On a mission of exploration, confirmation and investigation, the owners of Woodstock’s Ethereal Confections completed a South American and a Caribbean trip this summer, visiting various cacao suppliers.

“We want to guarantee that the people growing and harvesting the beans are using processes that are good for the land, the crop and the environment,” said owner Michael Ervin.

Ethereal Confections is a Woodstock-based “bean to bar” chocolate company located at 113 S. Benton St., with chocolatiers making everything from scratch.

Co-owners Michael Ervin, Mary Ervin and Sara Miller travelled to Haiti and the Dominican Republic in May, followed by a visit to Ecuador in August, tracing the path of the beans they buy for their chocolate from harvest to export. Although Ervin said that about 70 percent of the cacao crop now comes from Africa, Ethereal Confections sources their beans exclusively from Central America, South America and the Caribbean, cacao’s native growing region.

In Haiti, they saw two different types of farms. They visited small family farms on only a few acres that raised whatever grows naturally on the land. Other farms they visited had farmers who “coach” the land, planting only a couple of complementary crops.

“What struck me in Haiti is that they work with no tools,” Ervin said.

He explained they work with a couple of organizations that seek to help farmers with certification, infrastructure and acquiring seedlings. They help with logistics, getting the beans from farmers, oversee drying and fermenting and packaging them for export. These organizations also do transparency reporting.

During their visit, Ervin said they learned how these partnerships were making positive changes, helping with simple improvements such as arranging a truck to pick up the produce from the farmers. This simple assistance saves each farmer an entire day of traveling to market each time they need to transport their produce.

“This changes their lives significantly,” Ervin said. “We are visiting people, seeing what the realities are and how it affects their lives.”

Learning how they can positively impact their suppliers and not exploit them is one of the most important reasons the partners from Ethereal take these trips.

“We have the choice of being selective,” Ervin said. “We pay two to three times the market price for our beans because it’s going to support the farmers. How the money is used is really important.”

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