The Story of Chocolate at LICC

This is the story of how we began producing chocolate at LICC (and why you now see so many delicious chocolate pictures posted on my social media on a regular basis…….sorry-ooooooo)

If you know me well, then you know that there is no food that I value higher than chocolate. I am my mother’s daughter through and through when it comes to love of chocolate and all things cocoa. If I could eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day I probably would….

So you can imagine my delight when I realized that right here in this little town I now call home people are growing cocoa beans. I had heard someone mention cocoa beans in the midst of telling some other story (somehow the cocoa was not the main point of the story?!) and after tracing down this rumor a bit I was able to get some information on where I might be able to buy some cocoa for myself. Our driver Mark and I went out into town in search of it and were able to find the jackpot!!

I later found out that the place where we bought the cocoa beans was not actually technically supposed to be selling retail. They were actually a warehouse, a middleman, that acts as a storing facility. The farmers from the local villages bring their beans here for sale (or reps from the warehouse go out an purchase) and the beans are then kept in the warehouse in Ganta until they can be transported to Monrovia. Once in Monrovia, they head to the cargo ships and then most likely make their way to Europe for chocolate production. I was happy I was able to snag some before they made that long journey!

I ended up buying 2 kg (which ended up being closer to about 3 kg with how they “top things off” in Liberia) for 350 Liberian Dollars, which at that time was equivalent to about $2.80 USD. We got the cocoa beans home and really didn’t have any idea what to do with them. We quick hopped on youtube and found some videos and were able to concoct something that resembled the “taste” of chocolate, but was a far cry from the rich and creamy texture of chocolate that we are used to. The problem it turns out was that we could not get a smooth enough grind on the beans without some type of grinding machinery. If there’s anyone who knows how to roll full steam ahead on a good idea, it’s Bill lol. Within the next month my colleague Bill Sebald had ordered us a melanger on Amazon and had it in the suitcase of his nephew, due to arrive in Liberia the following month. Wait what?!!? That was fast!

In the meantime we continued watching youtube videos to try and learn everything we could about this chocolate making business (which FYI there is still soooo sooo much to learn). Some of the things we learned:

  • Our next door neighbor, Ivory Coast, is the #1 cocoa bean exporter in the WORLD and Ghana and Nigeria fall also within the top 10.  Liberia is nowhere on the list- for now!

Image result for cocoa production statistics west africa

  • Liberia imports a lot of chocolate products. There is chocolate sold in every single grocery store and also there is an abundance of hot cocoa mixes sold in even the smallest of tea shops on the street. And yet, NONE of this is produced in Liberia. It is all imported, even though Liberia produces an abundance of cocoa beans.
  • Water is the enemy of the cocoa grinding process! One drop of water in your beans can spoil the whole batch! Roast those beans well!
  • Peeling the shell off the cocoa beans by hand is one of the most tedious processes ever and leaves your fingers incredibly raw and dirty- worth it though!
  • One of our staff members, Konah, is just about as obsessed with chocolate as I am….when we told him we were going to start making chocolate he literally tried to lift Nathan up off the ground in excitement haha.
  • Many of my students know people who are producing cocoa beans—which means we could buy directly from the farmers themselves so this is a win-win situation. Win for them (fair price) and win for us (we know and get to interact with our suppliers).

Once we got the melanger, our experiments were taken to the next level. Our first batch was a beautifully dark and rich and creamy success! After that we continued to make a few more batches, even starting to sell some of the product on the local market (although to be fair Konah’s wife hardly made it off the campus before it all got bought up lol).  Next, we started making it in my Food Processing & Preservation class and we got ourselves even more hooked customers and a couple of chocolatiers we could call upon when it came time to increasing out production. So far I think we have made about 25 batches (so about 200+lbs of chocolate). We have sold it on the local market as well as to international guests when they visit  for tours here at the ARC. I also brought home about 20 lbs to the US when we visited over the summer and watching people’s reactions as they tried it was absolutely the best and reassuring to me…no I’m not crazy, this chocolate is some of the best stuff I have ever had in my life!

The popularity of our product continues to grow. Since we have been back to Liberia, we are trying to make about 2 batches (8-10lbs) every week. We hope to keep expanding in Ganta, but also to the capital city of Monrovia. As far as we know, there is no one else processing cocoa beans into chocolate in Liberia at this time on this scale. We are constantly looking for sustainable business opportunities to help the school have a more regular and stable source of revenue ( because as of right now the support we receive from donors, the government, and even school fees just isn’t enough nor is it terribly reliable). We are also looking for ways to ensure that local farmers are supported in terms of fair market prices when it comes time to sell their product. This could be a great opportunity for the school, for our students, for the farmers, and for the Liberian cocoa value chain and economy as a whole.

We are praying for God to direct our steps with this chocolate experiment turned small business. We are asking God to help this business keeps growing. We are networking and making connections with other people in the cocoa industry, both abroad and here in West Africa, to find out all that we can and make the right connections. We are writing comprehensive business plans, analyzing data, applying for grants, and seeking out investors. Pray that God would help guide us on the next steps. Please pray alongside of us in this venture! And if you have any ideas or connections, please reach out to us so we can brainstorm more together.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few photos of our chocolate-making process and you can see how the process has evolved from our first batch of chocolate (which basically looked like dirt but tasted great) to our latest creation (chocolate coconut clusters packaged in beautiful lappa pouches):

Chocolate Album

(hover of the picture to see the caption)


Bloom’s Taxonomy, Agriculture, and Faith

It’s not every day that you have a student that is even MORE excited about the day’s topic than the teacher. But that’s just what happened to me a couple weeks ago and what has transpired since then has been amazing.

A couple weeks ago, I was teaching a lesson on Bloom’s Taxonomy (where are all my teacher friends at?!). For those who might not know, Bloom’s taxonomy is a model that describes/outlines the various levels of learning. Teachers often use it as a guide to help structure their activities, lessons, and curriculum so that they can make a conscious effort to facilitate learning in such a way as to move their students up from one level to the next. According to this model, the ultimate goal for teachers should be to help students move up towards the level where they themselves are able to CREATE something new from all that they have learned. Learning is not passive, it is active, and the main goal should be to graduate students who are able to actually DO something with what they have learned. It is not enough to just produce students who can merely memorize and get good grades, we must also develop within them their critical thinking skills and creativity.

Before I go on, it’s important that we actually check out these six levels of learning in the model below:

In talking about this model during my Agriculture Education class, we naturally started talking about the education system in Liberia. Do we agree that this model of teaching is important in Liberia? Do we see it happening in Liberia? Where does Liberia do well and where does Liberia need to grow more? What happens if we fail to move our students past the lower levels of simple memorizing and understanding to the higher levels of applying, evaluating, and creating? As we were talking about this, one of my students slapped his hands down on the table and stood up and began an impassioned speech to the class (he’s a Liberian pastor, so it’s not 100% out of character lol). His speech went something like this:

Eyyyyyyyyy Liberia! Oh my God! What have I done? What have we done?! I was a teacher once and I know for a fact that I did nothing more than force my students to memorize and occasionally to understand. I know that this is still what my children’s teachers are doing today! This is what I am doing today with my own children. If they memorize something we give them an A, we never encourage them to think deeper. In Liberia, to learn is just to memorize. And we wonder why our youth are just sitting around and not doing anything after they graduate?! They don’t even understand what they have learned, they don’t know how to think, let alone do, anything for themselves. They are so used to having someone else think for them, we never push them up the ladder, we never push them to think deeper. We wonder why our country has such a problem with dependency?! It’s not only the foreign aid doing this to us, we are doing it to ourselves, to our children! We wonder why we have so many beggars rather than doers!  Eyyyyyyyyyy God, Ohhhhhhhh Liberia. When will we truly learn???

I wish I had recorded it, but I was too busy clapping under the desk and whispering “Amen” under my breath. I was simply captivated by this man and his passion and this new understanding that would eventually lead him (and later on myself) to action, far beyond the words spoken in our classroom that day.

After class, I didn’t think much of it again because I had to jump right into to teaching another class. I didn’t see Konah the rest of the day. The next morning, in the 2 minutes we had before devotion started, he starts peppering me with more questions about Bloom’s taxonomy and asking if he can find more online. I assumed he just wanted more information for himself in case he ever became a teacher again or maybe to help with tutoring his children after school in their homework assignments. He is also a board member for a local elementary school so I assumed he wanted more info so he could pass it along to them. Anyways, devotion started and the subject was dropped.

Two days later, Konah comes to me again and says that he did more research on Bloom’s taxonomy and I must do what I can to teach this to every single teacher in Liberia….”haha okay, Konah I will do my best” thinking that perhaps he was recruiting me to come teach the teachers at his school (something I’d done in the past and was more than willing to do again). It’s dropped again until a few days later until he comes to me telling me that I must come teach this at his church, they need to hear it! Wait, what? At the church, why at the church? Do you have a lot of teachers there? He tried to explain why the church needed this, but I still was so confused. Nonetheless, his eyes pleaded with me and I could see he was so serious about this and his passion was clearly evident and well, you just can’t say no to that level of passion! I said that “yea, sure I’ll teach it” but still we didn’t make a time to actually do it. I thought, I might somehow get out of it. Teaching this at a church? I still didn’t understand why or how this fit exactly….I’ve taught this dozens of times before, but never at a church. Alas, the day came when he approached me and we had to finalize a date for this supposed teaching. I didn’t think much of it until the night before it finally came and the reminder went off on my phone telling me I needed to prepare for tomorrow. Crappppp…. I was still confused as to what he wanted me to teach and from what angle I should approach this lesson….none of them were teachers, why did they need this lesson? How exactly was this going to help? I was getting frustrated….

Finally, Nathan had the idea that we should just check the internet and see if there was anyone else who had studied or written about Bloom’s Taxonomy and the church, and lo behold we found just what we were looking for and finally, just 14 hours until I was due to teach, the light bulbs started going off like crazy. I finally understood why Konah was so riled up about this topic as not only a teacher and a father, but as a pastor! I finally began to understand what Konah was trying to say as he explained to me the connection between this and faith. I finally began to see what Konah had seen all along.

Bloom’s taxonomy does not only need to be looked at as a hierarchy of learning, it can also be looked at as a hierarchy of faith.

What happens if we as the church, do not progress past the basic levels of simply remembering and understanding God’s word? What happens if we never learn to apply God’s word to our life? What happens if we never learn the art of analysis and evaluation (discernment)? How can we decipher and test the spirits to see if they are from God or from somewhere else? How will we be able to follow if we don’t know how to listen? What if we never allow our faith to mature past the infant stages on to the more developed stages where we can begin to think on our own, teach others, and ultimately bear fruit (ie create)??

Where am I on this taxonomy of faith? Where is my church on this taxonomy? Are we moving and growing or are we standing still? Are we going to remain as permanent followers within our churches or are we going to become leaders? Are we going to continue in dependency for the pastor to tell us what God is saying or are we going to find out on our own, taking ownership of our own faith? How long will we continue like newborn infants tossed about in the waves and wind (Ephesians 4:14) and crying for our mothers milk versus growing up in maturity to the point where we can stand our ground and eat, chew, and digest our own solid foods (Hebrews 5:12-14) ? What are we doing to dig our roots deeper and push each other upwards in growth? Are we making disciples and sharing God’s word with others? Are we bearing fruit or are we like the fig tree (Mark 11:12-25), bearing plenty of leaves, but no actual fruit?

The connections between this taxonomy of learning and faith were endless!! Rather than dreading the next day, I was getting so excited for it! The church did need to hear this and Konah was giving me a chance to share it!!

My version of Bloom’s Taxonomy with a little agricultural visual representation on the side.

I started my lesson (sermon?) out with the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13: 1-23) which is about a farmer who scattered his seeds. Some fell on the path, where the birds quickly snatched them up and ate them before they took root. Other seeds fell on the rocks, they grew a little bit but when the sun came they withered away because their roots were not deep. Other seeds fell among the thorns, they grew well until the fast growing thorns ultimately choked them out and they died as well. Lastly, some fell on good soil and eventually matured to the point where they bore seeds a produced a crop- a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown! I asked for five volunteers, four to be the seeds and one to be the farmer. We acted it out as I read the verses to give a visual representation of what this parable meant. One of Liberia’s foundations in their culture is story-telling and drama so they absolutely loved it! They literally cheered when it came time for the last seed to finally bear fruit and to show his excitement, the guy acting out the farmer came and gave the classic Liberian handshake to the guy playing the seed lol. It was hilarious.

This then led us into thinking about which example represents us best? When God places a seed of truth in our lives, what do we do with it? Is the soil of our hearts soft (humble) enough to hear what He is saying to us and allow it to take root? What happens when it does take root? Do we allow the roots to grow deep so that we can survive difficult times and false teachings (ie, the sun or thorns) when they come? Are we bearing 30, 60, or 100x the seeds that God has planted in us or are we just growing leaves and bearing 1 or 2 seeds our entire life. If you were a farmer and you planted a corn seed and then wen back to harvest that corn and opened it up and only found 1 seed, how would you feel??? Most of them were farmers so they really related to this one and started groaning out in agony….”Eyyyyy we would not feel fine—oooooo!”

The big question for the day was “Where are we on this pyramid of our faith journeys and what can we do as a church and as individuals to make sure than we are climbing up and maturing in our faith and not just staying stagnant at the lower levels?”

We defined each of the words on the pyramid, we studied scripture that related to each of the levels of the pyramid, and we talked about practical things that we can do at each step along the way of the pyramid to grow deeper in our faith and encourage others to do the same. We especially emphasized that we cannot move from level one up to level five by skipping steps, we must go through each step along the way and we compared this a plant as it grows too….can a plant bear fruit if it has never grown roots, or a stem or leaves, or let alone flowers?? No, of course not! Neither, can we in our faith journeys, we must take each step one at a time and we must never stop growing in our relationship with Christ.

Overall, it was an awesome experience to get to share this message with Konah’s church. I think it really resonated with a lot of people, including myself. (PS. If you’re interested, you can check out the list of scriptures that I used below as they relate to each level of the pyramid.) Ultimately, though my favorite part about this whole thing was how it all started with a student and something he learned in class (a seed that was sown), which he then recalled and remembered days later, chewing on it day after day until he got a deeper understanding. It quickly took root and then he then took what he had learned and applied it to another area of his life where he started analyzing and evaluating the connections and applications. His understanding continued to deepen, grow, and mature.  Lastly, he created a new idea and then he used that idea to sow a seed within his teacher which ultimately resulted in him teaching his teacher something new and then that teacher working together with that student to share that new idea with a whole new group of people. IT ALL CAME FULL CIRCLE!!!

This is why I love teaching ❤ This is why I love agriculture and the endless analogies that exist between it and teaching and it and faith ❤ These are the things that help me to grow in my own understanding and love of God and therefore in my own faith ❤

teaching  alongside Konah as he helped serve as translator (and teacher, his translations definitely went on far too long sometimes lol)

Just a couple of education, Bloom’s taxonomy, agriculture-loving Christian nerds hanging out together after church ❤

If this picture doesn’t tell you what kind of man Konah is, I don’t know what else will! When he smiles, you can’t help but smile. If he gets riled up about something, you can’t help but join in too!

Key Scriptures for Each Level of the Taxonomy

Psalms 119:11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
Psalms 119:!6 I will delight in your statutes. I will not forget your word.
Jeremiah 15:16 Your words were found and I are them and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.

Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding…
Hosea 4:6 My people perish (are destroyed) by their lack of knowledge
Hosea 6:6 I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings
James 1:5 If anyone lacks wisdom, you should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and He will give it to you
Proverbs 15:4 The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of the fool feeds on folly.

James 1:22 Be doers of the word, not hearers only.
James 2:20 Faith apart from words is useless.
Proverbs 22:17 Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise and apply them to your heart and to your knowledge.
Matthew 7:26 Anyone who hears but does not do then will be like a foolish man building his house on the sand.
2 Philippians 4:9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things and the God of peace will be with you.

1 John 4:1 Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God or from false prophets.
1 King 3:9 So give your servant a heart to govern your people to distinguish between right and wrong.
1 Kin 3:16-28…the story of how Solomon uses wisdom/discernment to solve a debate about two mothers fighting over a baby

1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you the reason for the hope that is in you.
1 Peter 5:8 Be sober-minded; be watchful! Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Matthew 28:19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations…
Colossi ans 1:10 So that you might live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.
John 15:5 Whoever remains in me and I in him, will bear much fruit….

Proverbs 1:5-7 Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance by exploring the meaning of these proverbs and parables. Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Proverbs 26:11 As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.
Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, His good, pleasing, and perfect will.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any doubled-edged sword, it penetrates even to diving soul and spirit, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of hearts.