We are all adjusting to our new normal during this global pandemic, the operations of HCP Designees are no different.  Over the next few weeks, HCP will be highlighting HCP Designees around the world.  We will go through the challenges they have faced and overcome the past few months as a result of the Pandemic, and how you can help. (spoiler alert: you can help by eating delicious fine flavor chocolate!)

This week we are hearing from James Carouba of Terciopelo Cacao, HCP Designee #6. Terciopelo Cacao has been in production in southern Costa Rica since March 2007.   Owner James Carouba bought the largest cacao plantation on the Pacific side of Costa Rica and expanded the plantation with Heirloom designated cacao varieties.  James has answered some questions in regards to how the Pandemic is impacting Terciopelo Cacao and its surrounding region.

Q: How has the Pandemic affected your farm operations?
A: It hasn’t changed our basic operations.  Our workers are happy and relieved to have a job and don’t feel a lot of anxiety about COVID out here in the country with extremely low population density, but it has affected other important activities. For example, we were going to get a well digger to look for water on our farm, but he pulled back because of Coronavirus fears.  This actually led to some creative solutions – we decided it would be better to develop two springs we found on the property instead.

Q: What new challenges has the pandemic caused in your operations?
A: Interesting…I have become accustomed to the changes that I didn’t think about it until you mentioned it.  There are some curfews, but since we are farmers, we go to bed before it.  And, cars are restricted depending on your license plate, but the restriction just means that you can’t drive one day a week, so it isn’t much of an inconvenience.

The local farmers markets are closed and that means that we have lost one source of income.  We normally sell our chocolate and extra rice, beans and corn at the market.  The market has developed an online ordering system that connects the farmers with customers, which is great, but doesn’t allow us to sell as much as we do when we have a physical presence at the market.

Q: What is the current status of operation in your country/region?
A: Costa Rica is still closed to tourists, the businesses that we need to operate are still open.  The lumber yards, agriculture stores, supermarkets, etc.  It can be inconvenient and cause delays in our program, but we are able to work around it.

Q: How has the Pandemic affected the livelihood & economy in your area?
A: One thing about living in an area where subsistence farming is the norm – life is hard and people work hard just to keep their head above water. So, the pandemic is not making their lives any harder than they usually are.

But, we are also close to a popular tourist area and the people who work in the tourism sector are suffering. The big tourism season is normally taking off in March. For many people, their income went from comfortable to zero overnight. The government is handing out food boxes to hard hit areas, stepping up unemployment payments, etc. But, people are pulling in their belts, planting rice and beans, harvesting the fruit that may have been left to rot in richer times, etc.

In short, it spans the gamut. Some people feel little difference and others are suffering. We don’t see the hardships here on the farm but we know it is not far away.

To fill out the picture even more… Many people who work in the tourism industry still have family, roots and connections to the countryside. So even some of the city people are coming out to the country to plant rice with their country living cousins.

Q: Are you developing new opportunities to adapt to these new challenges?
A: The first few weeks were very disorienting for everyone.  Now that we are getting used to the changes, we are looking at how to proceed with our program.  The outreach program may be remodeled if the Seed Festival will not happen this year.  If tourism starts again we will implement our plan to do tours and education, but it will be somewhat delayed.  If tourism doesn’t return, then we will work on an alternate plan to help cacao remain a sustainable crop in Costa Rica.

To stay updated with what is happening at Terciopelo Cacao, you can follow James and the Terciopelo Cacao journey on Instagram here.

Chocolate bars made from Terciopelo Cacao are available at Goodnow Farms Chocolate.

How can you help support Heirloom Designees around the world during these uncertain times? Click the following link to our Buy Heirloom Chocolate page on our website, where you can find a list of retailers selling chocolate made from Heirloom designated cacao beans.

With your purchase, you will enjoy extraordinary chocolate and support our Heirloom farmers.