As we told you last night, the Toledo Cacao Festival was staged over the holiday weekend in and around Punta Gorda. Last night we showed you the cultural component of the event and tonight, we’ll look at cacao itself when we take you inside Eladio Pop’s farm. First off, it’s a story that has some elements that may be unsuitable for children – so if you have them in front of the TV, you’ll want to ask them to go outside. Gone? Good. Yes, it is a story about cacao, but it’s also about one farmer’s complete devotion to the plant that is his livelihood and his passion. And when we went inside his farm, we found that cacao is not just a plant, it is for him, the tree of life.

Jules Vasquez Reporting,
These seeds are what the cacao industry is all about. They are among Belize’s most prized exports and indeed are recognized as among the most flavourful in the world. And Eladio Pop knows that well. He is a cacao farmer that prizes his product like the brand name that it eventually goes into, Maya Gold. He showed us the cacao in the fermentation process. These ones are dying and have to be turned regularly.

These ones are in an earlier stage; they are freshly washed and are now drying out. You have to understand that what you see here starts out as this in the pod – and that’s why they have to be washed. And once that is done, they are good enough.

Eladio Pop, Cacao Farmer
“This is no problem, you don’t have to toast it. It tastes bitter but bitter is what is very useful for our system.”

These seeds are also ground and made into a juice called Kuku kind of like nature’s version of chocolate milk.

Eladio Pop,
“If I don’t drink this in two days time I feel bad. I miss something so I really get to like it.”

And as we found out, there isn’t a thing about cacao Eladio Pop doesn’t like. Case in point is this, unstrained chicha – a cacao wine.

Eladio Pop,
“I ferment the guts part of the cacao so I don’t waste nothing, I make use of it.”

Looks awful right? But wait until it is strained, and it looks mildly more palatable which is good enough for farmer Pop.

Eladio Pop,
“Then you drink it….mmm; yeah.”

He says it is like Ensure and Red Bull rolled into one.

Eladio Pop,
“Once you eat couple of this you don’t want food because also this is drink and food the same time. When I drink this one cup, it takes me from 5 o’clock and it can take me up to nine o’clock and then I feel I want to eat something.”

But all these seeds and cacao beverages come from the farm, form mature pods like these yellow ones form a tree that’s 20 years old. The trees don’t start bearing until they are five years old – and the sight of the first flowering is a cause for some celebration for the farmer.

Eladio Pop,
“This is the plant comes from. Here is the flowers, from flowers to pod.”

The farmer nurses them from infancy to maturity, developing a very close kinship with the plant. In fact, farmer Pop tends to his trees almost devotionally, carefully clearing the ground for his mature plants, and clearing away errant sprouts that may deprive the fruits of nourishment. Even when he removes the pod, he is careful not to injure the tree bark.

Eladio Pop,
“You don’t peel it like that, you twist it so you don’t hurt this part. See you don’t want to peel the bark because right here is where you can expect another pod will come.”

And once he has it down from the tree.

Eladio Pop,
“See you don’t need knife, this is how the seed looks like and then (eating it) with seed and everything because I am hungry out here working so you eat it or you can just suck it, both ways. If you eat this whole pod, oh you won’t want to eat nothing else. You can go miles again.”

And while it may be hard to believe these not too pleasant looking seeds are the stuff the chocolate is made of he is careful to save the seeds in the empty half of the pod because those are what will be fermented. And from the seeds to the leaves of this tree that he so loves, Farmer Pop made it clear that every part of this tree is good.

Eladio Pop,
“I roll my little medicinal herb with this and I do that so this is my rolling paper. Yes, I smoke this.”

Yes, he smokes it but not on his own there’s another part, another tree in that story.

Eladio Pop,
“As a farmer I cannot hide it. I am a farmer, I am an organic farmer, a natural man. My God is a natural God and all I see out here are herbal plants so I get to like it. So I am going to roll my little Mayan hemp, I call this Mayan hemp. It is a medicinal herb good for my brains so this is my rolling paper. Then (lighting weed rolled into skin from cacao). So this is who I am, excuse me but this is just mellow to be out here among these plants and this is me and this is who I am and I just do who I am.”

He sounds almost biblical and when he’s into it, to hear him extol the virtues of the orange cacao fruit is almost poetic...and that’s the personal ethos of this farmer, unapologetic about his kinship with this tree.

Eladio Pop,
“I just volunteer myself to God and asked God to use me as your guardian and caretaker.”

Tune in for another edition of 7on the inside in two weeks.

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