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Photos from a recent trip to India, returning for the first time since the pandemic began.

Textiles at Lena Ladakh Pashmina, a slow-textile label working primarily on handspun, handwoven & botanically dyed Ladakh pashmina. Lena works with the raw materials of the land, using plants and herbs from the local mountains to dye the wool. The wool textiles are influenced by the Tibetan nomads in India.

A visit to Sabala Heritage Home, an NGO based in Bijapur, India with a primary focus on the empowerment of women. At Sabala Handicrafts, women become artisans through training in the art of embroidery, weaving and or sewing.

Handwoven bags at Sabala Heritage Home.

Flying over the Himalayas

Phuni and her nephew Tsering Dhondup, a monk and spiritual guide

Street artwork in India

A visit with Phuni's brother Ghudak in Ladakh, making tsampa: a Tibetan staple of roasted barley flour made into pak—dough balls enjoyed with tea and soup.

Bringing exceptional chocolate directly from Ecuador farms to Boston.

Meet Lori and try her chocolates at the Sueños Chocolate pop-up on Friday, February 11th from 12pm - 4pm at Karma Fine Crafts, 57 Union Street in Newton Center, MA.

Lori Shapiro first visited a small organic farm named Finca Sueños (which translates to “dreams” in English) in Puerto Quito, Ecuador as a college student, setting out to research rare heirloom varieties of cacao trees and pathogens that infect them.

The cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) is native to tropical Northwestern South America. This region contains many rare, genetically diverse and delicious varieties, all of which are collectively referred to as heirloom ‘Nacional’ cacao. ‘Nacional’ cacao is floral, smooth, and non-bitter.

“These endangered older varieties taste a lot better, but are now rare because they produce much lower yields and are more disease susceptible than modern hybrid varieties,” Shapiro said.

Making bars with traditional wooden molds
Making bars with traditional wooden molds

While living at Finca Sueños and working with local cacao farmers in Puerto Quito, she was struck by their commitment to conserving rare ‘Nacional’ varieties, and growing Nacional cacao under the shade of native rainforest trees with organic methods.

She discovered how much better the quality of Nacional cacao was, and learned about the many benefits of the shade-grown cultivation for the environment and for the quality of life for the farmers. She also saw how much pressure is placed on growers by multinational corporate cacao buyers, who prioritize yield over quality and pay farmers very little.

So Shapiro set out to help. After meeting two Boston-based chocolatiers more than a decade after her first trip to Sueños, Shapiro herself was encouraged to become the consistent buyer of the high-quality heirloom cacao from the Nueva Esperanza Organic Farmers Cooperative. After encouragement from Somerville Chocolate and Prophecy Chocolate, she launched Sueños Chocolates and in 2020 brought her first batch of cacao back from Ecuador in a suitcase.

Now Shapiro visits the farm twice a year, sharing meals with the farmers and learning about their farming philosophy. She imports cacao grown and harvested by the Nueva Esperanza Cooperative farmers to Boston, where she makes vegan dark chocolates with a seasonally-changing variety of dried fruits, nuts and seeds.

Yamile and Lori peeling nibs
Yamile and Lori peeling nibs

Through Sueños Chocolates, Shapiro brings premium, highest-quality ‘Nacional’ cacao to Boston while supporting organic cacao growers in Ecuador. “It’s guaranteed income for them—they don’t have to be looking for a buyer, guaranteed product for me,” she said. “It’s been really special to have a personal relationship with the growers.”

When Shapiro visits Ecuador, she brings back the chocolates she makes with their cacao. “And that’s something that would never happen if it were a multinational buyer,” she said. Shapiro sees herself as a facilitator and a connector. “They’re amazing conservationists and biologists, and they just need income to keep going,” she notes.

In Boston, you’ll find Shapiro at local farmers markets with a photo board that illustrates how the cacao is grown and processed: each fruit is picked by hand, then broken with a machete, followed by careful attention, fermentation, drying, roasting, winnowing and grinding steps.

“Understanding this process and how much physical labor and love goes into it helps me to talk about the growers’ farms and their philosophies,” Shapiro said. “This is a slow food — it’s not something that can happen without attention to detail and effort.”

Meet Lori and try her chocolates at Karma on Friday February 11th from 12pm - 4pm!

Meet Lori and try her chocolates at the Sueños Chocolate pop-up at Karma on Friday, Feb. 11 from 12pm - 4pm at 57 Union Street in Newton Center, MA.


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