- Associated Press - Saturday, December 31, 2016

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) - After migrating from Colorado to the Rogue Valley, Dagoba Chocolate founder Frederick Schilling accomplished what many entrepreneurs only dream about - building a company and selling it for millions.

When his $17 million paycheck came from Hershey in 2006, Schilling didn’t simply recede into the shadows to live the good life. The driving principles that enabled him to grow a hand-poured, hand-wrapped organic chocolate bar shop into an operation with international distribution assured his future entrepreneurial chapters, reported the Mail Tribune (https://bit.ly/2icC25g).

Today, the 45-year-old Ashland resident is a partner and co-CEO in a global organic coconut product firm. Big Tree Farms sources its raw material from 14,000 small, Indonesian farmers, primarily on the islands of Bali, Java and Sulaweesi, and operates four factories with 400 employees. Schilling also is a partner in AMMA Chocolate, a Brazilian organic company with a factory in Salvador and headquarters in Sao Paulo. That operation began in 2008 and employs more than 30 people.

“I will always be involved in the organic industry in some capacity,” Schilling said. “It’s a place where I can really act for environmental and social change.”

He remained with Dagoba after the sale to help in the transition, but left within two years.

“I got bored, to be honest,” he said.

The groundwork for Big Tree Farms was laid while procuring cacao beans during his Dagoba days. That’s when he met up with Big Tree Farms co-founder Ben Ripple, who was working in Bali. They combined their talents to move beyond selling bulk beans in the commodity market and into the value-added realm. As a result, Big Tree Farms became a leader in the development of raw, cold-processed, organic cacao powder and butter. From there, Big Tree went on to introduce the world to organic coconut sugar and nectar.

Big Tree is now Indonesia’s largest organic food company and the biggest producer and manufacturer of coconut sweeteners in the world.

“The vision was to continue to work with impoverished farmers throughout Indonesia to create products and bring them to international markets,” Schilling said. “In 2008, we had about 300 traditional farmers in our supply chain. We’ve built that to 14,000, most growing around 5 acres.”

Big Trees has been a pioneer in producing sugar from coconut blossom nectar.

“It’s low glycemic, sustainable and the most nutritious sweetener there is,” Schilling said. “It grows year-round, and from harvest to processing it takes four weeks, and takes two to three months until it gets to the shelf.”

He likens it to maple syrup, where you tap a maple tree and collect sap.

“With coconut, you harvest the flower which grows at the top of the tree,” Schilling said. “You can get up to three liters per day per tree. It’s literally flowing because it produces so much nectar. It’s considered the world’s most sustainable sweetener, and ironically it’s been around thousands of years. The reason it’s not more popular is that cane sugar is cheaper. It’s considered a mono-crop, like corn. You can essentially mow down cane with a combine, whereas coconut sugar is a manual process.”

Big Tree Farms products are available at stores ranging from Whole Foods, Fred Meyer and Costco to Shop’n Kart, food cooperatives and Natural Grocers.

In 2008, he became a partner with Diego Badaroin in AMMA Chocolate, creating Brazil’s first vertically integrated artisan chocolate firm.

“I pride myself in being a good employer,” said Schilling, who studied theology and music before dropping out of Ohio Wesleyan University. “To create a stressful work environment is absolutely counterproductive. I believe in creating an enjoyable work environment that’s beneficial for the company and individuals working there; that’s the responsibility any employer has.”

By the nature of his business interests, Schilling is a frequent flier, spending a month or two annually in Indonesia and a similar period of time in Brazil. Big Tree Farms’ U.S. headquarters is on Mistletoe Street in Ashland, near Adroit Construction.

“I don’t get enough time in Ashland right now,” said Schilling, who also has a residence in Topanga, California, north of Santa Monica.


Information from: Mail Tribune, https://www.mailtribune.com/

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