#15 | Jeff Abella - Moka Origins :

Champion of Economic Development through Sustainable Agriculture

Did you know smallholder farms provide up to 80 percent of the food supply in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa?

 

In this episode of Sustainability Matters Today, I interview Jeff Abella, co-founder of Moka Origins, a bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturer and specialty coffee roaster and #Champion of Economic Development through Sustainable Agriculture.

 

Founded in 2015, Moka Origins has been empowering rural African farming communities by providing smallholder farmers with technical training and sustainable marketing links, while supporting the local economy through their chocolate and coffee products. In April 2019, Moka Origins won the Bronze Prize in the Annual Fedex Small Business Grant Contest. They also received the Innovator of the Year award from the Wayne Economic Development Corporation in 2017.

 

Please make sure to subscribe to the Sustainability Matters Today podcast to learn more about other champions of sustainability like Jeff.

 

I hope you enjoy the episode!

Resources:

Himalayan Institute: https://www.himalayaninstitute.org

Smallholder Farming: https://www.cropscience.bayer.com/en/crop-science/smallholder-farming

Origin Trips (sample: Mexico Coffee Immersion):  https://mokaorigins.com/pages/mexico-origin-trip

Moka Origins website: https://mokaorigins.com

Daniel:  Thank you for joining me, Jeff. Great to have you on the show.

 

Jeff: Absolutely, happy to be here Daniel

 

Daniel:  I'd love to start with a quick autobiography and learn more about you. So, can you tell us a bit about your journey on how you got to where you are today?

 

Jeff: Yeah, you bet! So, we are Moka Origins and we're a bean the bar chocolate company and specialty coffee roasting company. And my... I think journey as you put it really started about 13 years ago, when I found out about an incredible, not for profit, called the Himalayan Institute based in Pennsylvania. And I was working in the Midwest in Madison, Wisconsin, doing audio engineering for a recording studio. And at that point, I became familiar with the Himalayan Institute and really what it does globally with international development work in communities that are kind of still developing. As well as in the US which is really focused on wellness and health. And so, in 2007, my wife and I moved to Pennsylvania to become part of the Himalayan Institute's volunteer team and more specifically to lead some developments in West Africa in a country called Cameroon.

 

Daniel:  Awesome. And how, how did you get involved? Why specifically Cameroon?

 

Jeff: Yeah, so the institute that we started working for was already looking at places within West Africa to start its projects. And these were projects that historically they had done in India, a lot of development work in India, building libraries and schools and were invited to West Africa and ultimately, Cameroon to bring that model of community development there. And it just kind of timed out perfect with my wife and I's interest in joining the Himalayan Institute, and the startup of those programs in Cameroon. And so, we were a part of the kind of founding team to go over there and create a really nice base of people within Cameroon. The Cameroonian community members and kind of start the project from scratch and so that was already 12 years ago.

 

Daniel:  Well, I'm sure the time goes by really quickly, that first project that you started what exactly was it that you are doing?

 

Jeff: So, the whole kind of point was to create a network of community centers and these community centers run by, local people from the communities that we're working with. To work with them to establish public libraries, and network of holistic health centers, School of carpentry and construction, and then a wide range of environmental projects like reforestation efforts, tree plantation projects, even deep well water projects for drinking water in some rural communities.

 

Daniel:  That's really cool and so is that those products really how you got started in this sustainability, quote-unquote, kind of environmentally friendly projects.

 

Jeff: And yeah, absolutely, yeah. So, we jumped in kind of with both feet, my wife and I, and within about a year and a half, I was appointed country director for that project in Cameroon. And since then I spent about half of my year there. And then in other projects that have kind of spawned off of that in central Mexico working with coffee farming communities, as well as in South India, and North India. And so, Cameroon in the village that we're in Kumbo in the Northwest region is really kind of become our home. And just absolutely fell in love with the culture and the community and continue now to take our children there. And what started as a network of health centers and libraries has evolved into something even richer than that, which is directly working with farmers who are growing cocoa and coffee.

 

Daniel:  Got it. So, that's where Moka Origins can from them.

 

Jeff: Exactly, yeah, that's where the whole idea of sustainability from an environmental standpoint comes into play.

 

Daniel:  The coffee and chocolate are, I mean if you read the story about milk origins, and if you look at any of the packagings, it's all about how the coffee or the chocolate that you use is very different. Maybe we can establish a baseline. So, how are coffee and chocolate normally farmed? What's the sort of standard procedure that the vast majority of I'm assuming it's the vast majority of plantations use or do?

 

Jeff: Sure thing so when we started working with these farming communities in our libraries and health centers, we started really getting more just connected with them at a human level and kind of couldn't ignore what they were doing on their other time, which is farming coffee and cocoa. And so, we really kind of took notice at what were some of the shortcomings within that sector. And over the course of years, our interest between very concentrated on finding ways to add value to the coffee and cocoa sector at origin; so, at the country of origin. and what's neat about a lot of West African production of coffee and cocoa, something that I find very interesting is that it's called smallholder farming, where, for example, our Cameroon coffee bean that we roast and sell and work with, is grown by 3700 farmers.

 

Jeff: And then this is different than, like big plantation, more commodity style coffee, which is often owned by one farmer or one plantation and uses mechanized manufacturing production to grow. And so, what's neat about that is it's a real kind of diversified wealth. It really diversified the wealth, in that we're now working with 3700 farmers and there's a lot of challenges with that, of course, the quality and consistency is and there can be a lot of challenges around getting them certified. And we can talk more about that in a minute. But really what I liked about it was the fact that we can have this connection and really engage in thousands of farmers' lives and hopefully make a meaningful difference. And so, when we started, you know, it was just Cameroon, it was just these coffee farmers, and then that turned into cocoa farmers there as well.

 

And one thing that was clear was the lack of education or input back into these communities. In other words, there were people buying and trading these beans but there wasn't any, like a real infusion of knowledge or wealth back into these communities. And so, before we actually started roasting, or making chocolate, roasting coffee or making chocolate, we started a farming project, and this was my business partner and I’s idea to create value back at the country of origin. So, we started a farm and we started growing cocoa and other tree crops, other tropical food crops, as a way to kind of reinvest re-invest back into the communities that were exporting those crops. And that's kind of our commitment towards yeah, adding more value back at origin.

 

Daniel:  So, that's where the word origins come from them.

 

Jeff: Exactly.

 

Daniel:  And Moka for coffee.

 

Jeff: Yeah, yeah Moka meaning coffee and chocolate.

 

Daniel:  Okay.

 

Jeff: Ordering a Mocha latte - it's usually meaning you're ordering a coffee with chocolate in it. And--.

 

Daniel:  That's true.

 

Jeff: So, Moka is to us, it’s kind of represents Cameroon, the place where they're able to grow coffee at the higher elevations and then sustainably grow cocoa at the lower elevations. And origins it's kind of like the origin of our company, it’s the origin of these two different ingredients so that's a play on words there.

 

Daniel:  Yeah, it's a good name. I like that it has a story to it. And you mentioned that they grow that the farmers you work with grow sustainably the coffee and the chocolate. So, what does that mean exactly? I mean, what's the what's unsustainable chocolate and coffee farming and then what is sustainable?

 

Jeff: You bet. So, sustainability is something that we talked a lot about, and I think the world is talking a lot about it and to me there's different meanings to it. And when we talk about it in terms of environmental sustainability and its role in coffee and cocoa production, I guess what we're talking about really is the effects on the environment. And if the practices being used to grow and  harvest and process the cocoa beans and coffee beans Is it one that is using practices that are not deteriorating the environment but you know, adding maybe more richness or value to it. And so, organic farming or just even being more mindful with the inputs that some farmers are using. And, it's a really tough thing you have to lead by example so, when we started, you know, farming coffee and cocoa, it was clear that it’s a lot to ask someone to stop doing what they've been doing for like generations and generations, and so it's actually not even an appropriate request.

 

Jeff: So, my business partner and I have done first thing, it was a kind of a local project. So, we have a whole local board of directors that are all Cameroonians that helped really kind of architect like the vision of this project and painted that off of the needs of the community. So when we talk about sustainability, I also like to mention, like the human element of that sustainability from engaging community members that are local, and why that's sustainable is because if Moka leaves or if I leave, my business partner leaves, the projects not going anywhere. It's actually managed locally, with a local board of directors that governs it. And there's a little even business model that supports it so that there's financial sustainability as well. And to take it a step further, we’re also teaching how to grow coffee and cocoa in a way that's environmentally sustainable. So, I think holistically if we look at the word sustainability. There's several different facets that we need to look at, including the human element, the financial component, as well as the environmental part of it.

 

Daniel:  I think those two elements of sustainability, meaning the environment and the financial are actually they're two different sides of the same coin. The focus of my podcast is the financial benefits or the financial kind of motivation almost behind environmental sustainability, because and it sounds like this is what you're saying to it's the idea that if it's not financially sustainable, then it's just not something that will be done for an extended period of time. And it certainly won't be done with people, by people rather who, don't have tons of extra money to donate to something and that's what it becomes as a donation it's more of a charity in that sense. And if you're able to instead find a way to make it financially sustainable and even better if it's more profitable, or if it saves you more money than the old way it's something that kind of becomes a no brainer.

 

Jeff: Yeah, exactly. And it takes a pretty broad mind to kind of frame sustainability that in that way with that definition. And I'll tell you a quick story one of the projects we were working on was a partnership with the rice cooperative and Cameroon is known for a high export quantity of rice. So, the majority of the rice that Cameron consumes Cameroonians consume is imported. And it's shocking, because it's such an incredible climate to grow rice and with investment into the infrastructure and training within the rice cultivation sector it could actually be like a net exporter, if it wanted to; it could at least consume everything that is growing, and it would create a lot of jobs along the way. So, we partnered with this village who was actually growing the medicinal herbs that we were using in our health formulations for our health centers and we started working with them more on their rights project as well, by giving them access to power tillers and some rice cultivation equipment. And around that same time, a not for profit emerged from this area in this area, and they were based in the US, their whole mission was to import rice, wheat, and dairy, powdered milk and give it away for free to different communities.

 

Jeff: Yeah, exactly. And it takes a pretty broad mind to kind of frame sustainability that in that way with that definition. And I'll tell you a quick story one of the projects we were working on was a partnership with the rice cooperative and Cameroon is known for a high export quantity of rice. So, the majority of the rice that Cameron consumes Cameroonians consume is imported. And it's shocking, because it's such an incredible climate to grow rice and with investment into the infrastructure and training within the rice cultivation sector it could actually be like a net exporter, if it wanted to; it could at least consume everything that is growing, and it would create a lot of jobs along the way. So, we partnered with this village who was actually growing the medicinal herbs that we were using in our health formulations for our health centers and we started working with them more on their rights project as well, by giving them access to power tillers and some rice cultivation equipment. And around that same time, a not for profit emerged from this area in this area, and they were based in the US, their whole mission was to import rice, wheat, and dairy, powdered milk and give it away for free to different communities.

 

Jeff: You know, it was a shock to the locals, you know, it was a shock to the locals. You know, part of the idea was that, okay, it's a, it's affordable or free food access. So ultimately, I understand that, and people understood that. But the, what it ended up doing was completely deteriorating the agricultural potential of rice, the dairy sector that was emerging, as well as the different grains and wheat that would be that when they were growing, the market completely dropped. No one was buying because there were handouts. Every corner. And it really had more like negative, you know, ramifications than any positive gain. And that's a local perspective. You know me as an outsider ultimately, ultimately might think, well, that's, you know, that's a noble mission there. They're importing food and giving it away. But it really deteriorated an economy. And in this area of Cameroon, there's not a lack of agricultural potential. There's not a lack of food either. So, it just didn't really fit with the, like development needs of this community. And it's just kind of an example of, I think, where someone had a good intention, but they didn't really have like a holistic perspective on what the community's needs were. And it created more harm than good. So that's an unsustainable approach to community development. It created a dependency a dependency, and it completely kind of collapsed a micro-economy within the agricultural sector.

 

Jeff: You know, part of the idea was that, okay, it's a, it's affordable or free food access. So ultimately, I understand that, and people understood that. But the, what it ended up doing was completely deteriorating the agricultural potential of rice, the dairy sector that was emerging, as well as the different grains and wheat that would be that when they were growing, the market completely dropped. No one was buying because there were handouts. Every corner. And it really had more like negative, you know, ramifications than any positive gain. And that's a local perspective. You know me as an outsider ultimately, ultimately might think, well, that's, you know, that's a noble mission there. They're importing food and giving it away. But it really deteriorated an economy. And in this area of Cameroon, there's not a lack of agricultural potential. There's not a lack of food either. So, it just didn't really fit with the, like development needs of this community. And it's just kind of an example of, I think, where someone had a good intention, but they didn't really have like a holistic perspective on what the community's needs were. And it created more harm than good. So that's an unsustainable approach to community development. It created a dependency a dependency, and it completely kind of collapsed a micro-economy within the agricultural sector.

 

Daniel:  Yeah, I think that's a really good story. It's very it's really interesting and I think it sheds a lot of light on This idea exactly as you said, there was a lot of good intention there. And yeah, it's kind of misguided a little bit and a bit misdirected. And as you were telling that story that all I was thinking rather was they should just whatever funds they're raising and using to get the product and then ship it over they should really be investing in education and getting the people that they're helping to learn to grow the food themselves and you know, learn to sell that food and then use the money to invest in their future and so on. And yeah, it's  a shame because it makes me think it makes me wonder how many other organizations Yeah, there are that are causing those are doing those kinds of issues and actually, in the grand scheme of things are probably causing, you know, issues to persist rather than helping people to actually learn to get out of the problem.

 

Jeff: So that was in 2010. And it was when my business partner and I really started to frame our own idea. Mon Moka. And it took real years, we eventually founded Moka in 2015, in Cameroon, with the whole idea to kind of combat that. Instead of investing or donating towards aid, let's create an agricultural project that employs farmers. And ultimately, though can be used as a training hub to educate surrounding farmers on best practices and how to grow cocoa and coffee in a way that gives you a better quality coffee and cocoa bean, which then is more valuable than you can sell for more in the premium market that's emerging in the United States and other countries. Yeah, and that's kind of an evolution of markers. Yeah. Origin Story.

 

Daniel:  Yeah, very quiet. It's certainly happening here in the UK. I'm noticing there are some pretty high-end chocolate companies that are really gaining in popularity. Yeah, in order to sell you know, a chocolate bar that cost four or five pounds. You really need to have high quality product and people are buying that. So, there's certainly as a market, I think it makes sense. And so, you know, you're mentioning this idea that financial sustainability is really important. And I know that well, you told me before that Moka Origins is a for profit company. So, what's the thought process behind keeping it for profit? Why is that? It sounds to me like that was very intentional. And there's good reason for it.

 

Jeff: Great question.

 

Jeff: It was actually a tough decision to make Because ultimately, the idea was a mission kind of based project. And you know, with that, they have a not for profit, we did make a very conscious decision to structure it as a for profit in that we wanted to kind of like walk our talk, we wanted to create what we call a social enterprise, just a typical business structure, a corporate structure, if you will, that has kind of a mission first approach to its business and, and hopefully can kind of use this as a model to show their companies, even small businesses how you can have a business This that can have a mission attached to it or maybe even be like the, you know, the underlying principle of your existence. And the reason we did that, too was to kind of show the sustainability aspect. So, Moka Origins are producing coffee and chocolate and the sale of coffee and chocolate, then we can use to infuse our mission work in Cameroon. And instead of using aid, money and donations and charity, to support our local origins mission work in Cameroon, we can instead rely on the sales girl so why that's important is because we can then grow you know, the mission side of our work, the educational aspects of our work we can grow that would balance to our corporate success or sales success here in the United States with our coffee and our chocolate instead of becoming to maybe top heavy and vulnerable because we have so much overhead on our mission work because we grew that out of balance with our sales and revenue on the chocolate and coffee side. So, the idea was to kind of have a more balanced, sustainable approach to how we grow our mission work is going to be based off of our product sales. And also, the

 

Jeff: Other thing is that we wanted something that Yeah, could kind of be not dependent on aid not dependent on donations. So, if, you know, we decide to stop selling chocolate or coffee, you know, the cocoa farm and the educational project over there can still live on because they're growing plantains and bananas and selling cocoa beans, other producers and food crops. So, kind of de linking Moka Origins, Cameroon, from any Western involvement. We can help fuel it with product sales as we gain those and grow that, but at the same time, we're not creating any dependency, they can operate autonomously and really grow as they need to as well.

 

Daniel:  I think it makes sense to be for profit, especially because we're you know, as We were just talking about earlier you mentioned leading by example. And then we were talking about the importance of really bringing people upset, they are independent. And if these are, if you those two things are important to you. And it's important to instill those kind of thought processes into others, then, you know, you should lead by example, and be for profit and show others that you know what, actually, this is something that we can do ourselves. We don't require any help from anyone else. We just need to have the right systems in place. And then before you know it, you know, we're profitable company, we're independent, like you said, and everyone wins.

 

Jeff: Yeah, definitely. And the other the other example too Daniel is like telling the world that just good sourcing of your ingredients. I don't care if you're making chocolate or coffee could be anything sourcing responsibly, can really influence some positive change at the countries of origin. So even if you're a shirt manufacturer and your cotton is coming from, you know, this country, well make sure it's coming from an ethical source and then buy as much as you can and sell as many shirts as you can. Because the sale of your product with it being linked to a, you know, well run ethically sourced farm is going to create a lot of potential for those farmers versus looking at them as beneficiaries to your cause. Know, like, we're not out to save the world well, to incorporate the farmers in our business model and make them part of the supply chain. They're entrepreneurs, not like beneficiaries. Yeah. And so that's the overall idea is kind of an ideological mindset.

 

Daniel:  Yeah, I mean, it's, it is ideological, and yet at the same time, there's, to me very, it sounds very capitalistic, and it sounds just like, this is solid business. It makes good business sense, you know, kind of setting you up for this here. But you know, would you say that being an environmentally friendly is a business plan or a viable way to run business.

 

Jeff: Yeah, I think it’s really important thing that companies should ask themselves early on, what their kind of stance is going to be on environmental responsibility. And yeah, so that's a big part of who we are in, in camera and on our farm as well as with the other farmers that we source from. And within MOCA here in homestead, Pennsylvania, when you come into our library will show you how our zero waste and really take it upon ourselves at a cost to be more responsible with the environment.

 

Daniel:  Do you ever consider those costs that you just said, you know, zero waste and whatever other sustainable practices you use, which are potentially more expensive? Do you see that as a marketing cost in the sense that you can put on your website and on your packaging that you are environmentally friendly, you know, you have all of these practices that are meant to sustain the earth and so on and so forth. Do you ever see it that way?

 

Jeff: Absolutely. I think companies often see it that way? Well, it's a marketing in, it's a marketing intention that the consumers need to see. So, let's put it in. And I think that that's, I think that that's a problem. There's a whole other side of the coin. And so, when you have a certified sustainable, let's call it organic. And when we start talking about certifications, you know, seeing that logo on the packaging is really important. We've all been trained to look for it without it, I'm not purchase it and the expense of obtaining it for a small manufacturer like us, is huge. Currently, we have eight different certifications that we that we abide by. And it's a massive financial commitment for us. And it only covers us for the different ingredients that are also certified.

 

Jeff: And what I mean by that is we source organic produce from all over the world, but not all of it is organic certified because a lot of the farmers that we source from don't have the actual Access to the certification resources, the cost and the cost of certification is very high. And kind of taking it upon ourselves to source from really unique farms and origins around the world. And we take great pride in that, that we're unlocking the potential of all these great farms. However, you know, they don't have the ability to get a certification, like maybe their neighbor, who had more resources, it's the same been the same organic grown principles, but one could afford the certification, and therefore the label is on the product. And the consumers are only buying his product versus the neighbor who's using everything the same but couldn't afford that certification. So, there's a whole story to tell about on certified organic and I think the downside to certifications and how consumers respond to certifications and that the other side of the coin as far as the negative effects to not buying on certified organic produce.

 

Daniel:  Yeah, and I know that when we were talking earlier, you know, you mentioned that you're actually that you actually prefer working with products that are not certified. And some of the ones that you mentioned are organic fair-trade Rainforest Alliance or the big ones. You also mentioned UTZ, and that's z for Zulu. What are these certifications? As you said, people were trained to look for them. And yet, here you're saying that you actually prefer working with products that are not certified. So, what's the where's that kind of like discrepancy? And what how do we think about it?

 

Jeff: Yeah, you bet. So great question. And it's a tough one for me to answer because, you know, having certified organic products is clear to the consumers. When we have an uncertified product that we know is organic, it's hard to convey that to a consumer. So, sales will be low. And so, the certifications are a big part of marketing. And when I say I like working with uncertified organic ingredients, you know, it's kind of my way of saying that, I think there's a flaw in the system. And I think that certifications are really important because they have defined some standards, some really important principles that we should all follow. But I think they also put a lot of really good farms at a great disadvantage because they couldn't afford those expensive certifications. So, now what to do for all of them? And I don't necessarily have an answer to that. What I tried to do personally is invest the time to research who are getting it from, ideally even go over there and see their practices and kind of do a self-audit, evaluate ourselves whether or not the farm has, you know, is following these practices and principles, even though they couldn't afford the certification and then buy from them and then use their produce. So, I think that if we, as consumers can somehow gain access a little bit more transparent access or point of view to where produce comes from. We're going to see that it's not just all about the sticker, the certain

 

Daniel:  So, if you're doing the independent audit, which makes sense and that will, you know, make you feel comfortable. It sounds to me like that. In that case, you can't use certain labels on your packaging, because they're uncertified organic, as you call them. And then there's also this fact that like you said, we're trying to look for those labels. How can consumers choose the best options that I guess perhaps help the greatest number of people or that that support you know, the people who really deserve it and simply can't afford a certification? How, how can I go to a store? How can I make sure that I'm actually buying a really good product even though I'm not seeing the labels that I know I should be looking for?

 

Jeff: I think one thing that consumers can do is get to know their food a little bit better. And, you know, a lot of people shop maybe based off of value, and there's economic reasons why that's, like really important to for, for a lot of people but If we're in a place where we have some choice, you know, I think spending the time to choose wisely is really important and getting to know the brands that they're buying from. So, for example, you might see like direct trade, that's a term that's used commonly to talk about the relationship between the manufacturer and the person growing the produce. So direct trade would imply that they have, you know, greater visibility to where their produce is coming from, well great, then check out that brand and see what are some of the values that they you know, hold and, you know, abide by and just getting a little bit closer with the brands that we purchase from understand their story and their intentions? You know, so it's not like an it's not like a quick answer. I don't think there's any like stamp or label that you can really put on it. But I, I think that we could all do a little bit more. spend a little bit more time cross checking to see what companies we are buying from and what are their methods Is of ensuring quality and environmental responsibility for the foods that they're making.

 

Daniel: Yeah, it's interesting, because you're, you know, you mentioned transparency earlier. And I would imagine that these companies that are perhaps using just going back to that term, you mentioned on certified organic produce, they're going to talk about that on their website. I guess the point is that we don't necessarily need to rely on any sort of governments or anything to force companies to be more transparent, although it could potentially be helpful. Companies like local origins, you know, you're going to be talking about the fact that you know, here, the people that you work with here is what it's supporting here is the quality of the produce here is what we look for. And all of that information will be written on your websites, I think it really just comes down to the consumer spending a little bit more time researching, and finding those products that actually match the values that that you know, that they have and that they want to support. And if you're able to do that, then you can confidently purchase something. And at that point, you're you start voting with your dollar, which I think is probably the strongest vote that any person has. Yeah.

 

Jeff: And you know, what's also interesting is like, the, the values around these sustainable certifications are they're all about promoting sustainability. But it's almost liked the practice itself isn't sustainable. And, and this is from a farmer perspective. You know, I think you summed it up, well, what can we do? Well, we can do our homework and our research and try to get to know the companies we're buying from, and hopefully they're telling the stories of the values about the produce. But I think we have a lot of work to do to kind of refine our, our certification standards and the cost of those certifications, especially how they affect the producers, who are the most vulnerable, oftentimes the least compensated part of the supply chain.

 

Daniel:  Yeah, switching gears, because I think certainly something that you focus on and spend quite a bit of time doing is eco tours, I think it'd be really interesting to hear more about what these eco tours are and what they focus on, just in the in the light of how the farmers are oftentimes the most neglected part of the supply chain. So, can you tell us a little bit about, you know, what are these eco tours? What do they focus on? What are some of the places you go? Yeah, I'd love to know, what you hope people take away from these trips. And you know, after they do the trip, and they're back home, what do you hope people reflect on and think about moving forward? Absolutely.

 

Jeff: The whole idea behind our ego trips, or we're calling origin trips are kind of exactly what we've been talking about as far as transparency. But it's the idea that Moka should take it upon itself to try to close the gap between the consumers and the growth. And create a more direct relationship between everyone in the supply chain. And so, it's kind of this idea of like radical transparency. It has a lot of people nervous as far as other companies, you know, I had one company for your job saying, well, that's just extreme, you're willing to kind of disclose the farmers and you know, your compensation and in your relationship from point A to point z. And yeah, we find a lot of richness in that actually, when my wife and I started sourcing cocoa and coffee. I mean, you know, we'd go out on days, week long expeditions to these, you know, corners of like Cameroon, and have these incredible experiences in these in these villages, and really get to know the farmers and it was never about like, is this chocolate going to be cost competitive and valuable on the market, which is an important part of business, but that was never the kind of starting goal and i Think that experience and it's so much more appreciation for us as far as you know how we value chocolate and, and how that we now think about anything we consume or anything we even engage in.

 

Jeff: Like I mentioned, the shirt and the cotton and the whole story behind how that was grown. Very there's such a lack of kind of understanding around the source of everything that we consume on a daily basis. And I think that if, if there was more of an understanding, ultimately, they'd be more of an appreciation and if there was more of an appreciation, but I think a more sustainable relationship that exists between consumers and the producers. And so, the whole idea behind our origin trips are to take people on a weeklong journey to the source of the beans that we use to make our coffee and our chocolate and live with the family’s volunteer on their farms. really experienced what is lifelike in the communities that are producing these beans and Yeah, contributing a little bit, but really gaining a ton of insight into the producing world while then, you know, having an incredible journey to some far-off places. So, there's a lot of cultural exchange and kind of cultural experiences that that exists on these trips from different like local rituals and ceremonies, as well as in some fun eco-tourism things. So, swimming waterfalls, and some really like environmentally friendly low footprint travel adventure.

 

Daniel: Yeah, sounds like a lot of fun. And I think organizing that and actually doing it on a every year must be just amazing. It's pretty incredible. It's

 

Jeff: Like, you know, chocolate and coffee, who doesn't love that need some volunteerism, meets like the world's most richest vacation and, and then doing it with for a greater for, you know, a greater cause 100% of the proceeds support local origins, development work, and so on. Just kind of a really great way to spend your time and your vacation resources while doing something that had a little bit more meaning than maybe like the typical resort vacation. Yeah,

 

Daniel:  Totally, I bet that the people who go on those trips, come back feeling rested and rejuvenated and just kind of really grateful and humble after, after something like that.

 

Jeff: The lives are changed. My wife and I have been a part of over 20 of them now. And in fact, one of our first one was a Cameroon. We had a lot of kids on it. They were between the ages of 10 and 15 and 16. Of course, some of their parents and, you know, we're taking them not only to Cameroon, but far beyond the airport. And the capital cities were then driving, you know, 15 to 20 hours into the remote villages where we're living for almost a week or two and having these incredibly rich experiences and all you know, so it contrasts our day to day Here in the United States, and I'm sure in the UK so greatly that it really makes you evaluate our, like priorities as a, as a human race. And,

 

Jeff: You know, in fact, one of the young boys that was on that first trip that was in 2009, he now works for Moka, and, you know, he's graduated college, but his life was never the same. And it really kind of frame the direction that you wanted to take with his. Yeah, his use of time.

 

Daniel:  What a cool story that must, that must feel really good. I think they're, they're also really important to the farmers as well as, as you were describing the trips. I was thinking that, you know, going back to this idea of transparency, if you're living with the farmer, with the family, with the farmers, as a, as a consumer, you really start to think well, you know, kind of go for the cheapest product or I can be a little bit more thoughtful and spend, you know, an extra dollar or two even on a really nice quality chocolate bar and then support these people. People that I'm with right now. So it's really good for the farmer because in it encourages that kind of thought process from the consumer at least that's what I imagine what would be going through my mind the whole time as you know, I'm staying with this family they're being so hospitable there's such nice people, you know, I love everything they're doing, they're feeding me and all of these things and how can I ever go back now and buy kind of commercial you know, coffee or chocolate, I just wouldn't be able to do it ever again. As we start to kind of to wrap up a bit. I'd love to know You know, we've talked a bit about transparency and how it's important for the consumer to really consider and do the research. Is there anything else that people listening to this podcast can do to be more ecofriendly in their daily lives?

 

Jeff: Yeah, consumed with I think in intention and appreciation. so, consumed with intention of feeding, you know, things that are healthy and focused. Good health and wellness for your own body, but having the intention of, of doing so in a responsible way that supports everyone who grew it. And so in a sustainable kind of sense, with the intention of consuming food that that uplifts everyone in that supply chain, I think our day to day life, I know for me, one of the biggest kind of changes in my consumption habits happened after seeing all the work that goes into growing the food that we eat. Not everyone can have those experiences. But I think we can do enough research now to really understand the extensive work that goes into making a chocolate bar and then appreciate those steps and those values and those people that are involved in that supply chain, and just being a little bit more aware of what we're consuming, you know, I get caught up in in it and I'll even be doing the math on you know, a couple This product and kind of be breaking down the ingredient costs in my head and, and running numbers. And I've caught, you know, several instances where it just doesn't add up.

 

And so, the commoditization of food has created such a disconnect between consumers and the growers and a lack of appreciation. And I think we’re, so values driven value as far as value of a cost savings that we're consuming at a rate that's not really sustainable on the planet, nor those involved in that in that supply chain. And there's never going to be any positive change on the farmer level or even on the manufacturing side. If that scale isn't even out a little bit. So, I think just on a day to day basis, yes, slowing down a little bit, appreciating what we're consuming and doing our best to kind of evaluate what ingredients are going into the food that we're eating. Yeah, I think

 

Daniel:  That's that sounds really reasonable. And I'm sure you You've seen this as well. And, you know, there, there's all these studies that are starting to come out that show that high quality produce that's grown is it just has more vitamins, more nutrients in it. So, you actually need less food in order to get every everything you need to be healthy. So, you know, maybe you're spending a little bit more money on a chocolate bar or, you know, produce like tomatoes and lettuce or whatever it is, you actually need less food, because one of those tomatoes, tomatoes goes a lot further in terms of nutrients than kind of commercially grown tomatoes that aren't as lovingly grown or sustainably grown, consuming with intention and appreciation. And when you slow down, you're able to really appreciate and realize you don't need to eat as quickly or as fast and I think that's I think that's some great advice. If people want to try out your chocolate and the coffee, where can people go to actually get some?

 

 

Jeff:  You can go to Moka Origins dot com - that's our website, and it's kind of our storefront to the world. We'd be really happy too. Yeah to hear from you as well you can email us at Hello at MOCA origins com love questions love ideas and you can also follow our blog to and all the stories from the farms that we work from.

 

Daniel:  Perfect and just for the record Moka is spelled with a K. So that's M-O-K-A Origins dot com. And Jeff, can you also sign up for one of the origin trips on the website there?

 

Jeff: Absolutely you can sign up for our trips. You can even sign up for a subscription to our chocolate or our coffee as well. You can even come to our factory and in the Poconos in Pennsylvania and you know we do free tours and tastings and spend a moment with everyone who comes in the door to talk about our you know our story and our intention and teach you a little bit about chocolate and coffee.

 

Daniel:  Awesome. Sounds like there's a lot of things to do on the Mokaorigins website. So definitely worth checking it out. Well cool, Jeff, this has been a lot of fun things You so much for your time. Really interesting to hear about the work you're doing, and I look forward to seeing what you do next and where the other trips you end up going. Sounds great. Can't wait to share that with you. All right talk to you soon. Thank you so much for the time, Daniel appreciate you taking the moment with us, of course. Thank you.

 

Thank you very much for listening to this episode.

 

If you’d like to learn more about Jeff and Moka Origins, please visit their website at mokaorigins.com, or like their Facebook page, @MokaOrigins. You can also follow them on twitter @MokaOrigins for more updates!

 

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