You're most likely to find me hanging out in these seminars, soaking up a wealth of knowledge from the individuals presenting, many of them fascinating characters in their own right.
It is particularly difficult to make recommendations for what not to miss since there are so many great options. You can't go wrong with any presentation happening in the series titled, "Who's Your Farmer? Cocoa Farm & Field". You'll have a difficult problem on Sunday, when you'll have to choose from a number of fantastic presentations that are happening at the same time.
Here's what I wouldn't miss:
10am - Emily Stone, Maya Mountain Cacao, Belize: "Opportunities & Challenges for Sourcing Cacao". Emily is an impressive young woman who co-founded Maya Mountain Cacao in Belize. She is currently based in Guatemala, where she's setting up a new cacao sourcing operation called "Cacao Verapaz". You can read about Emily in one of my previous posts on my trip to Belize.
11am - Maricel Presilla, Chocolate Expert & Award-Winning Author: "Field Report: Latin American Cacao". Maricel is the author of an important book in the world of cacao, The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. She's an expert with significant experience in Central American cacao, and she happens to also be a James Beard Award-winning chef.
12pm - Lars Moller, Ingemann Fine Cocoa, Nicaragua: "Creating Sustainability in Nicaragua"
While I have never met Mr. Moller and I don't know much about Ingemann Fine Cocoa, Ingemann's approach to sourcing is a very different model from Maya Mountain Cacao. Both are meant to decrease the inequities of cacao trading for the farmer, but they've taken very different routes to get there. I'm curious what Mr. Moller has to say. I'm particularly curious about how Ingemann's 30-year guaranteed market access works for farmers.
3pm - Dr. Carla Martin, Harvard Fellow: "Labor and the Chocolate Industry: Let's Look at Who Works and What Doesn't... Who's Your Farmer". Dr. Martin looks at sourcing from an academic and research perspective. She provides her insights in an approachable format that makes this topic easily digestible to anyone interested in trade issues.
4pm - Amanda Thomas, Yellowseed: "Conscious Trade in Peru: Transparent Pathways to Economic Development and Environmental Conservation". Yellowseed is a fascinating organization that aims to use the internet and cell phones to provide farmers with more direct connections to buyers, eliminating the middle man and improving transparency at every point in the supply chain. It's a technology startup with a bright future.
10am - Emily Stone, Maya Mountain Cacao, Belize: "Origin Pioneering: Central America". See my comments on Emily Stone in my Saturday list of recommendations.
10am - Dr. Kristy Leissle, Cocoa Expert, University of Washington: "Where Food is Fuel, Cocoa in West Africa". Dr. Leissle is an engaging speaker who has spent a considerable amount of time in Ghana researching the cacao industry. She presents interesting, first-hand examples from her experiences, and she brings a political economy perspective to her findings.
11am - Mark, Meso Cacao: "How We Built a Chocolate Factory in Honduras". A first-hand account of setting up chocolate manufacturing in the country of origin. This approach keeps more of the value of the finished product in the country, and it often enables more direct trade with cacao farmers. It also has its challenges.
12pm - Dennis Maccray, CEO Theo Chocolate: "Congo Initiative: Chocolate Makes a Difference". If you've heard Ben Affleck talking about Theo Chocolate, it's because of Theo's involvement in the Congo Initiative. An impressive program meant to give a war-torn population a chance at a future, the Congo Initiative has shown some pretty impressive results.
12pm - Greg D'alesandre, Dandelion Chocolate: "Sourcing for Flavor - Our Journey to Discovering the Best Cocoa Bean for the Best Chocolate Bar". As a craft chocolate maker, it's important to find and source the most flavorful cacao beans. This is often easier said than done. I'm looking forward to hearing one craft chocolate maker's approach.
1pm - Zohara Mapes, TCHO Chocolate: "Sensory + Quality Analysis + Origin Flavor Labs, Working with Cocoa Farmers to Enhance Chocolate Flavor". As a company that has struggled and overcome flavor challenges in the past, I'm curious to hear TCHO's specific approach to giving farmers feedback on flavor.