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Chocolate with a Love-Based Cause: Yoga Off the Mat

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1 Gnosis Chocolate, now in 300 stores worldwide, was created from Vanessa's desire to bring the health benefits of cacao to her health counseling clients. Photo: Jeff Skeirik

2 Gnosis' Chocolate's REACH Grenada Bars are brimming with the health benefits of raw Grenadian cacao and the warmth of Grenadian spices--the perfect vehicle to give back to this incredible country. Photo: Jeff Skeirik

3 Vanessa working side by side with Grenadian cacao farmers removing fresh cacao beans from their pods.

4 Vanessa with dear friend Mott Green of the Grenada Chocolate Company on one of the cacao farms within his high-integrity cooperative that drew her to Grenada and ignited her mission there.

5 Vanessa's first trip to Grenada to learn about harvesting cacao sparked an intense love for the country and a deep passion to do all she could to help the impoverished children she met there, which led to the creation of Gnosis Chocolate's REACH Grenada bar. Photo: Jeff Skeirik

Last month, I shared a blog about a model nonprofit organization called REACH Grenada, whose mission is to enhance the health and well-being of Grenada’s most vulnerable youths. Since 2008, REACH Grenada has been bringing holistic internal and external resources to underserved children in residential care facilities. Their programs include, but are not limited to yoga, youth skill building and mentoring for children, and conscious discipline and self-care training for caregivers. They also train local staff in the delivery of these programs in order to establish fully sustainable programs that, in time, do not require external volunteers.

Shortly after publishing the blog, I met REACH cofounder Karen Lawson and program director Lindsay Eagleton in midtown Manhattan on a cold spring day. Karen handed me two beautifully wrapped raw chocolate bars produced by a company called Gnosis. As they told me, at least 15 percent of the proceeds from each chocolate bar sold support REACH Grenada. As someone who not only loves chocolate (in moderation!), but also merchandise with a cause, I had to find out more. Kindly, Lindsay and Karen put me in touch with Gnosis founder Vanessa Barg.

As I’ve learned, this chocolatier, certified holistic health counselor, and socially aware entrepreneur is an inspiration! In order to celebrate the health benefits of raw cacao, Vanessa started making chocolate bars as gifts for her health clients in 2007. Word spread quickly about her decadent yet nutritious fare and soon stores, such as Whole Foods, were asking to carry the bars. This inspired Vanessa to turn Gnosis, which means knowledge of the heart and intuition in Greek, into a formal company in 2008. Gnosis now produces chocolate and other products, including trail mixes, spreads, bulk superfoods, and supplements. Gnosis goods are carried in more than 300 stores nationwide and available internationally through their site. What’s even more impressive is that all this growth has been through word of mouth. Gnosis products remain 100 percent organic, vegan, and raw (meaning all food is prepared below 118˚F), while maintaining environmental and societal consciousness with every step by working directly with their producers, giving back to their community, and using post-consumer recycled, biodegradable packaging printed with vegetable inks.

So how did the relationship with REACH Grenada come about?

As I’ve learned, through some beautiful synergy.

First, did you know that Grenada has some of the finest, most flavorful cacao in the world? One major reason for this is that the super-rich volcanic rain forest soil in combination with the hot sun creates exceptional growing conditions. And Grenada does not have any shortage of lush jungle. As a shade plant, the best and healthiest cacao is harvested in its natural habitat: the rain forest. This makes sustainably harvested cacao a far better option for the environment than mass-produced cacao, which is generally grown in heavily fertilized mono-crops, often on deforested land.

By principle, Vanessa visits and forms relationships with every prospective partner abroad (something I commend immensely). Additionally, she saw it as vitally important to learn about farm to bar chocolate production. So in 2009, she traveled to Grenada to meet Grenada Chocolate Company's environmentalist founder Mott Green, where she worked side by side with him, and with the farmers at his organic fair trade cooperative.

As Vanessa told me, her visit to Grenada led her to fall in love with chocolate in a whole new way. Not only did she find the Grenadian cacao to be so superior that she now uses it in her chocolate as much as possible, but she found a new way to manifest Gnosis’s mission to consistently maintain an ethical focus. First, she joined forces with Mott to expand sustainable, organic farming in Grenada. Secondly, she teamed up with REACH Grenada.

It was almost by chance that Vanessa met REACH cofounders Karen Lawson and Neo Moreton shortly after returning to New York from Grenada in 2009. This led a volunteering visit to REACH Grenada’s projects in 2010 and the creation of the REACH Grenada Gnosis bar, comprising cacao and nutmeg also sourced from the island. These delicious bars are handmade in New York City without any refined sugar or dairy. The only other ingredients are organic palm nectar from Big Tree Farms in Indonesia, organic agave nectar from Mexico (check out this portion of Vanessa’s site for an awesome in-depth report on agave), organic blue-green algae, and organic Madagascar vanilla bean.

Presently, you can buy the delicious REACH Grenada bar on Gnosis’s site. They’ll also be available in stores by the summer. Remember, 15 percent helps REACH Grenada.

As a side note: I was just at Whole Foods this evening and thrilled to see an entire shelf of Gnosis bars. I think I need to interview Vanessa to do a whole other blog post on the specific health benefits of cacao.

Thank you, REACH Grenada and Gnosis, for doing such incredible and inspirational work!

Yoga brings stability and calm into every discipline of Sophie Herbert's life. She is an alignment focused yoga teacher (and perpetual student), life coach, and a Whole Living contributing editor. She graduated from the Cooper Union School of Art, where she nurtured her passion for documentary photography. It was during this time that she began her disciplined and diverse study of yoga in New York, Paris, and India.

Sophie has lived, studied, and volunteered extensively in India. She feels grateful to still visit and work regularly with the Deenabandhu Children's Home in Chamarajanagar, Karnataka. In November of 2010, she became an ambassador for Yoga Gives Back www.yogagivesback.org, a grass-roots nonprofit that helps destitute women and girls in India build more sustainable lives. Sophie has also shared her knowledge of yoga at the Prana Yoga Center in Astana, Kazakhstan. Currently, she teaches at the Park Slope Yoga Center www.parkslopeyoga.com and Prema Yoga www.premayogabrooklyn.com in Brooklyn, Sangha House www.sanghahousenyc.com in Manhattan, and privately. She is in the midst of her life coach certification and taking on clients at a reduced rate. Sophie is also an avid cook.

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