Thursday 18 August 2022

Venn Diagrams and Me

I started thinking about Venn diagrams as an illustration for a post to try and capture some of the events and ways that I am able to learn new skills, new relationships etc to help me learn and shape my business.  As I played with them, I realised that they could also illustrate how the business has brought together different aspects of my life - work, education, interests.

There is a lot of work in making chocolate and running a small business and to be honest most of it is repetitive, laborious and more than a little dull!  What keeps me going is learning and experimenting - with flavours (new plants and new ways of processing them), with new chocolates that I meet and grow to know and love, with meeting new people in the foraging and chocolate making worlds, as well as other small businesses who inspire me.  These three worlds are on the whole completely separate and I often wonder if I alone occupy that large overlap in the above Venn diagram!  All three worlds are full of amazing people, all very generous with their knowledge and support and I take as many opportunities as I am able to take part in any to engage with them.  Over the last few months I have been involved in a couple of amazing events that have nurtured me in different ways.  

In May, I joined a wonderful group of foragers in a very beautiful rewooding field in the Lake District (Oak Howe run by the lovely Deborah and Rob of Wild Human),  at the Association of Foragers gathering.  Three days that passed in a relaxed fug of cooking, talking, laughing, eating, cooking some more, laughing some more.  I even roasted cocoa beans in a wood fired pizza oven, and we cracked and peeled them and ground them into a paste in a stone pestle and mortar (but once introduced to a a freshly roasted cocoa bean - most of them just got consumed!)  We even tempered chocolate in the field kitchen and dipped amazing wild goodies in them (apologies - had so much fun I did not even take any photos!).

And in July, my chocolate itch for learning took me (virtually) to Amsterdam and Chocoa.  I have been to Chocoa and it was fantastic to dip into chocolate conversations, meet cocoa growers and chocolate makers from around the world and TASTE amazing chocolates (I wrote a blog post about it here).  During COVID they ran an entirely online conference which was fabulous and during those disconnected days a real joy to spend three days in a virtual world.  This year, it was a hybrid event and although I would have loved to have been there and have warm, real conversations with people - I could not spare time or budget to travel.  However, I utterly loved the opportunity to listen in to presentations, discussions, and this is a really interesting time in the cocoa and chocolate making worlds.  Time for another Venn diagram I think.....

One of the big topics at this year's Chocoa was a new EU regulation coming in very soon, the Regulation on deforestation-free products. Once this is in place, any EU based business importing agricultural commodities (sugar, coffee, cocoa, etc) has to demonstrate that there has been no deforestation in the production of those commodities.  This has thrown the cocoa industry into a frenzy of activity - especially in West Africa, the largest producers of cocoa in the world.  Agroforestry is seem as one of 'the answers' and it was strange to listen to fervent presentations extolling the virtues of combining trees and agriculture, as I have spent so much of my former natural resources career doing exactly this - accompanied with lovely diagrams of layered tree canopies and crops, and cycles of cropping.  I was transported to a former life 40 years ago.  Exciting to hear people enthuse and talk about it, but also depressing that 40 years-on this form of land use is still considered novel and innovative.

The other exciting new movement in the chocolate world is the rapid rise in chocolate making in countries of cocoa origin; this was far more common in the Americas where there is a tradition of eating cocoa and cocoa products, but really not happening very much at all in Africa - despite so much cocoa growing there.  Cocoa farmers learning how to make chocolate from their own crop, adding value to their production - learning how to process, how to market, how to develop a domestic market that may not have existed before.  I have followed with fascination and admiration the Cross Atlantic Chocolate Collective - who are doing just that - sharing knowledge and learning from the Caribbean to Africa.  

It is a little frustrating sometimes in my Highland remoteness that my only engagement with these exciting developments is passive and through the portal of social media and online events.  But I am grateful for this window, and to the extraordinary people that push boundaries and make change.  They influence my own way of doing things - challenge me to think differently, to reflect on my own experience and knowledge and push and expand and explore those overlaps in my Venn diagrams.