A conversation with Laurence Tremblay, co-founder and business manager of Guatemalan social enterprise, Cacao Source and founder of the nonprofit arm, Give Back to the Source. Emma Chow, the host of the Regenerative Minds series, explores with Laurence the regenerative mindset in the chocolate industry, cacao’s potential for regeneration, cacao farming, culture, and community in Guatemala, and much more.
LISTEN TO THE CONVERSATION ON:
Emma had a chance to meet some of the Cacao Source team when visiting Guatemala in 2022. Even though Laurence and Emma didn’t meet back then, in this conversation they discuss how to design enterprises to realise cacao’s unseen potential while weaving a new story for chocolate, from a different set of values. They talk about regenerative farming and indigenous communities, empowering women, personal responsibility and integrity in food and ag industry.
The Regenerative Mind series is supported by our friends at Stray who are exploring systemic investing with awe and wonder as well as our friends at Mustardseed Trust, who are enabling a transition to a care economy that fosters regenerative food systems.
WHAT COMES TO LAURENCE’S MIND WHEN WE SAY REGENERATIVE MIND?
If you Google ‘regenerative mind’, a clear definition won’t come up. A regenerative mind, for Laurence, is about improvement. It’s not a tick-box exercise. Just like organic certification is about meeting a list of requirements, while regenerative farming isn’t about ticking boxes and meeting the needs of a place that evolves overtime.
”It’s very interesting, because, if I’m honest, before this podcast, I’d never heard about that term. I heard a lot about regeneration, regenerative initiatives, but regenerative mind was something new; I even needed to Google it. […] I think it’s about improvement. What I always love about the term regenerative, especially working with cacao farmers and different farmers all around Guatemala, is the improvement side of it. So, the fact that it’s not a box to tick, it’s not organic. Organic has a box where you tick, and it has things you need to do, but regenerative is more about the improvement of the soil and the mind. I would say it’s more about the improvement of the mind. […] It’s a choice that we make every day about how we can nurture our mind and see, feel, and think clearer. So, as an image, I see kind of a garden in the mind, a lush garden, where the smells would be flowers and where there’s more peace in the mind. […] And it doesn’t mean to be perfect, but just a bit better every day. And I think that’s how we’d see a regenerative mind.” – Laurence Tremblay
”I would imagine the same with a regenerative mind where it’s not just butterflies and flowers; it’s also that you need to water it, you need to feed it, you need to give compost to it, nurture the soil, and all of that, so I think it also means a lot of discipline, a lot of waking up early, listening to the needs of it, and nurturing it on a daily basis. So, it’s not, as I mentioned something, you can just do a checkbox and say, okay, now I want a regenerative mind, and that’s my action, and now I have one. It’s really something that you can never give up on. And you always need, every day, to nurture that mine.” – Laurence Tremblay
Clearly regenerative minds differ from a non-regenerative mindset, which we see embodied in the mono culture agriculture and capitalist system, that is highly reactive rather than responsive.
REGENERATION THROUGH CACAO
Cacao, the source of chocolate, is a medicine in Mayan history; it can be a force for regeneration of people and planet, and Cacao Source is a social enterprise that is doing just that. Its vision is to be a force for regeneration through cacao.
”Cacao is medicine. And that’s why it’s bitter. The bitterness is a sign of this medicine. And it’s not only medicine for our health; it’s also medicine for the land. It’s an incredible crop partner, a tree in an agroforestry system. It gives, it’s abundant, and it’s great in an agroforestry system. And it’s menacing also socially. It used to be abundant in the literal form of finance and in the literal form of society. So, it has this potential to be regenerative. It has this potential to be medicine of the land, of the people, of even finance, of everything.”- Laurence Tremblay
”When I learned about cacao, a lot thanks to my business partner, Jordan, it was this aha moment. I was like, Wait, we can do business, do good for people, do good for nature, and do good financially without being in charity. It has a lot of cultural and spiritual weight, the medicine of cacao. So, it has this kind of wholesome, holistic, which is a bit of what regeneration is; it’s just like the full circle of the cycle that you want to build. So, for me, it’s just kind of this plan that completed the model I was trying to build with social business. And now I’m trying to extract this model and bring it in through other types of products and other types of business models. But kickout was really the one that brought me to the realization that it’s possible to have a business and do good, not only environmentally but in all aspects.” – Laurence Tremblay
When Cacao Source was originated, permaculture principles were applied. Laurence loved permaculture, but doesn’t have a ‘green thumb’, so she looked for other ways to serve. Just as permaculture provides a lens for seeing a garden as a system, she began seeing the business world as a system, understanding the interconnection of all parts. Applying permaculture principles to their business, Laurence anther co-founders developed a ‘fair share’ model which means all of the management team receive equal pay, which is unheard of in Guatemala. They started the business with no investments and no loans, but applied another permaculture principle ‘collect the yields’ to make sure the business could earn profit that was reinvested to support its evolution.
SINGLE-ORIGIN CACAO IS NEVER MIXED
Many of the ‘single origin’ chocolate bars we find these days are sourced from an entire country, while Cacao Source’s single-origin cacao is sourced from six different producers, and they are never mixed. Cacao has a more complex palate than wine, so each origin has a distinct flavour that reflects the soils and the fruits of that place. Their approach to working with farmers is highly collaborative and entails a lot of deep listening, growing an appreciation for farmers’ realities, and a relationship with the unique place the cacao comes from.
”So, at the level of the farmers, single origin comes from the fact that every single source of our cacao comes from a certain earth. So actually, when you look into cacao, the palate of taste of cacao is even more developed than the wine one.” – Laurence Tremblay
”We never split; we never mix the cacao. We don’t mix within the farms. So, we work in three different regions of Guatemala with six different producers. And we never mix the producers.” – Laurence Tremblay
”It’s all small-scale, locally owned farms of single origin, and then we try as much as possible to be part of the process of how much is the wet cacao bought from the farmers, so to ensure also that the money goes to the producers themselves. So, to meet the producers, know them, visit them on a regular basis, and work with them.” – Laurence Tremblay
CACAO SOURCE IS MODELLING MORE DISTRIBUTED POWER AND OWNERSHIP
Independence is an important value they carry; none of the women’s cooperatives
Cacao Source works with are bound to single contracts, meaning they are free to work with
other employers, and even come up with their own ideas. One of the women in a collective has even created her own cacao business. Cacao Source is modelling more distributed power and ownership.
”We work with seven women’s cooperatives, and we usually connect with the leader. […] And then, once we found these leaders, we would train them to process the cacao and walk them through the process, and then they would start leading a team. So, they would work with their neighbours, some family members, some single women, and women in need of work, and then they would process all of the cacao from Cacao Source.” – Laurence Tremblay
”The women are doing the heart of the work, really, the whole process, hand peeling every single cacao by hand. It’s a lot of time, it’s a lot of heart. And they’re a huge, huge part of what we do. They’re part of the team. They’re part of the vision of the project. We sit with them, we create meetings once a month with all the women, and we brainstorm and share. […] And the goal was to have them independent. So, for example, probably our biggest success, in my personal belief, is the first Women Collective we started working with. Now her sister went to the US, and with her sister, she started her own brand of cacao, Mayamei Cacao, and this is amazing, and she still works with us; she still processes some of our cacao when she has time. […] they become independent, and not only independent in a way where they go work with other projects, but independent where they created their own project and where they’re their own boss now.” – Laurence Tremblay
OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED
Emma and Laurence also talked about:
- Mindset is everything. It needs to value the process of learning and turn towards it, developing capacities for deep listening, naming where things could have been done better and not getting hung up on perfect.
- Looking deeply into mindset and working to change it is scary, it means potentially uprooting entire belief systems, valuing food differently, for instance.
- Give Back to the Source is an NGO that the Cacao Source team developed to serve unmet needs they were seeing in the farming communities in Guatemala, particularly bringing giving women economic opportunities that also contribute to regeneration. They struggled to find a suitable NGO to donate part of their profits to, so they created one themselves. This also was in an effort to diversify income. The NGO is built for the community’s independence, so community members themselves can actually have ownership of the NGO.
- Laurence believes a shift in mindset begins with taking personal responsibility for decisions and our impacts, getting clear on our values and living them with integrity — a value that she first investigated at 20 years old and has set her on a journey of carving a life that is in alignment with her own values
- Diversity, integrity, deep listening, seeing potential are all key words that emerged from our conversation and seem to underpin a regenerative mindset.
- Gijs Boers on why the biggest drive to the growth of regenerative agriculture is quality
- Shaun Paul on building a regenerative business movement that gives 90% of the wealth to local indigenous peoples
- Zach Ben – Breaking down centuries of oppression through indigenous baby food
- Liz Carlisle – Let’s get real, regeneration is nothing new, so let’s honour the indigenous history
- Chris Newman on busting the single family farm myth and why indigenous collectives are the way to go
- osh and Rebecca Tickell – If you like sick people and climate chaos keep investing in chemical agriculture
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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.