Save the Cocoa Tree! Buy Sustainable Chocolate

Some scientists predict that chocolate could be as rare (and expensive) as caviar in as little as 20 years.

How could this be?

Farmers have changed the way they grow cacao trees -- the source of the cacao seeds that are used to make chocolate -- to try to keep up with the world's increasing demand for chocolate. Cacao trees naturally grow in the rainforest, but because they grow faster in the sun, farmers now plant cacao trees in large, sunny fields. These trees produce cacao seeds earlier than their rainforest counterparts, but they are threatened by pests and a slew of nasty fungi.

To protect their crops, farmers spray the trees with heavy doses of pesticides and fungicides. By the time the trees die, after about 30 years, the land has been completely destroyed by the heavy use of chemicals so the farmers must move on. They clear-cut a section of rainforest to create a new field and begin the process again. At this rate, scientists worry, cacao farmers will soon run out of fertile land. And we will run out of chocolate.

However, help is on the way. Sustainable cacao farmers are heading back to the rainforest, where pollinators and natural pesticides help the trees thrive and eliminate the need for manmade chemicals.

To support these farmers -- and keep chocolate plentiful -- buy chocolate from sustainable sources. Look for products that are stamped with the USDA Organic, Fair Trade Certified or Rainforest Alliance labels. And check out these brands, many of which can be found at your local grocery store or your nearest Whole Foods ( WFMI).

Cadbury ( CBY)-owned Green and Black's produces organic chocolate in multiple forms, ranging from ice cream to hot cocoa and 13 different varieties of bars. You can buy a pack of 10 3.5-ounce bars from Amazon.com ( AMZN) for $32.20.

Dagoba Organic Chocolate, now owned by Hershey's ( HSY), serves up 20 different bars in classic flavors such as milk and bittersweet and not-so-classic flavors like citrus macadamia tango and lavender and blueberries. One two-ounce bar costs $3.

Equal Exchange sells eight varieties of organic chocolate bars, each made with fairly traded organic cocoa, fairly traded organic sugar and fairly traded Madagascar vanilla. Each 3.5-ounce bar retails for $4.25.

Sunspire makes organic dark chocolate-covered almonds, raisins, coffee beans, blueberries and cranberries. Each delectable combination sells for $1.99 (in a 0.18-ounce package).

Chocolove offers two organic dark chocolate bars that, like all Chocolove bars, come with love poems. You can order a dozen 3.2-ounce organic bars directly from the company for $35.88.

Terra Nostra organic chocolate follows Equitable Trade guidelines that ensure farmers are fairly compensated for their product. What's more, proceeds are invested in projects to improve farmers' communities and ecosystems. Terra Nostra sells nine varieties of organic chocolate bars with three new bar flavors and three varieties of truffles coming soon. Each 3.5-ounce bar sells for $3.99.

Theo Chocolate has the distinction of being the only organic and fair trade bean-to-bar chocolate factory -- meaning it processes cacao seeds into cocoa and cocoa into chocolate products -- in the U.S. Theo offers multiple forms of chocolate tastiness including the Venezuela dark chocolate bar ($5 for a 3-ounce bar), the Bread and Chocolate dark chocolate bar ($3.25 for a 2-ounce bar), the Jane Goodall bar ($4 for a 3-ounce bar) and bite-size chocolate confections in flavors including burnt sugar, PB&J and Earl Gray ($13.20 for a six-piece box).

Askinosie chocolate allows customers to trace the production of their chocolate from bean to bar online.

Organic and Fair Trade certification is expensive, so some small companies choose to forgo the process. Askinosie chocolate is not organic or fair trade certified, but the company and its farmers follow organic and fair trade guidelines. Using the unique "choc-o-lot number" on each Askinosie chocolate, customers can use the company's Web site to trace the production of their chocolate from bean to bar. Askinosie sells bars ($8 for a 3-ounce bar), nibs and cocoa. They also offer gift items including chocolate bars with personalized messages and, for $20,000, a five-day stay at the factory to create your very own chocolate.

If eating scrumptious sustainable chocolate doesn't satisfy your craving, go straight to the source with a Sustainable Chocolate Tour in Belize. For $2,500, this eight-day volunteer vacation offers visitors a chance to follow organic and fair trade cacao, literally from seed to market.
Kelsey Abbott is a freelance writer in Freeport, Maine, where she lives with her husband and their dog.

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