Tri- Island Chocolate- Grenada’s Newest Tree-to-Bar Chocolate Company
From Big City Life to Country Living and Chocolate Making- The Story behind Tri-Island Chocolate, Grenada’s newest tree-to-bar chocolate company, and it’s founder Aaron Sylvester
Aaron grew up in West London but has deep Chocolaty roots in Grenada-Felix Park, Crochu in St. Andrew to be specific. In London he pursued a career in the fast paced and competitive music, promotional, digital marketing and designs industries. Two years ago, after inheriting some cocoa land from his grandparents he decided to leap with both feet into the world of tree to bar chocolate. One of the instrumental steps that lead to launching Tri-Island Chocolate, Grenada’s newest tree-to-bar chocolate company, was to purchase a Grenada Chocolate Fest Cocoa Pass in 2016, and experience everything the festival had to offer that year.
These days Aaron rises with the sun to farm alongside his family and harvest fine flavored cocoa which he uses to make his tree to bar chocolate. Instead of sweaty 1.5 hour train commutes after a long day’s work he now gets to unwind in true Caribbean style at the beach, or, sailing on a friend’s boat. We had a chance to catch up with him after the soft launch of Tri-Island Chocolate at the opening of this year’s Grenada Chocolate Fest which was celebrated under the theme “Tree to Bar”.
What made you decide to move to Grenada?
A number of factors determined my decision to move to Grenada, one of these was the fact that as an island, we grew some of the most flavoursome and award-winning fruits and spices, yet when I travelled the world I couldn’t find any of these as products on the open market. This was an issue for me and I wanted to change this.
What are you doing on the island?
Initially I’m in Grenada to rehabilitate the cocoa farm I inherited from my grandparents, secondly to launch Tri-Island Chocolate, a tree-to-bar chocolate company, and thirdly create tours enabling visitors and locals to learn about the Tri-Island Chocolate story as well as the fruits and spices Grenada has to offer.
When did you know you wanted to start making tree to bar chocolate- meaning that you are involved in every process of the bean which eventually is made into a chocolate bar?
I first knew I wanted to start making tree-to-bar chocolate when I found out that land had been passed down to me in the mid 90’s. I knew we had great cocoa, and that people had made chocolate but I’ve always known that the combination of the fruits and spices we have was the differentiator.
Why tree to bar chocolate?
I’ve been fortunate to be graced with a small amount of cocoa land, both my grandparents and father worked the land and were farmers. So, this spirit has been passed down to me. As we see within the food industry people now demand to know where their food comes from and producing chocolate from the tree-to-bar is one way of providing that transparency and more importantly enabling me to have complete control over the quality and flavour of the cocoa and subsequent chocolate we produce.
What types of chocolate do you make?
At present we have launched with three bars for our 2018 range: 56% dark milk chocolate , 75% dark chocolate with bee pollen inclusion and 80% dark chocolate.
What was the chronology of steps you took to start your own small batch tree- to- bar chocolate business?
There were truly too many steps to mention, but the key steps were my mission and vision for Tri-Island Chocolate- understanding the processes involved in making tree-to-bar chocolate from the pre/post harvesting stages through to flavour profiling. Once I knew I had a quality product, then my attention was focused on where I felt I could position myself within the Grenada and global craft market. This led to branding, then our rollout strategy for the products and services we will be providing.
How has the Grenada Chocolate Fest influenced your trajectory into launching Grenada’s newest tree-t0-bar chocolate company?
The festival has impacted my trajectory, especially through enabling me to network with so many experts, media and farmers all of whom have shared a little something with me along my journey with Tri-Island Chocolate. As I have been attending the festival since 2016, and hosting festival experiences on our farm in 2017/18 the festival has opened my eyes up to the importance of providing tourists or visitors experiences when they interact with our brand. This might be in the shape of a chocolate tasting or hands-on experience of life working on a cocoa farm.
What type of farming practices do you use on your farm? Explain the ethos behind it.
We are still experimenting to see what works best across our farms in terms of techniques and crops. The main practices we are adopting are climate smart-farming techniques, including the use of water harvesting, using our local stream to water our crops, biogas and making valuable use of bamboo on the farm. We are currently implementing crop rotation and drip irrigation, with plans to experiment with our own custom built worm farm (worm compost) and aquaponics system.
The current trend is to use the term permaculture, but this type of farming and agricultural practices have been happening for years especially amongst the Rastafarian culture across the world and here in Grenada. Instead of changing what nature intended, and what has been working perfectly well for many years -like the usage of specific plants with high levels of certain nutrients instead of synthetic fertilizers, we achieve great farming results with minimal negative impact to the environment.
Who helps you on the farm?
At present I have one part-time farmer I employ. We’ve worked together for two years now keeping the farms managed. When there is a need for more help, local neighbours who either knew my Grandparents or live by the farm help when it comes to harvesting or site maintenance.
How have neighbouring farmers reacted?
The neighbours were initially sceptical when I first starting planning out and cleaning up the farm. Once people started to see I was regularly working the land, planting produce like ginger and coconuts across the land they took my vision a little more seriously. The penny truly dropped in 2017, when I had approximately 30 people visit the farm as part of the Tri-Island Chocolate farm rehabilitation experience we hosted as part of the Grenada Chocolate Fest. Some of the neighbours were so overjoyed as they had never seen so many people come this far up to experience farming in Grenada. They were truly taken back when in 2018, I was able to share with those living nearby our farm in Crochu, the chocolate I was able to make using the beans from my very own farm.
Have you been able to share knowledge that has been implemented by farmers you have come in contact with?
Yes, during this journey I’ve learnt a lot about farming from more experienced farmers sharing their knowledge online and from environmental bodies whose goal it is to help those living in undeveloped countries to live sustainably and to make more use of the limited resources available. Through this insight, I’ve been able to experiment with different crops, seeds, practices to benefit the farm the way which I and my local farmers’ farm. Just take the present issues we have with Sargassum sweeping across the Caribbean, farmers nearby have seen how we use the Sargassum as mulch and compost tea to benefit our crop growth and suppression of weeds.
Do you think that farming sustainably in any form (not necessary permaculture) is part of the Grenadian farming culture?
Not anymore- I personally feel sustainability at one point was a part of Grenadian culture. Over the years our elders have passed on, taking with them valuable information which was loosely documented so never passed down to the younger generation. This lack of information has helped propel the non-sustainable practices, taking place across the nation and the world in the shape of increased use of farming chemicals, habitat loss and climate change.
What have you observed in relation to traditional Grenadian farming practices?
The biggest observation I’ve seen is the lack of diversity of produce grown in Grenada. We rely heavily on tourism, many of these tourists and the hotels they stay in provide them with top quality food. A large proportion of this food, unfortunately, is imported and the food varieties/seeds aren’t available in Grenada. Steps should be made to encourage better relationships between farmers and the chefs at hotels, also the ministry of Agriculture should work closely with farmers to support them in the variety of crops they plant, support with importing a greater range of seeds which in turn should enable them to grow a great variety of fruits and vegetables for the hotels and any surplus for export to neighbouring countries.
How does life in Grenada as a tree to bar chocolate maker and cocoa farmer compare to your previous life in the UK?
The simple answer is there is no comparison. In the UK working in the music, promotional, digital marketing and designs industries, the pace was fast, stressful, competitive and lonely at times. The life of running a tree to bar business in Grenada consists of early starts, challenging, competitive but at the end of the day instead of sitting on a sweaty packed train for 1.5 hours heading home to west London, in Grenada I can occasionally find myself taking a sunset sail on a friends boat to unwind and reflect on the day/week! You can’t beat that.
What have been some of your most rewarding moments during this journey?
Some of the most rewarding moments, on this journey to date, have been: the reaction of friends and family after tasting the chocolate Tri-Island have produced. Also, selling our first batch of chocolate bars to a customer flying home to Chile who was desperate to buy our chocolate without the finished packaging and in 2017. Hosting our first farm rehabilitation tour as part of Grenada Chocolate Fest 2017 was also a highlight.
What do you see in the future for Tri-Island Chocolate and the farm?
We are striving to create award-winning chocolate products made in Grenada. The island is gaining financial assistance to start valuing the cocoa and to begin making more variety of value-added cocoa-based products for export. In the future we want to create more Tri-Island eco-tourism focused tours providing tourists and visitors a hands-on experience of Caribbean/cocoa-farming, beekeeping and overall Grenadian agriculture from the farm to the table.