Arboreal Learning with Cacao: Fermenting Beans, Communities and Planetary Solidarity

Arboreal Learning with Cacao: Fermenting Beans, Communities and Planetary Solidarity

Fermenting Beans, Communities and Planetary Solidarity

This course is not open at this moment

From its origins in Mesoamerican societies to today’s global commodity chains, cacao has continuously shaped and been shaped by the communities it has grown with. What is the allure of this tree, its spiritual and medicinal value? How has the ecology, farming practices, processing and cooking of cacao and been transformed over the centuries? What impact has cacao had in the societies it has encountered? What human cultures has this tree gathered around it (such as: Mesoamerican, Afro-Caribbean, industrial processing, transnational cooperative solidarity economies, regenerative agroforestry, craft chocolatiers) and what can we learn from these cultures about social-ecological wellbeing?

This online 12 week course will engage with these questions and bring together representatives from these different cultures and areas of expertise towards a holistic engagement with cacao and chocolate. The 2 hour weekly sessions with facilitators from different cultures/knowledge systems, will share different tastings, outlooks, stories, experiences, inquiries and practices. Through the lens of cacao and its relation to these cultures, learners will experience different phases of the chocolate making process (from bean to bar), try out recipes and tastings at home and explore their own place - local ecology and community through a series of lectures, conversations and invited tasks. Learners will grow through the weeks within a perspective of a cacao tree and its mycelia from the kernel of cacao towards the present moment of planetary alliances of solidarity and affinity chains of chocolate.

Dates and times

Starting Saturday the 10th of July at (16pm Eastern Time). 2 hour weekly zoom sessions, finishing on the 25th of September. Sessions will also be recorded and available on a dedicated course website alongside other course materials. In case you miss some sessions you can still participate in the course through the recordingds, shared materials and discussion spaces.

As a participant what will I encounter in this course?

  • Experience an elivened way of learning and being in a diverse learning community with faculty, practitioners and other participants from many regions of the world.
  • The stories, practices, recipes and guidance of chocolatiers (including the many stages of making chocolate), cacao growers and thinkers.
  • The ecology, processing, history, industrialization and political ecology of cacao and chocolate.
  • Tasting and discerning different kinds of chocolate and understanding the different provenance and commodity chains that exist in the world of cacao (tasting package will be sent to you).
  • The various ways cacao and chocolate have been used to regenerate communities and create international solidarity economies.
  • Tools for and guidance in exploring eco-social regeneration in your own context.
  • Get to know other chocolate rebels!

Who is the course for?

Lovers of all things chocolate; chocolatiers current or aspiring; those working with/in agriculture, food and sustainability/regeneration; activists and community organizers; ecologists and those excited about trees; educators, academics and researchers exploring another way of learning and making community in solidarity; families (including children) engaged in other ways of learning.

The course will be mainly in English with subtitle translation into Spanish available for the workshops/presentations if required.

Course Costs

Your income is You pay
< $15,000 $100 (and see below)*
$15,000 $150
$15,001 – $25,000 $250
$25,001 – $35,000 $350
$35,001 – $45,000 $425
$45,001 – $55,000 $550
over $55,000 $650**

(*) If you find it difficult to pay the above minimum amount get in touch with us about available scholarships. (**) If you are being sent by an organization with an annual budget over $200,000, or would like to pay it forward towards our scholarship fund please make a payment of $700+ US.

The cost of the course includes a 350 grams sampling box of chocolates and cacao products sourced from the farms and made by some of the faculty members, postage, package and processing (total price $50).

Application Process

Registrations for this event have now closed, keep an eye out for the next time we will run the course sometime in early 2022. Any questions about this event and others you can reach us on:

Be sure to include the postal address to which the chocolate tasting package will be sent to.

We have a limited number of places available in the course. The earlier you register, the better are your chances of availability to participate (and having your chocolate package arrive in time!). We aim to confirm participants at least 2 weeks before the course. You may ask for a full refund up to 2 weeks before the start of the course (minus the price of the sampling box if this has already been sent to you).

We are committed to accepting a diverse group for each course and to supporting people with less access to resources to attend. People of color, working class folks, and folks from less-resourced organizations are encouraged to apply. If you want to reach out to us on any particular needs or concerns you can contact us at

Workshop Format


Enacting the values and pedagogy of the Enlivened Cooperative of:

  • Relationality – learning by weaving relations between all learners (including faculty) and…
  • Emplacement – nurturing inquiries, practices and attention towards place (and one´s own place) including the beyond human…
  • Cosmopolitical learning - including many ways of being-knowing-doing-relating, towards human becoming and possible worlds… (in this case indigenous Bribri, Zapotec and Mayan, Afro-Caribbean, artisanal chocolatiers, agro-ecological, anthropological, political ecological/economic, amongst others).
  • Buen Vivir and Responsibility - for the common flourishing of all beings


Weaving of theory/practice and being guided biomimetically by the cacao tree itself and its ecology .


Spirit, ceremony and Indigenous contexts and uses of cacao; Histories and Colonial Encounters; Cacao Tree, its Ecology and agroecological cultivation; Bean, its composition and taste; Fermentation and Cooking; Health and Nutrition; Industrialization and Plantation; Commodity chains, Political Ecologies/Economies; Cacao and community regeneration; Solidarity Economies and Planetary Alliances through Cacao;


Sessions are structured with the following:

  • 10min contemplative/embodied practice or ceremony;
  • 30-60min for each faculty presentation (storytelling, historical, conceptual/descriptive, sharing a practice, and or doing a workshop) ( commonly 2 faculty are present);
  • 20-30min breakout groups for discussion or practice;
  • 20-30 min for questions, discussion or further workshop.

During the week:

  • Session recordings available on a dedicated program website.
  • Optional tasks and exercises set by faculty from the previous session.
  • Optional engagement with discussion board with faculty input on a dedicated program website.
  • Optional engagement with resources from faculty posted on a dedicated program website.


  • Costa Rica – Andreas Cordero (Morena Clara), Marbelys (Bri Bri leader), Edgar Campbel (Afrocacao), Arnoldo Avila (agro-ecologist).
  • Mexico – Edgardo Garcia & Areli Nolasco (CACAO),
  • USA – Udi Mandel (Enlivened Coop), Kerstin Roos (chocolatier), Carla Martin (anthropologist (Harvard)/Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute), Rachel Laderman & Dan Kelly (Kulike Farm, Hakalau Chocolate).
  • UK – Gwen Burnyeat (anthropologist (Merton College, University of Oxford)/filmmaker, worked with the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia)


Udi Mandel (Course curator, Enlivened Cooperative)

A life-long Chocolate lover, it was during my time living in Costa Rica and working at EARTH University (an agroecology university) that I got to more intimately know the world of cacao and chocolate, working with farmers and chocolatiers, from a variety of backgrounds, and helping to set up the Chocolate Coast alliance of those working with Cacao and chocolate in the Caribbean region. The vision of the Chocolate Coast was to create a collaborative alliance, centered on Cacao and chocolate, towards localized social, cultural and economic regeneration. The other experience that informs my approach as curator of this course (which I am tentatively calling cosmopolitical learning) is that of bringing together different ways of being-knowing-doing-relating and inhabiting to engage with the contemporary world’s more pressing problems we face. This approach is seen in the Ecoversities Alliance, as well as the Enlivened Cooperative, both of which I helped to found.

Edgardo Garcia & Areli (Cooperativa CACAO)

We are Cooperativa CACAO, which means Autonomous Cooperative of Sharing and Learning of Oaxaca. The cooperative was born in August 2013. We are a group of young people who organize ourselves with the objectives of: contributing to the food sovereignty of our families and communities through cocoa, artisan chocolate and creating tools for self-management (autogestión) and autonomy. Through our work we want to contribute to the strengthening of agroforestry systems in the Sierra Sur, Chinantla and Costa de Oaxaca, in addition to valuing the peasant way of life, heal the social fabric of our communities, generate networks of local producers, revalue cocoa and chocolate as a food - medicine and not as a candy. For us, cocoa and artisan chocolate are symbols of the joyful rebellion and resistance of our native peoples. We want a chocolate that gives us strength to fight for food sovereignty.

Carla D. Martin

PhD, is the Founder and Executive Director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute and a Lecturer in the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Carla is a social anthropologist whose current research focuses on ethics, quality, and politics in cacao and chocolate and draws on several years of domestic and international ethnographic experience. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Transition Magazine, Social Dynamics, The Root, US History Scene, Sodade Magazine,, The Savannah Review, and edited volumes. She lectures widely and has taught extensively in African and African American Studies, critical food studies, social anthropology, and ethnomusicology, and has received numerous awards in recognition of excellence in teaching and research. She currently serves on the Editorial Board of Transition Magazine. Find her online at and @carladmartin.

Edgar Campbel (Afrocacao)

Finca Don Edgar, is a farm with almost 100 years of history. My parents cultivated Cacao and different ground food, which was sent to the market in Limón by boat at that time. At the end of the 1970’s our main crop got infected by the fungus called “monilia” which broke our economy., Oour farm was almost destroyed, because of the lack of knowledge to deal with this sickness, so we looked for other ways of living, migrating to the cities, looking for jobs. After almost 40 years, during which time I became a teacher, was president of the Costa Rica Teachers Union and had other roles in the field of education, I retired and returned to rescue our farm. Applying new knowledge and working with research centers, we have sought to rehabilitate the cacao, and put our farm to work from an agroecological approach, trying to reconstruct our “cacao culture” by remembering and sharing the knowledge of our ancestral customs, using our farm as a school, planting our “first aid kits” remembering our “gastronomy” researching about “grandma’s recipes” and using our farm as a tourist sightseeing place, where we share the beauty of Nature and our History through Cacao.

Kerstin Roos

Kerstin’s chocolate journey began when she was seven, and had just moved to Canada from Germany. She missed her favourite chocolate treats so much that she vowed to one day make chocolate like the chocolate she loved back in her country of birth. This dream remained dormant until, at age 30, Kerstin made a career move into the culinary world while living in NYC. She began taking chocolate making classes and started honing her skills as a chocolatier. In 2005 she opened a chocolate shop in Edmonton, Canada and created a line of chocolate confections called Chocophilia. She also offered chocolate workshops that included sensory education. After studying the history of cacao and the culture around it, she became fascinated by the cacao farmers and their communities. In 2012 she closed her shop so she could travel with her family to different cacao growing regions around the world. In 2015, Kerstin started grad school at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, VT and completed a master’s degree in sustainable development focusing on issues of equity in the cocoa supply chain. She currently lives in Vermont with her family and offers hands-on workshops for women that involve chocolate making and therapeutic uses of cacao.

Gwen Burnyeat

Dr. Gwen Burnyeat is a junior research fellow in anthropology at Merton College, University of Oxford, currently researching peace, conflict and polarisation in Colombia. She is author of “Chocolate, Politics and Peace-Building: An Ethnography of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó”, Colombia (2018), producer of award-winning ethnographic documentary Chocolate of Peace (2016), and member of the peacebuilding organisation Embrace Dialogue.

I am a political anthropologist, and I have been working on peace and conflict in Colombia for over a decade as both an engaged scholar and peacebuilding practitioner, particularly on the recent peace process between the government and the FARC-EP guerrilla. I did my PhD in Social Anthropology at University College London (UCL) as a Wolfson Scholar, and before that lectured in Political Anthropology at the National University of Colombia in Bogotá, where I also did an MPhil in Social Anthropology as a Leverhulme Study-Abroad Scholar. My work spans anthropology of the state and of politics, peace and conflict studies, political theory, and Colombian history, ethnography and politics. My research uses the Colombian case to contribute to urgent global debates on topics such as dialogue and reconciliation, political polarisation, so-called ‘post-truth’ politics, and the crisis of liberalism.

Andreas Cordero (Morena Clara)

Morena Clara is an integrated farm that is dedicated to the production and recovery of cacao, which is transformed into chocolate shells, jewelry, drinks, nibs, etc. In 2017 we started with a hectare of land in Talamanca, Limón with cacao varieties donated by the Inter-American Foundation under the tutelage of the Talamanca Caribe Biological Corridor. We planted using a novel ethnohistoric and agroforestry recovery system combining cocoa with fruit trees, timber, medicinal and aromatic plants; most of them, used for decades in the homes of the Afro-descendant population in the area. Experiencing the loss of values ​​and lack of instruction that the young population receives regarding the crops of their ancestors, a project began to develop, not only agricultural but also educational, which included local youth and women heads of households who promote the transmission of healthy and harmonious relations with the environment. At the Morena Clara farm the entire process is learned in a dynamic and experiential way from the tree to bar, organic practices have been developed that guarantee healthy fruits with good taste and a final product of quality. During these four years our objective has been to show the productive opportunity in the canton of Talamanca and to educate the new generations who are learning about the history, culture and production of excellent cocoa. We maintain a friendly relationship with the environment and seek spaces to have a better quality of life.

Marbelly Vargas Urbina (Taye dù: it is my ancestral name - Bri Bri educator)

I am an indigenous woman of the Bribri ethnic group of the Duriwak clan, I was born in Puerto Limón, Costa Rica. In 2006, I have been part of the Distance State University in Talamanca since its creation and to date I am the Head of the Talamanca University Headquarters, I have a Master’s Degree in Human Rights, with more than 15 years of experience within the indigenous territory of Talamanca. I have undertaken efforts to strengthen the Costa Rican indigenous identity, through ancestral practices, mainly I have been involved in ceremonies of my town, where Cacao is our sacred drink and needs to be present in all the sacred activities of our culture. Cacao is the most important element in our material and spiritual life for us aborigines, for this reason it is used in purification rituals such as funeral ceremonies, birth, and other events of the daily life of the Bri Bri. I am also the author of two documents: Indigenous Territorial Law in Talamanca, and Cultural Rights with special reference to the cosmovision of the indigenous Bribris of Talamanca. I have stood out as an advocate for my own culture.

Arnoldo Avila (agro-ecologist)

My background is in Biology, Sustainable Development, Agroecology, Food security and nutrition. For 7 years I was in charge of EARTH University´s (an agro-ecology university in Costa Rica) agroforestry organic cacao plantation. In this period (from 2014 to 2020), we had our first cacao harvest, processing, fermenting and drying the cacao and experimenting with different chocolate products at EARTH University´s food processing factory alongside students and other faculty. During this time I was a graduation project advisor on the subject of cacao to many students. I have also taught courses and cacao workshops on various topics such as: organic management of cacao plantations and cacao processing. This period allowed me to train in the world of cacao from the academic perspective, from the producer’s perspective and from the consumer’s perspective. I have since acted as a consultant on these different aspects of cacao processing and cultivation.

Rachel Laderman and Dan Kelly (Kulike Farm, Hakalau Chocolate)

We live on and manage Kulike Farm, an off-grid permaculture farm on the east side of Hawaii’s Big Island. When Dan bought the 20 acres in 2004, it was an old gravel mine on sugar cane land with very poor soil. With the help of fellow farming friends, he put his skills of gentle machine-work, knowledge of water and waste systems, drainage (very important when you get over 200 inches/yr), building, and regenerative farming to work. Rachel is an environmental educator who, after working in environmental health for 15 years, happily made the shift to living closer to her ideals, joining Dan in the vision of food self-sufficiency and living lightly on the land. Now Kulike Farm is a thriving small community within a food forest, complete with several small businesses - a huge Korean Natural Farming chicken coop, a farm-stay Airbnb, a farmstand, but most notably here, our pod-to-bar, honey-sweetened, two-ingredient “Hakalau Chocolate.” We make our very-small-batch chocolate using only cacao nibs and local honey, no cocoa butter or processed sugar. All the fermentation, drying, and processing are done on the farm using renewable energy with unique techniques adapted to working with the local conditions. We love to share what we have learned about growing food, encouraging soil microorganisms, and utilizing island resources and are grateful every day to be doing what we love!

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