During a recent trip to Seattle, I took a tour of Theo Chocolate, the first and only organic and fair trade chocolate factory in the United States. During the tour, I learned that their founder, Joseph Whinney, pioneered the supply of organic cocoa beans into the United States in 1994 prior to opening Theo in March 2006. I was intrigued by his story, so I decided to correspond with him via e-mail.
What motivated you to start Theo Chocolate?
The motivation for starting Theo goes back over 15 years when I was a volunteer in Central America working with indigenous cocoa farmers. In short, I want to help make the world a better place by making wonderful chocolate that is good for the planet and the people. I also love food, and delicious, rich chocolate is an important part of a well-balanced life. I think that it's important for each of us to vote with our dollars as consumers. I've learned that enlightenment without engagement is dead spirituality. Unless we all act, not only in our charitable practices but in purchasing ethical products, we cannot effect change.
Can you briefly explain what fair trade certified chocolate is?
Fair trade certification verifies that the cocoa we buy and use in our products is grown by farmers who DO NOT use forced or slave labor, that the farmer's children have access to education, that the farmers are democratically organized, and that they are paid a premium for their product. I believe that fair trade is important and a good start. However, at Theo we pay substantially higher premiums than required by fair trade certifiers because we price our cocoa based on quality.
What are the criteria for evaluating that the chocolate you produce is "organic?"
Organic chocolate is chocolate that uses ingredients that are not grown, handled, or manufactured with chemical agricultural inputs. Organic growing practices respect the environment and help to insure a healthy environment for future generations.
What do you see as the future plans for Theo Chocolate?
It's hard to predict the future, and we feel that we have just started, but I would like to see us help further the chocolate revolution. Definition: The chocolate revolution is bringing high quality chocolate that is grown and purchased in responsible and ethical ways to everyone everywhere.
In her book, Rising from the Ashes: Rethinking Church,Becky Garrison profiles worship leaders who try to reach those for whom church is not in their vocabulary.