UH Hilo Agriculture Club visits local cacao farm

This tour was such a unique experience for me because I didn’t know much about cacao, but now I have a better understanding of what it’s like to process it.

Students gathered in orchard.
Alumnus Colin Hart talks to students about orchard airflow.

By Tiera Arakawa.

If you are looking for fun and adventure throughout the school year, a club to consider is the Agriculture Club. The Agriculture Club goes on adventures, tours, does projects that the students would like to do, and volunteers with various jobs of interest. Since my sophomore year of college, I have realized how important it is to get involved around the campus, find ways to give back to the community around us, and make long lasting friendships. For that reason, I decided to join the Agriculture Club because agriculture is what I am passionate about and I like to know that the little things that I do, especially volunteering is making a positive impact in our community.

I also feel that now that I am involved in the Agriculture Club, I have a lot more connections with the people in the College of Agriculture. From talking to other students, I am more aware of the things that go on around the college.

Field trip to Cacao Farm

Large pile of cacao beans, orange and yellow in color.
Cacao brought from several local farms.

The first trip we went on was a tour on a cacao farm owned by Tom Sharky, and our tour guide was Colin Hart, an alumnus of UH Hilo College of Agriculture. The first thing he showed us on the farm was all the cacao trees, they were all attacked by a fungus-like pathogen called Phy-tophthora palmivora. The pathogen is one that lives in the soil and infects the cacao tree, creating black pod rot on all the cacao pods. Sharky got fed up with the fungus because it infected all of his trees and ended up doing major pruning on the them. I have never heard of the fungus before and what it does, but now that I am aware of it, I will be spreading the word out to help inform other farmers.

The next thing we got straight into was cracking all the cacao pods, there were about over 500 of them. There were people cracking the pods and many hands to help take out the beans from the pods. It was a very unique process because all the beans were attached to something called the placenta. We had to take all the beans off the placenta and put them into a bucket to then go into a juice drainer.

Once all the juice from the beans were drained, they were put into wooden fermentation bins with holes at the bottom for air. The beans would be turned every so often to complete the fermentation process. Colin showed us a comparison of what the beans looked like when fresh and successfully fermented. When the bean was fresh, the inside was a purple color with very compact air holes and when the bean properly fermented, the inside was brown with the air holes gone. I believe this method of checking the beans was called fishering.

Then when the fermenting process was done, the beans were poured onto chicken wire to dry. There were already some cacao beans that were dried, along with coffee beans and they looked very pretty.

This tour was such a unique experience for me because I didn’t know much about cacao, but now I have a better understanding of what it’s like to process it and if by any chance I would want to get into it more. It’s definitely something that I would want to go back to help volunteer, especially after seeing how many cacao pods they have to crack with only a small amount of people.

Also, even though our day was busy cracking cacao pods, we made room for getting to actually try their chocolate which was awesome. I’m not a person to usually like chocolate, but learning how their cacao is processed, I really liked how their dark chocolate tasted. Their chocolate was 70 percent cacao and it didn’t taste like any other dark chocolate I’ve had before.

On a side note, I also learned that cacao beans have many benefits when raw, especially targeting your happy hormones.