Much of my motivation comes from other women. I would like to start 2016 by sharing the story of a woman I met last November at Food Matters Live, a three day event that brings together academics, consumers and industry to debate.
Her name is Alyssa Jade McDonald-Bärtl and she knows chocolate. Her presentation came at the end of a long day when my attention was barely enough to get the train back home. But her conviction, slides and evidence immediately energised me – an excellent public speaker. Alyssa is a social entrepreneur that fights for food sovereignty and agroecology by improving chocolate standards. She is the creator of Blyss chocolate and the Cacao Academy.
She argues that by creating connoisseurs, in her specific case, within the chocolate industry, standards can improve and we want standards to improve! Think about wine. For a full explanation on her strategy to raise and evolve food standards, watch her TEDx talk. I thought she was a kindred spirit so I decided to interview her after her presentation at Food Matters Live:
What is your name? Alyssa Jade McDonald-Bärtl
And you are the creator of? Blyss Chocolate and the Cacao Academy
How long have you been working on this project? 6 years
Your family has been farming cacao since? 1910
What is it that you do? I fight for food sovereignty and agroecology. I use cacao in my own company and evangelizing it in farmers and chocolatiers to do that.
Have you always been interested in this? I’m a woman, I was born with chocolate in my hands. Surely, you must understand!
What did you study at university? Journalism, then I went back and did commerce but I worked for a decade in large corporations. So my family are farmers, I thought that was boring and so I went and had a corporate career cause I thought that would be more sexy, but it turns out that’s not true.
Where can we buy your chocolate? It’s sold out! Even next year.
Why is it sold out? Because I use the farming techniques my father used that his father used. We’ve used them for the past 6 six years to the point of being super happy with the collaborations, the teams that we are working with. That tells the story of working with the people who are interested in buying our chocolate: North Asia, Middle East and Europe. Inshallah! You know, God willing! In every language and religion I will say gratitude and thanks. But there are definitely buyers who are very interested in pure source material and I thank them too. We have everything to show for it. Because it’s sold out in advance, the cacao academy exists. I can’t produce enough chocolate but I realise that the chocolate is only one example of what we are doing and empowering the rest of my industry to make lots of other little ‘Blysses’ in their own way is a better legacy than just producing the product. I think that’s the reason why.
What is your recommendation to build relationships with farmers and to build trust? Turn up. When there is a gun at your head, you keep going. When there is a flood, you keep going. When there is a tsunami, you fly in. That’s what you do.
Alyssa, thank you so much for your time – it was lovely to meet you!