Cloud 9 Rising with Potential

BEGINNINGS / PROCESS 

Stop the bus!” Bruce Smith shouted, when he saw the cacao trees growing in the wild. Smith, a retired chocolate man on his first volunteer mission to Jamaica, was aware that the country had been known for its fine-flavored criollo cacao. In recent decades the cacao crop had been devastated by disease (mostly frosty pod) but he saw that some trees still flourished.  Smith was in Jamaica as a volunteer with American Caribbean Experience (ACE), an NGO based in Atlanta, Georgia, serving in the parish of St. Mary’s in Jamaica.

His excitement was unrestrained: “If cacao is still growing here, couldn’t we teach local residents to produce chocolate?” he asked ACE executive director Marla Fitzwater. Her response, as it usually is to ACE volunteers with a good idea, was “When do we start?” This project would meet the criteria set by ACE for approved projects.

Smith spoke with Andal Balu and Balu Balasubramanian of CocoaTown at a Philadelphia Candy, Gift and Gourmet show. Their Alpharetta, Georgia-based business produces the bean-to-bar equipment needed for this type of endeavor, and also offers engineering expertise. Smith himself would provide the expertise and chocolate-making experience.  That one-week volunteer trip to Jamaica for Smith has turned into the creation of Cloud 9 Chocolate, and serves to revitalize the chocolate industry in parish of St. Mary. 

Many former cacao-growing areas had been turned into banana and sugar plantations instead. Pockets of existing cacao trees could again provide beans for the next microbusiness effort in St. Mary, Jamaica, Smith and Fitzwater reasoned

Bruce Smith’s experience: One Key to Success

Smith’s experience in chocolate includes decades with Nestlé Peters, Cargill and Barry Callebaut as well as the Philadelphia National Candy Show, PMCA and Retail Confectioners International. Since that oneweek volunteer trip, Smith has visited Jamaica six times and will be on a seventh when this article is published. He is hooked on the ACExperience … and anxious to hook others. “After my wife died, this project gives me something meaningful to do.” With his expertise and industry contacts, he has done a great deal more than just get out of his house to serve others. His excitement is contagious. Anyone willing to listen will hear about the lives that Cloud 9 positively affects and why the project matters. Fitzwater said, “Bruce has contributed hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours to this effort. Plus many trips here at his own expense.”

American Caribbean Experience

ACE is an independent nonprofit organization focused on helping single moms and families who were financially challenged earn an income to support themselves and their children. The outreach ministry is dedicated to community transformation. Founder and executive director of ACE, Fitzwater realized decades ago that to make an impact in the lives of individuals, their most basic needs must be met: education, healthcare and enterprise. Cloud 9 Chocolates is the latest microbusiness that can be credited to ACE volunteers using their talents and interests to encourage and empower Jamaican nationals.

PAST

For a variety of reasons, the cacao industry of years ago had dried up; farmers stopped cultivating the trees and frosty pod took over. Although Jamaican cacao used to be sold to prominent producer Cadbury (Smith saw a faded sign from that company on one of his trips), that level of production had been a thing of the past. Smith returned several times to St. Mary’s parish, meeting with farmers, government representatives and ACE leaders. In August 2018, Allen Fitzwater (husband of ACE’s executive director) came to train on the equipment at CocoaTown in the United States. Then, Allen and Bruce continued the training of employees to process chocolate “bean-to-bar.

(Excerpts from Cloud 9 Rising with Potential in The Manufacturing Confectioner • March 2020.

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