What types of interactions happen at a project like Mashpi Chocolate?

What types of interactions happen at a project like Mashpi Chocolate?


In restoration work, numerous interactions unfold from the moment we immerse our hands in the Earth, recognizing the space’s troubled history prior to our intervention. The soil, once burdened by compaction from years of mismanaged livestock farming, tells a tale of neglect. Despite its unsuitability for extensive cattle grazing due to frequent rainfall, the land was inundated with more cows than it could sustain.

Years later, when the land could no longer bear the weight of the livestock, abandonment ensued. The soil bore the brunt of the impact, initiating a multitude of interactions between us and the land from the beginning. This included the implementation of various practices aimed at recovery and regeneration. Key among these was the capture and reproduction of microorganisms to rejuvenate the soil. We quickly realized that this microbiology thrived not only on air and water but also required additional nurturing.

While the abundant humidity and regular rainfall create a remarkably healthy environment with excellent air quality, it’s essential to recognize that the microbiology within the soil, although crucial, extends beyond the ground itself. This understanding has guided our interactions, leading us to focus on increasing organic matter. We’ve achieved this through strategic planting of pruning plants and what we often refer to as “green manures.” A significant portion of these plants belongs to the legume family, including beans and lima beans. Their importance lies not only in their interactions with us but also in the intricate relationships they foster underground, particularly with microorganisms like microrrhizic bacteria. These bacteria play a vital role in facilitating the capture of free nitrogen from the atmosphere above. Over thousands of years, these plant-microorganism interactions have evolved, allowing us to essentially “harvest” nitrogen and reintroduce it into the soil. Recognizing nitrogen as a crucial macronutrient—one of the primary requirements for plants—equates to infusing the system with essential fuel. It’s akin to providing energy that accelerates the restoration process, propelling it forward swiftly and efficiently.

Our interactions with the land extend to management practices, including pruning and the art of interpreting the landscape across different seasons. While this region experiences just two distinct seasons—one with more rainfall and one with less—we must discern the optimal timing and techniques for pruning. This interaction allows us to reclaim the symbiotic relationship between plants and humans, where each benefits the other, underscoring its significance in our restoration efforts.

Expanding on this, our interactions extend to the returning biodiversity, particularly evident in the increased diversity of birds. This resurgence establishes a mutually beneficial relationship, as many of these birds are natural insectivores. Their presence aids us in maintaining a delicate balance and managing potential pest populations effectively. Indeed, many of these birds not only fulfill their role as insect-eaters but also contribute to the restoration ambiance through their music. Their joyful tunes infuse our restoration systems with a sense of vitality and harmony. Some even suggest that plants benefit from being serenaded, drawing parallels between the soothing effect of music and the natural rhythms of the environment. Singing, a form of imitation of nature, allows energies to converge, unlocking additional layers of connection and resonance within our ecosystem.

Furthermore, interactions encompass the intricate process of harvesting: determining the optimal moment to harvest, ensuring the cacao reaches its peak ripeness, guaranteeing unparalleled quality and flavor. Subsequently, our engagement extends to post-harvest procedures, meticulously supervising the fermentation and closely monitoring the drying process. Each day, we engage with the cacao plants directly, stationed at the base of the bushes, overseeing every stage with care. We remain vigilant, assessing humidity levels and adjusting accordingly—whether to expose the cacao to the sun or provide shelter during humid spells, characteristic of our environment. I often liken this attentive care to giving the cocoa a “massage,” ensuring it remains relaxed throughout the drying process.

Our interaction with the cacao doesn’t end with harvesting; it continues seamlessly into the chocolate-making process. From roasting and peeling to crafting the nibs and ultimately producing chocolate, we remain intimately involved at every step. Additionally, we maintain constant engagement with the other trees and plants that yield the ingredients for our final products. This ongoing interaction serves as a platform for continual learning. Each team member has honed specialized skills, whether it’s expertly managing the soil or crafting the perfect formulation to ensure our chocolate results are delicious every time.

To conclude, it’s important to highlight the broader interactions that occur at the landscape level and with our neighbors. We find great value in integrating with our community, mirroring the harmonious way nature operates. Rather than viewing our neighbors as competitors, our approach is rooted in collaboration and mutual benefit. We understand that our project’s foundation lies in conservation and we recognize that the well-being of our forests and water sources is intertwined with the well-being of our community. Therefore, working closely with our neighbors has been essential. We extend this collaborative spirit to supporting restoration efforts on other farms within the community, ensuring that our collective impact contributes positively to the environment and society at large.

Currently, Agustina is deeply immersed in a project, actively engaging with various plots that need to be recovered.. Similarly, I’m involved in expanding regenerative plots across multiple farms. Additionally, our commitment to community tourism remains unwavering. We tirelessly promote and support it, fostering connections and synergies within our community. This collaborative approach mirrors the intricate interplay found in nature, fostering enduring positive interactions. Our aim is to cultivate relationships and initiatives that not only endure but also grow in strength, paving the way for a truly sustainable future.

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