help cocoa farmers,” he says. Chocolate can be so sweet and delicious but not when it’s produced by a global chocolate industry largely relying on colonial-era practices that exploit vulnerable members of African farming communities, especially children.
Robin Romano argued in his documentary film that the global industrial food system produces cheap chocolate and huge profits for executives and shareholders by exploiting poor farmers. Project Hope and Fairness strives to empower these farming communities and effectively de-colonialize the production of a product that’s should be sweet from start to finish. The reality of sweet chocolate’s origins shouldn’t be so bitter.
What does really Fair Trade look like in the world of chocolate? In recent years, Project Hope and Fairness has travelled every summer to Africa to provide direct support to cocoa farming communities in Cameroon, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire by
- supplying tools and equipment (e.g., boots, scales, processing machinery for cocoa beans and raw food products like rice and coffee)
- helping build facilities for effective processing of cocoa beans in the village itself: Tom says, “Eventually, we hope to see Chocolat des Villages alongside the bars of Toblerone sold around the world.”
- developing a Cocoa Study Center to support and enhance the sustainability of African cocoa farming communities as well as to provide a learn-by-doing opportunity for students, professionals, and other United States citizens captivated by the taste and idea of truly Fair Trade chocolate
Project Hope and Fairness recognizes that, as a group, tropical farmers earn far less than 1% of the retail dollar—in contrast to the 18% earned by American farmers. By building local cottage industry, the farmers can sell their products locally and compete with the importation of European-made goods.
Help Project Hope and Fairness Help Cocoa Farmers
At beautiful Pear Valley Vineyards in Paso Robles on Saturday April 26, we attended a foodie fundraiser featuring delicious food and drink—exciting food prepared by Chef Tom Drahos of Avant-Garde Experience paired with excellent Pear Valley wines—while raising money for this summer’s Project Hope and Fairness trip to Cameroon, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire. Of course, there was chocolate.
The proceeds raised from this fundraiser will support travel to Africa, travel within Cameroon, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire, food and lodging, and the purchase of $5,000 worth of tools to be distributed to 15 villages. Every penny raised at this fundraiser from ticket sales and the silent auction goes to make this summer’s efforts on behalf of the cocoa farmer a reality.
We hope guests and friends were inspired by the generosity of our host winery and our wonderful chef as well as our keynote speaker, Kelsey Timmerman, back by popular demand. Author and world traveler Kelsey Timmerman once again shared his chocolate land insights which he developed in his book Where Am I Eating? from first-hand experiences including working at Côte d’Ivoire cocoa farms.
chief photo: Tom Neuhaus/Project Hope and Fairness
winery photo: Pear Valley Vineyard
food photo: Avant-Garde Experience
author photo: Kelsey Timmerman