- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 2015

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - Mindo Chocolate Makers, a small company producing artisanal and sustainable chocolate in Dexter, is offering a unique program the owners are calling “Community Supported Chocolate.” For $150, participants in the CSC will receive three shares of Mindo chocolate products throughout the fall.

The idea is a take-off on the CSA, or community supported agriculture, where customers pay farmers up front for a seasonal share of the farm’s output. The advance cash payment enables the farmer to invest in equipment and labor during the growing and harvest seasons, and encourages farmers to grow organic, heirloom variety cocoa beans, reduces waste and boosts sustainability for cocoa farmers.

Mindo Chocolate Makers owner Barbara Wilson tells The Ann Arbor News ( http://bit.ly/1TlgehS ) that the largest and highest-quality cocoa harvest takes place during the late summer months in Ecuador, where she and her husband Jose Meza operate a restaurant and hotel, and where they source the cocoa for their bean-to-bar chocolate.

“Every year when it’s time for harvest time in Ecuador, the farmers want us to buy a lot of cocoa beans,” said Wilson. “The farmers want to be able to employ people to get all the beans when they’re ripe, and it’s always a dilemma for us to come up with enough money to buy as much as we want at harvest time.”

Wilson says that just like with a traditional CSA, this is a chance for fans of high-quality chocolate to band together to buy a lot of cocoa beans when they’re at their prime. She would be “crazy happy” to raise $10,000 with the CSC program, which she said would pay in advance for about nine months of chocolate manufacturing.

“It won’t get us through for a full year,” said Wilson. “We’re growing pretty fast, and we’re always needing more beans than we needed last shipment.”

Wilson and Meza started Mindo Chocolate Makers in their Dexter home factory in 2009, after a 30th anniversary trip through Ecuador sparked their interest in cacao farming and chocolate manufacturing.

Six years later, the couple produces 200 pounds of chocolate products a week, shipping their chocolate across the state of Michigan.

Participants in the Mindo CSC program will receive three shipments of chocolate products, each worth at least $50, consisting of a mix of chocolate bars, baking chocolate, cocoa powder, drinking chocolate, and seasonal and limited releases. There’s an optional February, Valentine’s shipment for an additional $50.

“They’d have first crack at our seasonal bars,” said Wilson. “Every spring and early fall and holiday season we come up with a seasonal bar. Also new this year are our country-of-origin bars, which will be included in the program.”

Though cocoa beans come from countries like Ecuador, the beans are then shipped to Europe and the United States, where almost all of the chocolate in the world is made, explained Wilson.

“These country-of-origin bars are made in the countries where the cocoa beans grow, which is very unusual,” said Wilson. “We just started making bars in Ecuador. We’re making two bars - a macadamia nut bar made with nuts bought from farmers right outside Mindo, and an 87 percent bar that our customers have been clamoring for.”

Sign-up has begun for the Mindo Community Supported Chocolate program on the Mindo Chocolate website, where you can also get more information on what is included in each chocolate share. Participants can opt to pick their shares up at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market or Detroit’s Eastern Market, or have it shipped to their homes for an additional fee.

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Information from: The Ann Arbor News, http://www.mlive.com/ann-arbor

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