Recently, I had the honour of being invited to visit one of Valrhona's newest chocolate plantations – Loma Sotavento in the Domincan Republic.  It's an incredible place in the region of Maria Trinidad Sanchez, situated in the northeast corner of the Dominican Republic.

They have been working closely with the locals to enhance the growing practices and to invest in the technology they use to ensure each crop of cocoa beans is the highest quality possible.  

High quality is what you've come to expect from one of the world's very best chocolate producers, but what some people don't know, is that Valrhona is also one of the world's most socially committed companies too.  They engage in what is known as direct trade with their cocoa plantation partners.  That means that they pay prices far greater than farmers can expect from fair trade arrangements.  They also guarantee to buy the entire crop the plantation produces every year.  If the crop is not up to Valrhona's very high standards, they'll sell the product on the open market and source other beans.  This gives the farmers a reliable source of income.  To help ensure the crops are the highest quality they can be, Valrhona is also actively engaged in training the farmers on the latest techniques and processes.  Essentially, Valrhona is in it for the long haul.

But what I also knew, but didn't really know until I visited, was the extent of the support they provide the people of the community working at the plantation.  The plantation workers have access to good health care and Valrhona builds schools to make sure the kids in the community are properly educated and actually working with teachers in school, not with their parents tending cocoa crops on the plantation.  

While I was there, I had the opportunity to visit the local school Valrhona built and meet the kids.  They were excited, happy and proud to perform a few songs they were learning in music class.    

If any of you have been to the Dominican Republic, you know that the nation is very much a third-world country. There is poverty evident everywhere you travel.  For me, the people engaged in this cocoa plantation endeavour at Loma Sotavento seemed to be thriving and happy.  And that is something we can both take pride in. Our efforts to source the best cocoa which is ethically produced and your commitment to buy the same, is actually making a real difference in people's lives.  

I didn't want the thanks that I received from the kids to stop there – so, from the kids at Loma Sotavento in the Domincan Republic, thank you to you too!