Sustainable Style: Askinosie Chocolate

I think it's safe to say that chocolate is the mascot of Valentine's Day. Sure, flowers are up there, and cards of course, but a good box or bar of chocolate is the key to my heart! And preferably one from a company like Askinosie, whose fair trade chocolates give cacao farmers in Honduras, Ecuador, Tanzania, and the Philippines an honest opportunity to make a decent living. (Special note for those of us in Missouri, this company is based in Springfield!)

Shawn Askinosie, the company's founder and chocolate maker, has a truly inspiring story. After a down-and-up journey (which you can read about online), Shawn eventually graduated from the University of Missouri law school, practiced in Texas for a while, then returned to Missouri and started his own criminal defense practice, where, he said, "I cut my teeth on mid-level felonies where I tried to make a difference, promote social justice and fight my heart out for the little guy."

In 2000, he co-founded the Lost & Found Grief Center for children who had experienced the loss of a loved one, as he had at the age of 14, when his father passed away after battling lung cancer.

After that, he prayed — for five years. Shawn was looking for "a new inspiration," and in 2005 the idea of making chocolate had planted itself in his heart. He started with small batches made in his home kitchen, then moved everything to his law office so his wife wouldn't have to cook in what she called "a war zone." After a couple months he took a trip to the Amazon to learn more about the process of picking cacao beans, and the rest is history.

Today, the company employs six people and Shawn has personally visited and worked with all the cocoa farmers who supply his business. They've made it a point to find their farmers through acquaintances instead of a commodities broker, because it's important to them that they know each person they're working with. Each farmer also gets 10% of the net profit that was made from the beans on their farm, which is more than the fair trade standards require.

The factory itself is located one block from Springfield's largest homeless shelter where, Shawn says, "too many children have to spend the night." Wanting to create a positive impact for those children (and others in the neighborhood), the company started Chocolate University, which seeks to do two things: "inspire the children about entrepreneurship and a world beyond their own." All the funding comes from Askinosie, and all the proceeds from their tours go to Drury University, a local college, for the benefit of the neighborhood children.

Askinosie offers loads of goodies, from chocolate bars to cocoa nibs to baking supplies. They even have a beautifully designed bean-to-bar poster that shows the process of making the chocolate and where it comes from. I don't know about you, but, for me, chocolate never tasted so good. 

{Images courtesy of Askinosie Chocolate}

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