Bachelor's Hall Farm- Jamaica
Carlos Castaneda, author of, "The teachings of Don Juan" often talks of places of power. These are geographic zones sometimes large sometimes very tiny that energize and are of particular significance to specific people. This is the feeling where everything randomly aligns in one place, still resonating long after one has left "the zone". We recently discovered Jamaica is one of those places.
slurping up cocoa pulp, drinking rum and doing cut tests by the sea
Aside from chocolate on this trip we met the most incredible people. Our love of music was charged by hanging out with Chris Blackwell at his Bizot Bar. The place is surreal, no walls, ocean waves echo like thunder, Ian Fleming wrote his 007 novels close by, sharks feeding at the bottom of the cliff. We talk fondly of the music and the artists he released on his then labels Axiom and Island records. Walls plastered with album covers, music that shaped our lives, music that plays on in our heads and at our chocolate factory daily. Albums we have named our chocolate after.
Later that day we release green sea turtles just 4 days old into the wild. These little guys are protected from predators and poachers by the Oracabessa Bay Sea Turtle Project. an island effort to increase population levels of this endangered species. We washed sand out of their tiny eyes and watched them naturally align themselves towards the sea where they will begin a 2 yr journey to the end of Jamaica, to Portugal down the coast of Africa and back again.
Warning cute video-Baby turtles after their first bath
Journey to the big blue sea
The main purpose for this short trip was to finally meet Desmond a cacao farmer we have been buying from and chatting with for a few years.
Mikey our navigator for the day, played a soundtrack of heavy dub setting the tone nicely for the 4 hour road trip into the Blue Mountains. Traveling through the countryside it was immediately clear the fertile lands in Jamaica are perfect for growing not only cacao and coffee but fruits, vegetables, sugarcane and thousands of different species of native plants.
The lush view from the road
The people who live and work here are mostly Rastafarians. Rastas have an innate understanding of the medicinal and life giving properties of the rainforest often staying in the forest days at a time. At one point Haranimal our new friend who rode part of the way to the farm with us ran into the dense forest barefoot and started wildly picking a dozen or more different herbs for different ailments. Powerful not only for their individual properties but how they are combined. He also gave us a bottle of his special blend of sweet smelling health serum. I wonder what other undiscovered remedies lay deep within the lushness of the Jamaican forest?
really sweet new friends Haranimal (left) Mikey (right)
Harananimal makes up a new song about chocolate tea in the car
Bachelor's Hall Farm is in a unique location in the valley between the majestic Blue and Jim Crowe mountain ranges fed by 2 natural fresh water springs. This lush moist farm is dependent on rainfall for healthy crops, but during hurricane season destruction from intense tropical storms are just a blink away. When the same source of nature can produce 2 very different realities it is no wonder there is a spirituality that washes over this forest.
Our first meeting with Desmond was like seeing an old friend. There were hugs all around and alot of laughing. Desmond is the real thing having grown up all his life on Bachelor's Hall Farm. He is now the keeper of the land, 1000 acres left to him by his grandfather. He is equal parts farmer, philosopher, mad man and scientist a perfect combination of characteristics to grow some of the best cacao we have ever worked with. He knows when to let it grow wild and when coaxing is needed to promote its beautiful flavour. Just recently our Bachelor's Hall Jamaica bar made with Desmond's beans won a silver in the International Chocolate awards, a testament to how well he cares for his trees.
A photo water damaged by a storm of Desmond's grandparents hangs proudly in his living room
A short hike into the forest and we are surrounded by cacao trees in every direction. There are different genus types, sizes, colours, and shapes of pods the distinctive earthy jungle floor smell thick in the air. For chocolate makers who live out of the equatorial growing range of cacao this is a rare paradise.
Deep in the cacao jungle.
the incredible colours of the pods
2 different colours on the same trunk
The cacao plants were brought to Jamaica in the 1800s from Trinidad. The trees love the nutrient rich land on the island, after a few days of pruning and clearing out wild growth from the beginning of one section to the end, the forest has gone wild again- hard work. Desmond grows without the use of any pesticides or chemicals of any kind making his farm grow a little more wild. This greatly adds to his daily work load of constantly maintaining the cacao trees.
Desmond intermingles coconut trees with cacao, he tells us this is not a common way to grow but his cacao trees love it. It also provides him with a secondary crop for trading and provides a natural drink for his workers in the jungle.
Desmond holds up a cracked pod revealing the fruit. We sucked on the pulp all day, the flesh tasting like a cross between lychee and mangosteens.
Box where the pulp and cacao beans ferment under banana leaves and burlap.
A strong series of tropical storms with 220 km/hr winds from Hurricane Matthew passed through the farm days before, Destruction was evident in the form of downed branches, flash floods and missing sections of roofing from the drying house. The last big hurricane took years of profit to make repairs to the farm. Desmond does everything he can to avoid selling off pieces of his land to make ends meet. Despite all this Desmond remains optimistic rhyming off a mental to do list of projects to make his farm better.
inside the drying room
We hike up to the highest point on his land, a magical spot where we can see his entire farm in the valley below. The wind is strong, swaying palm trees noisy, both mountain ranges and freshwater springs visible amongst the green backdrop. We discuss plans when we will come back and set up a small chocolate making line for him to make his own bars. There is string on the ground mapping out walls for a house Desmond will eventually build for his family of 5 children. Until that time he comes up here every day to survey his land, dream and make plans for his future. He believes his reason for being on this earth is to make sure when he leaves this lifetime "Bachelors Hall will be a better place than when he started." It seems he has already achieved this.