Sustainable America Blog

How to Make Chocolate Local

What do you get when you mix two bearded Brooklyn chocolatiers (who happen to be brothers), a sailboat captain (and the ship he built in his Cape Cod backyard over 25 years), and a shipment of 20 tons of cocoa sailing from the Dominican Republic to the shipyards of Brooklyn? No, not a Wes Anderson film. You get mountains of red tape, confused Dominican port officials, and a cocoa bean importer flown in to explain why these guys are sailing their cocoa beans on a drug route when it would be much easier to put them on a big ship with hundreds of metal containers.

You also get the beginning of a sea change (sorry, I had to) in the way we think about shipping and local food. Someone had to do it first, and Rick and Michael Mast have paved the way by sailing their annual shipment of cocoa from the Dominican Republic.1

Known for small batches and incredible attention to detail, Mast Brothers Chocolate is the first and only bean-to-bar chocolate operation in New York City, and a proud symbol of the Brooklyn local food movement. The beans are roasted on site, chocolate bars are hand-wrapped in paper printed in-house, and the ingredients include only cocoa, sugar and a few bonus ingredients like sea salt from Maine created using solar salt houses – nothing to mask the complex flavor of the carefully sourced cocoa beans.

The brothers with the apropos surname decided a few years ago to set the goal of shipping their beans on wind power. After all, their business is based on a sort of old-is-new model of simplicity, so why not just sail the beans?

As Rick Mast says in the video above, trying to do something that seems simple in such a complex world can be difficult. But as visible members of the local food movement with a product that is decidedly not locally sourced, the Mast brothers have moved heaven and earth to reduce their carbon footprint.

Shipping by sail saved the pollution equivalent of 84 days of travel for a typical passenger automobile. The trailblazing 2011 shipment was the first time a sailing ship had unloaded commercial cargo in New York since 1939. Even with the added expense and headaches of sailing, the brothers plan to, slowly over time, have all of their beans arrive via the power of wind. With experience, each year should make for an easier and more affordable sustainable voyage that is still chocked full of adventure.

Learn more about Mast Brothers Chocolate below.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.

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