Plus Cacao

Get to know the family behind the Cacao Florencio Ortega Farm

Imagine standing knee-deep in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The water is crystal clear, and you can watch fish swimming around your feet. The sun is shining brightly, and bachata music fills the air from the beach speakers. It’s absolutely wonderful here… But it’s time to hit the road because it’s an hour’s drive inland to the Espaillat region, where the Cacao Florencio Ortega Farm is located. And that’s where we’re headed now.

From the ocean, we drive south on winding roads, passing tourist resorts like Puerto Plata, Sosua, and Cabarete. Then we venture deeper into the mountainous agricultural regions. Gaspar Hernandez welcomes us with colorful letters spelling out its name and the phrase “Tierra de Cacao, Sol, Mar y Montanas” (“Land of Cacao, Sun, Sea, and Mountains”).

And that’s exactly what it is! Here, everyone has a small (or larger) Cacao plantation as their backyard. While in Poland we have orchards with apple or cherry trees, here as far as the eye can see, the Cacao tree spreads.

The highland terrain, abundant sunshine, and plentiful rainfall create an ideal microclimate for the temperamental Theobroma cacao plant. The central location in the Dominican Republic also benefits Cacao farms, which are protected from strong winds and coastal hurricanes (which devastated plantations on the island’s southern coast a few years ago) by the surrounding mountains.

However, the highland landscape also has its dark side, such as the difficulty in harvesting. But we’ll talk about that in the further parts of the Dominican Cacao Tales.

We arrive in the town of La Piragua, where the Cacao Florencio Ortega plantation is located. It is a Cacao farm with a long-standing tradition. It was founded over 80 years ago by Yluminada’s grandfather, who she, along with her siblings, describes their work with Cacao :

Cacao Florencio Ortega is the legacy of our father, Don Florencio Ortega Salazar, who was a passionate Cacao producer and saw his farm as a gift from nature. Florencio Ortega grew up on a Cacao farm, just like us, his children. We were born and raised here, observing and helping with Cacao cultivation. Developing our Cacao farm is an integral part of our family’s history.

Don Florencio Ortega Salazar was the founder of the Asociación de Productores de Cacao, La Piragua, serving as its president for several terms. He was also involved in the Confederación de Cacao-Cultores Dominicanos (COONACADO) association in Joba Arriba. It is an organization that brings together over 10 cocoa producer associations with more than 400 farmers. 

Don Florencio Ortega Salazar believed that small organized producers could enter international markets and that this trade was not reserved only for large companies. He was convinced that if Cacao producers cooperated, they could become leaders in global exports. His children continue to spread this idea (thank goodness!!!) by collaborating with international companies and distributing high-quality Dominican Cacao beans in the European and American markets.

Take a look at the short presentation of the Cacao Florencio Ortega Farm prepared for us by Yluminada:

Yluminada and Joel will soon explain the entire process and intricacies of working with Cacao. But for now, take a deep breath, feel the approaching rain, and relax. Starting tomorrow, we’ll begin our work on the farm!

In the upcoming parts of the story, you’ll find tales about old and new plantations, what a day on a Cacao farm looks like, and detailed records of Cacao harvesting…

Ready for a virtual journey to the Dominican Republic? So, put on some sunscreen, wear a hat, and let’s go!